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Women take back the city’s streets

Published : Aug 2, 2016, 11:04 pm IST
Updated : Aug 2, 2016, 11:04 pm IST

Womenability, a Paris-based NGO and Safecity, are conducting a walk on the streets of Khar and Santacruz to highlight how safe and accessible the areas are for women.

A walk conducted by Safecity in Sion (Mumbai).
 A walk conducted by Safecity in Sion (Mumbai).

Womenability, a Paris-based NGO and Safecity, are conducting a walk on the streets of Khar and Santacruz to highlight how safe and accessible the areas are for women.

One of the most cosmopolitan cities in India, Mumbai, sees women from different backgrounds, travelling to and from work or partying it up at nightclubs. Many of these women, who come here from other parts of the country, claim that the city is safer than most other Indian metropolitan cities. However, when Audrey Noeltner arrived here from Paris, the first thing she says, she noticed was the lack of women on the streets, compared to her hometown. Not to mention the stares that she received from the men. Audrey, along with Julien Fernandez, is part of Womenability, a not-for-profit group based out of the French capital, which seeks to make streets safer and more accessible for women.

Womenability, over the past six months, has chosen cities for their walks based on two criteria, according to Audrey and Julien— the cities have to have over 10,000 people and women governors or mayors, as the case may be. The duo has travelled the world over and has already covered over 20 cities across six continents, conducting what they call Exploratory Walks. They have been backed by donations from the City of Paris government, a Swedish NGO and crowd funding platforms. Their walk in Mumbai is all set to take place on August 4 in the bustling streets of Santacruz and Khar.

“We do not pick the places according to beauty, but rather check if they are somewhere central, so that the walks are more visible, or somewhere there are more issues, so that they can be pointed out,” says Julien, adding that men are a welcome addition to the walk. “We tell the men to keep a quantitative tab on the answers that the women give which makes them aware of the many problems they face. Besides, even men are subject to some violence and security issues on the streets, though not as much as women,” she adds.

Explaining further the logistics of the walk, Audrey says that they are not only looking at places where women face harassment but are also trying to spot places where women can breastfeed, travel with a stroller, play sports or show affection, regardless of gender. “We usually tie up with local NGOs because they know the city better,” she adds. In Mumbai, Safecity, an NGO that provides an online, anonymous platform for women to share experiences of harassment, has joined them for this venture. “We have conducted such walks before and while our questionnaires were not as detailed, we also encouraged the people joining the walks to call up the BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation) and list their complaints,” says managing director and co-founder of Safecity, Elsa D’Silva, adding that this is going to be an integral part of the upcoming walk. This, according to her, allows people to feel more empowered since they are taking change into their own hands.

But why to conduct walks instead of simply having interactive sessions in a group According to Audrey, while a talk could be arranged, actually walking down the streets gives the participants a much more hands-on experience and they get to learn about their city. She cites examples of cities that she and Julien have already covered. “Wellington, (New Zealand) which was one of my favourites, had street lights depicting women and even transgender people. On the other hand, in Montevideo, Uruguay, the women who joined us said that they faced harassment as many as four or five times a day in certain areas,” she says.

Julien explains that once all the cities on their list have been covered, the duo will return to Paris, where they will collate the data for an exhibition. “This is an international phenomenon, and those cities that are a long way from solving the problems can turn to those cities that mostly have, for inspiration,” he adds.

The Womenability walk will take place on August 4, from 2 pm to 5 pm Meet-up location: Starbucks, Khar, Backstage Bldg, Ramakrishna Mission Road.