Women in the national capital of Delhi feel unsafe in many public spaces, and at all times of the day and night. Cutting across class, profession, they face continuous and different forms of sexual harassment in crowded as well as secluded places, including public transport, cars, markets, roads, public toilets and parks. School and college students are most vulnerable to harassment, particularly rampant in public transport, particularly buses.
To address the issue, a joint action research initiative was undertaken by the Department of Women and Child Development, Government of Delhi, JAGORI, UNIFEM South Asia Regional Office and UN Habitat. Titled Safe City Free of Violence for Women and Girls, this baseline survey is based on a sample of 5010 women and men, undertaken during the period January – March 2010 by New Concept Information Systems, New Delhi and JAGORI to identify factors that create greater safety and inclusion for women in public spaces around the city.
The survey gathered and analyzed information about the nature and forms of gender-based violence and/or harassment faced by women, role of governing agencies and the police in safeguarding women’s rights, and societal perceptions and attitudes to sexual harassment.
The study used purposive sampling methods to collect information from respondents belonging to diverse occupational categories spread across public places such as bus stops, markets and shopping malls in all nine districts of Delhi. The survey covered a total of 23 areas and 50 interview sites. The total sample of 5,010 included 3,816 women, 944 men and 250 common witnesses (see below). Men and women above 16 years of age were part of the sample group.
In the report, the term ‘common witness’ refers to men and women who, by virtue of being located physically closer to public places, have a high probability of witnessing acts of sexual harassment on women, like bus conductors, shopkeepers, auto drivers, etc. Each of the respondent categories was further divided into groups, broadly based on their occupation and nature of work, such as senior and mid-level workers, factory workers, home makers, students and others.
The study is unique in eliciting the perception and experience of men regarding the issue. Men felt very strongly that women are unsafe in the city and reported witnessing incidents in all parts of the city.
- Women of all classes have to contend with harassment as part of their daily lives. School and college students in the 15-19 age-group and women workers in the unorganized sectors are particularly vulnerable.
- Harassment occurs during day and night and in all kinds of public spaces, both secluded and crowded.
- Public transport, buses and roadsides are reported as spaces where women and girls face high levels of sexual harassment.
- The most common form of harassment reported is verbal (passing comments) and visual (staring and leering) and physical (touching/groping, leaning over etc.) This view was shared by women, men and ‘common witnesses’.
- Almost two out of every three women reported facing incidents of sexual harassment between 2-5 times in the past year.
- Three out of every five women reported facing sexual harassment not only after dark but through the day time as well.
- Higher proportion of men and ‘common witnesses’ – that is almost nine out of every 10 respondents – have witnessed incidents of sexual harassment of women after dark and during the day time.
- Poor infrastructure (including poor or absent streetlights), unusable pavements, lack of public toilets, open usage of drugs and alcohol are major reasons behind the lack of safety.
- The burden of ensuring safety remains upon women. They try to ensure their own safety by not visiting certain places, staying indoors after dark, maintaining a dress code, and carrying pepper spray and safety pins etc.
- A high percentage of women, around 68 % dealt with harassment in some way ; such as: confronting the perpetrator, seeking help from family and friends.
- Concerted efforts to sensitize people including the youth as partners in creating safer cities and conducive environments;
The findings of the survey and its recommendations, and stakeholder dialogues are part of the Strategic Framework that will guide interventions to make Delhi a safer city for women, especially those from vulnerable groups. A large number of stakeholders have been consulted in the process of preparation of the strategic framework to date, and many more are planned. This includes the Departments of Education and Transport of the Government of Delhi, DTC, the Bhagidari cell, DDA (UTTIPEC) and the Delhi Police. In addition, civil society organizations involved in education and gender issues, men’s groups, legal and human rights groups, and other urban organizations have also been consulted.
The outcome of the study is expected to feed into further dialogue and planning for improved gender-sensitive infrastructure, mechanisms and programming.
The key areas of the strategic framework include:
- Urban planning and design of public spaces: While urban planning and design interventions can help in developing women-friendly spaces, better maintenance of infrastructure can improve women’s mobility, access and perception of safety, as well as deter perpetrators.
- Provision and maintenance of public infrastructure and services: this includes effective lighting and walk-able pavements, accessible to all including the aged and the disabled.
- Public transport (including modes of transportation as well as waiting areas) can be improved through design, installation of CCTV cameras, increased monitoring and wiith safety measures such as helplines for passengers, immediate response by the crew and a system in cases of distress and support within the buses. Training of transport crew to respond and support victims is essential. JAGORI has undertaken training of more than 3600 DTC crew in 2007 and recently of 50 DTC Instructors, with the aim of reaching out extensively to thousands of the DTC staff.
- Civic awareness and educational campaigns can help in building an understanding of women’s safety concerns. Special focus on the youth and students is needed.
- Improving trust in the police and effective gender sensitive responses to calls for assistance and support.
- Effective implementation of Legislations and speedy access to justice and support to victims/survivors.
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