Public Spaces - For the Public or Just Men?
Maliha Khan | Srinagar, Kashmir
How many times have you girls been asked or have seen other women being asked, “Why do you want to go outside? Do you have some work to do?” I, for one, have seen countless instances with such statements. What this shows is that there is a pre-established notion that women do not belong in public spaces and should only be seen outside when they have some work to do. It is because of the idea that public spaces are mostly oriented towards and designed for males. Let's take public washrooms for instance; it is a basic necessity, yet most of them are not accommodative of the needs of women. As if while designing them, the idea of women in public spaces was never even considered by the planners. This not only limits women from public spaces but also makes them uncomfortable for women.
From cafes to bus stops to parks, all the places are male-dominated. There are little to no spaces for the recreation of women. Women are expected to be outside only for work and not for recreation. For years, I would come from school to my home directly. There was no space for me to hang out with my friends like boys my age did. The local park wasn’t safe, the street wasn’t safe. Every place outside was and is unsafe for girls. Furthermore, these physical limits go hand in hand with the societal restrictions put on women. The moral policing that women experience in public places pushes them indoors. A man hanging out in public space is thought of as normal while a woman doing the same is somehow deviant from the “normal”. For instance, cafes that are considered to be safe are many times uncomfortable for girls. This is because people often judge the character of the girls who choose to enjoy themselves outside with their friends. Even now, when an unfortunate event takes place or a woman is subject to harassment, it is the woman (the victim) who is first asked what she was doing outside in the first place.
These ideas are deeply problematic because they essentially relate a woman’s safety and character to her mobility. Why should a woman have to choose between her safety and enjoying herself outdoors?
Now, many might think that I am pushing it to the extreme, because several developed countries have inclusive public spaces for women. I agree that progress has been made, but it isn’t enough. Imagine a man wandering alone in the streets at midnight and then imagine the same for a woman. Who is it comparatively unsafe for? The answer in most cases would be woman. A woman has to face the same dangers as that of a man and more, because of her gender. This is exactly what we need to change. Regardless of the country, this is a reality faced by women everywhere.
People often say that public places aren’t safe for girls. This leads to many females staying indoors, which in turn leads to public spaces being designed not for both genders but only for the males. This causes these spaces to always be inherently unsafe for women. It is a vicious cycle that has to be put to a stop.
We need to stop using the excuse that public spaces are unsafe for women. Instead, take charge and make public places safe for women. We can start with public washrooms by making them more inclusive to the needs of both genders. Change the existing ideas of gender and mobility. Finally make sure that these “public spaces” are actually for the public and not just for men.