On the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, an inaugural seminar was organised on the theme – “Reclaiming Public Spaces: Empowering Women for Safer Cities” by We4HER foundation.
The seminar was followed by a panel discussion on “Is Delhi Safer for Women Post 10 Years of Nirbhaya Case?” The discussion included notable women leaders, thinkers, lawyers and experts which included Ms Pratibha Jain, Group General Counsel and Head of Corporate Affairs, Everstone Capital and Founder/Trustee of We4Her Foundation.
Jain said “When I set up the foundation along with my co-trustee, I initially thought that we could support other organisations that are working in the field, but the more I spoke to existing organisations, I realised that the task was so immense that it needed more voices Also there is a lack of awareness in some circles on the day to day struggle faced by women in a patriarchal society.”
Highlighting the need for women to reclaim public spaces, Ms Jain said that crime is the most unswerving pattern affecting personal safety. Women constitute more than half of violent crime victims across the globe. In India, a woman is subject to harassment every 51 minutes in a public space. “Sexual and physical violence against women in India has caught the police and government attention following the horrific gang-rape in Delhi in December 2012. It is important that we keep the momentum of the civil discourse around achieving safe public spaces for women in India. Not only is it of physical and psychological importance for half a population of the country, it has a direct and a substantial impact on the economy of the country and the relevant city. Public safety is confidence to people who live in a society and those who are visiting a place. It has a number of other advantages that transcends other factors. Needless to say, safe neighbourhoods and cities attract tourists besides attracting industries to a particular region. The Hon’ble Prime Minister Narendra Modi has regularly reiterated the importance of safety of women in public spaces. Its now the responsibility of his government and the administration to implement it,” Ms Pratibha Jain said.
India ranks 133 out of 167 countries in the Women’s Peace and Security Index 2019. “Empowerment is critical to ensure that women are not subject to any abuse. UN defines the term to include a women’s sense of self-worth and to determine choices, the right to have access to opportunities and resources, the right to have the power to control their lives both within and outside the homes and their ability to influence the direction of social change to create a more just social and economic order nationally and internationally. The UN SDG 5 and 11 emphasise granting women the opportunity to live free without discrimination, including workplace discrimination and making cities inclusive and safer,” Ms Jain concluded. Adopting a three-pronged strategy, the We4HER foundation will undertake programmes, conferences, seminars and research directly on gender justice and gender equality; provide grants to organisations working in the field of gender justice and gender equality in non-urban areas; and create an ecosystem for organisations working in the field of gender justice and equality.
The seminar and panel discussion included Justice Gita Mittal, Former Chief Justice Jammu and Kashmir High Court and Chairperson, broadcasting Content Complaints Council (BCCI). “From public spaces to public restrooms, the design of urban spaces can deny women their right to equal access, which can be further impeded by caste, class, disability and sexuality. Women are not seen as legitimate users of public space if they do not have a specific purpose at certain times of the day. Gender sensitive urban designing that prioritises positive liberty can play a critical role in ensuring women’s safety in public spaces and offer more inclusive solutions.”
As a first step, the foundation is launching an initiative in Defence Colony in Delhi asking families to come out at night from 9 to 11 p.m. to create awareness on safety for women in the colony by reclaiming public spaces at night, Jain added. Ms Pratibha Jain, who is an alumni of Oxford University, was joined by Hemani Malhotra, Addl. Sessions Judge, Tis Hazari Court who said that there has been a paradigm shift in the laws relating to sexual assault on women, and a number of reforms have taken place. This has made all stakeholders more victim friendly; however, victims still feel intimidated when they come to the court. Starting from the registration of the FIR, just the idea of narrating the entire experience to the police officials is a very difficult job for any woman.
Ms Shalini Singh IPS, Special Commissioner of Police, Delhi Police added, “The Nirbhaya case was a watershed moment since it made the police and society introspect about what can be done to prevent such cases from taking place again. We (the police) realised that we needed to make institutional changes, and we decided to increase the proportion of women in the police force. Currently the Delhi Police is made up of 13 per cent women personnel and we plan on increasing that to 33 per cent. We also set up 24×7 women help desks, which connect you to the hotline of whichever state you are present in. We have also undergone gender sensitisation drives for our personnel so that they become more attentive and sensitive to women’s issues. There has also been an emphasis on proper, scientific evidence based investigation and we have tried to change the mindset of our own people.”