Taking action now | COVID-19

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We’re sad, we’re frustrated, we’re angry. But, we are not helpless. In this moment, we are not allowed to be.  Continue reading “Taking action now | COVID-19”

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Cityscapes I The Need for Gendered Urban Planning

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World over, there is immense urbanisation and cities are becoming increasingly complex. In the case of cities becoming even more of a focal point of development and growth, it is important to refocus on issues of urban planning. We have an inadequate number of urban planners world over, especially in India, where we have only 1 urban planner for 4,00,000 persons. We see that there isn’t enough conversation around urban planning and that cities continue to be seen as sites of exploitation rather than as possible sites of inclusive and sustainable development. The challenge is such that the Sustainable Development Goals list ‘Sustainable Cities and Communities’ as one of its seventeen goals. This column, Cityscapes, intends to examine various aspects of urban planning and sustainable cities and communities.

Gender sensitive urban planning. Unitarian Universalist Association.

Planning without accounting for gender issues cannot allow for effective social inclusion and socio-economic transformation. The lack of such planning can and does lead to reduced mobility of women and persons of other genders, reduced independence and autonomy, restriction from the use of certain services and from equal access to education and employment. It also doesn’t allow for women to benefit from public spaces and green spaces as freely, owing to concerns of sexual violence and harassment.

The needs of different genders can be starkly different and the way cities are currently designed and envisioned only account for male interactions and experiences in and of a city. However, gender inclusive planning is increasingly becoming a more important feature of municipal planning and budgeting.

How we currently plan our cities

Cities and how they are planned do not necessarily come to mind when we think of issues of gender justice. In an urban space various facets of gender inequality intersect to create a larger systemic problem: there exist underlying power dynamics between genders; unequal division of labour, overburdening of women when urban utilities aren’t provided for adequately; vastly different patterns of ownership of, and access to, housing, medical facilities, connectivity, transport, and public spaces, and space in general.

How and why women access spaces differently

Women access spaces in urban areas quite differently from men. From the mode of transport they use to the route they take is varied from that of men. Women take more buses and they also take more complex routes of travel everyday – owing to the multiple functions they fulfil. All women have a higher onus of child and family care, resultantly they need to access facilities for such care and other services more frequently. The book, Why Loiter, by Shilpa Phadke and others, also encapsulates how women always seem to access public spaces with a purpose and never to just ‘loiter’. Their access of spaces outside of their home is more purpose-driven.

Pandemic sexual violence and street harassment are key reasons that guide women’s patterns of usage of public spaces. Financial autonomy and ownership of assets (for example, a car or bike) also determines what spaces they can access without the presence of a male family member. The driving factors behind the use of and access to spaces by women is also often compulsion and not choice. Women heading households in urban poor families are majorly found to be doing so because of lack of land and property ownership for women in rural areas. Their use of these living spaces is determined by systemic barriers of unequal property and inheritance rights.

These are some among multiple patterns of how women access spaces differently in cities.

What would a city planned to meet these needs look like?

This is an introductory exploration of what a city designed to meet these needs would look like and what practices it would follow — these needs would vary with different intersecting identities and would evolve with time and locations. Some examples would be:

  1. The city would provide for transport services along routes and locations frequented by non-male persons as well, last mile connectivity would include connecting routes used non-male persons — which would mean going beyond traditional understanding of major commute routes as routes taken for work or male focused leisure purposes. This would also mean changing the way public transport is scheduled and how modes of mobility like walking and cycling would have to account for safety measures for non-male persons to access them freely.
  2. Safety measures would be more hyper localized and designed in keeping with the needs of non-male persons – this could include better lighting and patrolling on routes frequented for family care work and everyday errands in localities to the presence of emergency phones and alarm systems in public spaces;
  3. Housing design would include the safety and design needs of non-male persons, from better security systems, gender neutral washrooms, public safety alarm mechanisms, to the presence of childcare services – this aspect can be integrated into each design feature.
  4. Family care and child care would have evolved to being provided by the state, ensuring women have as much freedom to participate in the economic workforce as they like. This example of Quebec, highlighting the role of affordable childcare provisions by the state in keeping young mothers in the workforce – is indicative of this, albeit with limitations.
  5. Zoning, i.e. how areas of a city are designated for specific purposes, would ensure mixed usage to allow for women to have access to services and leisure activities in affordable and safe locations near where they live — without meaning that the cost of such housing would disallow single women access.

What steps can we take towards this?

  1. Data collection and disaggregation that accounts for gender specific needs and ensures correction of gender biases in data collection. This would also mean impact assessment that focuses on gendered impact for all governmental action;
  2. Accounting for these gender specific needs in the budget, not only as a separate section of the budget but by mainstreaming it into the entire budget – for example taking gender into account when thinking of policies related to health, housing, education, lighting, transport, etc.
  3. Encouraging political participation by non male persons, by way of reservations or otherwise;
  4. Encouraging non male citizenship participation: as voters, voting blocs, members of various citizen groups and so on;
  5. More non male urban planners would help bring varied lived experiences, changing how cities are planned.

Unfortunately, a major drawback here is that gender inclusive planning invariably means planning for women even today. It primarily consists of accounting for needs of women in urban planning and barely focuses on the needs of persons that do not identify as male or female or are non cisgender.

