Saturday, March 11, 2006

Cityscapes

Space. Captain Kirk called it the final frontier but for many women on earth space is an elusive spot in the urban landscape. In some countries, it doesn't even exist while in others it is carefully rationed and available either within a stipulated time-frame and/ or, only at some designated areas of the city. Somehow women are expected to negotiate their sense of belonging within these carefully demarcated lines and expected to be grateful to the city fathers for this privilege.

While the constitutions of most democratic countries regard "Freedom of movement" as an important right for its citizens, nevertheless, it is a right that many women can only admire but not take very seriously.

It is one thing to have the freedom to go anywhere one wants but another thing altogether to be afraid of being attacked when one walks 'freely'. What's the use of this freedom when the threat of being leached at and groped at lingers? Something is not quite right if a significant section of the population suffers discomfort about being alone in the open.

If I sound so negative, it is because I have been reading some of the articles posted for the Blank Noise Project, and I've also been reading some of the global statistics on sexual harassment. Both readings made me uncomfortable because it revealed some unpalatable truths. I realised the world was not that safe a place as I thought it was or as I thought it should be. Some of the stories and anecdotes were frightening because the situations described were not something bizarre and super-dramatic but ordinary regular events that shouldn't even raise an eyebrow. After all who would expect, for example, going to a shop to buy a loaf of bread or going to the office can produce a litany of horror stories on a daily basis? But sadly, that's exactly what women have to go through every day, and, hence, their paranoia and self-defence is quite understandable and quite expected.

A glance at the statistics adds numbers to this scenario and gives a whole new quantitative dimension to the frightening picture.

In case, you thought that this problem was peculiar only to South Asian and Middle Eastern countries, think again. A glance at some of the statistics compiled by the United Nations, Amnesty International and other organisations reveal that western countries do not emerge like squeaky clean angels as well. Tales of abuse, harassment, rape and the uncomfortable 'glass ceiling' seem to be commonplace everywhere. Something is rotten in our world. Something needs to be fixed. Something needs to be addressed soon.

It is, definitely, not an East and West cultural issue because it would be presumptuous to imagine that eastern men have been taught to demean women or for that matter western men have been trained to treat women as sex objects. These are simplistic arguments that might win the debate at the local pub but nowhere else. There is, however, enough evidence to indict both east and west as far as disrespect to women is concerned and I might look into it later but not now.

The need of the hour is not to blame cultures or any particular gender for the situation we are in, but to look for solutions. A proactive approach that tackles the root cause would, somehow, help in reducing the impact of the problem and make it easier for women to live in our cities.

Perhaps it is high time that city-planners, municipal officers, ministerial highups recognise that the present architectural setup of most cities is way too male-oriented. If there are some women who cannot walk anywhere freely or have to protect their bodies from being 'touched' in crowded places, then, some adjustment needs to be done so that women don't have to live in fear. And no, I totally disagree with the Saudi solution of segregating women from men because that does not addres the core issue but only suggests throwing the baby with the bathwater.

On one hand, there is this tragic flaw in most humanity that makes bullying, controlling and attacking others almost second nature, and then there is the unsophisticated 'man' who just doesn't know when to stop talking with his crotch. Between the two strands flows the possibility of a solution. It may seem elusive, it may seem impossible, it may seem hopeless but it's there...

Here are some links to some of the global statistics that I was talking about:
Fourth Anniversary of the Security Council Resolution 1325
Women and Global Human Rights
Understanding Prejudice
Eliminating Sexual Violence Against Women

2 comments:

Maliha said...

Hi Ashish, nice write up. You write really well. I am also keen to hear what kind of solutions might city planners come up to address this issue. Do you have any solutions? Am asking becoz we should take it further and address the issue at other levels.
Regards
Maliha

gautami tripathy said...

I kind of got emotional after reading this. Becos I could somehow feel it. the humiliations we females undergo at the hands of the males sometimes makes us ashamed of being a female. The way we try preventing ourselves being touched and groped in a crowd and then simply ignoring that guy gets at me.

Its all over the world, not confined to any particular place. But should it make me feel better?

Thanks Ash, you touched something within me. Have been thinking.

And will be back for more comments.