Friday, December 12, 2014

GEMSpeak: #RunSafe - How Can We Make Chennai Safe for Women Runners?

by Preeti Aghalyam

It has been an honour and a privilege to be identified as one of the Gender Equality Mobilisers (G.E.M.s) for 2014 by Prajnya. I look forward to participation in the movement beyond the 16 days campaign as well. For now, here is a round up from me:


I am a runner and as a vociferous member of the Chennai Runners club, have been talking recently about the safety of women runners on the streets of Chennai. A safety that I have always taken for granted. In the past couple of years, with the number of women runners increasing fairly dramatically, the number of incidents of groping, pushing, pinching, shouting, scaring, and general harassment have increased. I often find that women take this as par for the course and try not to talk in public about it, sort of accept it. I hope to break that mind-set, and also of course, figure out ways and means of keeping ourselves safe, enjoying our runs, and sending a clear message to the population that we won’t accept any harassment.

What we did:
  • Safety Audits
  • Social Media Discussions
  • Signature Campaign 

A brief description:

If you drive or walk around in the Alwarpet/Mylapore area at normal times of day, chances are you will feel perfectly safe. It is busy, with commercial establishments, shoppers, pavement fruit sellers, and commuters. There aren't that many thriving tasmac shops. But we run at 5 am, when it’s dark and stray dogs are our only companions. A set of #SafetyAudits using the #SafetiPin app was a great way to kick start what I had named the #RunSafe campaign.

The discussions continued into the Social Media space then, targeting not only women runners in Chennai, but also all across the country. I invited friends to share their experiences using a googleform, which led to a discovery that some pockets of the beautiful Besantnagar area need a deeper look-in. I hope to spearhead some #SafetyAudits there in near future.

I also shared a number of ‘tips’ suggested by various people on how to ensure your own safety during runs. Such as from this handy site & sparked off discussions on what women are doing today in India. From knives to pepper spray to never running alone to this lady who resorted to violence there are many things to think about here. My daughter made us this pic to illustrate some of the very basic things:

Meanwhile, Anil, a friend of mine felt so enthused by it all that he wrote this blog post which is one of the best compilation of Safety Tips I have seen.

Finally, at The Hindu Health & Fitness Expo on Dec 6th, as a precursor to The Wipro Chennai Marathon 2014, when 1800+ women ran on the streets of Chennai in three races (10, 21 & 42Km), we ran a suggestion board/signature campaign.  This was at once educational (we should have included cyclists in this campaign, not just runners) and inspirational (children gave us suggestions that make a lot of sense!).

Final words:

There is lot more to be done. My aim these past couple of weeks was to get people talking about this important issue of safety, in a general manner. All the talk has to lead to action. Some of it is individual – we all have to make changes. But a large part of it is lies with the administration, and as democratic citizens the responsibility is on us to drive it. I am going to use the #RunSafe tag often in the future, for sure.

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