It is imperative that, to create cities that are sustainable and inclusive, we understand the role gender plays in the everyday life of an individual — from their learned norms, roles and responsibilities — to the functions they then carry out in their personal lives and the spaces they occupy, as a result of these learnt behaviours. While deconstructing these social norms is important, it is equally important to create spaces that account for the needs of different genders to ensure that all persons are able to derive the same use and enjoyment of, and access to, cities and their benefits — notwithstanding their gender.

Vandita Morarka is the Founder CEO of One Future Collective.

Featured image: RSAA

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What Your Anti Sexual Harassment Policy Should Look Like (But Does Not)

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Welcome to this guide for designing anti sexual harassment policies for your workplace or educational institutions that I would like to call, “Believe Survivors” or more colloquially, “Fuck Patriarchy”.

In any other scenario I would have started out writing this article by establishing context, by building a reference to recent news pieces that highlighted how men are getting away with sexually harassing women, but do I really need to? I know that each of you reading this has had an incident come to mind as soon as you started reading this, either one that is personal or one that you read or heard about.

1. Start with following the law. Sexual harassment at the workplace and at educational institutions is illegal (as are all other forms of sexual harassment, even if conviction rates in India would lead you to believe otherwise). The law outlines what constitutes such harassment and details redressal mechanisms to be followed within the organisation for addressing such complaints. For survivors reading this, you can directly go to the police too, the internal mechanism is an alternative that you get to choose – not one that is meant to be imposed upon you

2. Now let’s get real, the law will not solve everything, you will have to. You cannot have a compliant legal system in place on one hand and perpetrate an environment that is sexist and inbred with hallmarks of rape culture. Breakdown the boys club vibe that you have going, shut down that joke about rape – it is never funny, don’t ask a female colleague to dress up “sexy” for a client meeting. Really, stop.

3. Gender sensitisation and anti sexual harassment trainings are a great long term solution and are very necessary, but survivors should not have to go through what they do in the pursuit of this long term goal. Start penalising. Take away jobs, promotions, social capital. Don’t invite speakers that have sexually harassed someone and not been penalised for it. Don’t hire such staff. Take away a prestigious student position if that student sexually harasses someone. Make it clear that the organisation won’t stand for sexual harassment and that there will be real life consequences.

4. What about people in your organisations that perpetrate sexual violence outside of your organisation? Apply the same principles to them. Make it known that you will not tolerate any sexual harassment, even if penetrated outside your organisation, and that this would be a valid reason for penalising them. Try and provide support to those survivors when you can as well, very often they will be partners or spouses of those working at your organization.

5.How do you decide the lines with regard to sexual harassment and flirtations at educational institutions and workplaces when most people meet new people at such settings? It’s quite simple really, you make the consent principle clear before you even hire a person. You need to make sure that everyone at the organisation knows a basic rule, that of asking before proceeding with anything other than a friendship. And before you ask, asking for consent never ruins a “moment”, even if it does, consent trumps everything. Start advocating for an explicit, enthusiastic yes rather than the mere absence of a no.

6. Ensure that there are protective measures for when someone at your organisation raises a complaint with regard to being sexually harassed. The perpetrator knows who they have harassed, they mostly have the contact details and other private information about that person. In work and educational setups they are often people in more senior positions, ergo those with more power, more money, more reach. There is nothing to say that someone who sexually harasses another person won’t harass them further in other ways when that person reports them.

7. In case the survivor chooses to take legal action via the criminal justice system, support them, do not alienate them.

8. What aftercare measures do you have? Do you even have aftercare measures? Even when survivors are able to secure justice through the legal procedure, they tend to leave that place of work in a few months. The place can often be a reminder of what survivors have been through. Ensure that you provide them with free mental healthcare and rally support and funds for any other form of financial or physical care they may require. Give them time off, give them control over their surroundings, let them decide – support their decisions. If they do decide to leave, help them transition to another job, do not make the sexual harassment they have faced a part of what you communicate to their new workplace without their consent.

9. Reporting is not something that a survivor owes you. Stop putting the onus of prevention of sexual harassment in the future on the survivor by using that to pressurise the to report. Their experiences and their story is their own to tell. It is your job to build a culture that prevents such acts from even happening. Also, do not blame them or penalise them for reporting after a certain duration of time. Yes, reporting is extremely important for a multitude of reasons, but do not shift the narrative and the responsibility of prevention on the survivor.

Don’t just preach these measures verbally or use them to market your organisation. Write this down. Make it part of your company policy and thereby an actual part of your workplace culture. Make these rights tangible and actionable. Include this in your HR policy and make sure each new hire is informed extensively of these norms and knows the consequences of violating them. A survivor shouldn’t have to be dependent on your goodwill for knowing that they will receive support and care: it should be, and is, their right.

Vandita Morarka has worked towards addressing sexual violence for the past 3 years. She has undertaken trainings for sensitisation for over 20,000 persons directly, provided legal aid to survivors of sexual violence, built leadership to tackle sexual violence at institutions, and has designed policy-legal solutions for preventing sexual violence and ensuring justice in the face of sexual violence. She is the Founder and CEO of One Future Collective, Tweets @vanditamorarka

Featured image: Erwan Hesry

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Queer Infocus | July 2020

The Beginning, Middle and End: A Tryst with Depression