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Wednesday, October 28, 2020

DOES YOUR CITY HAVE A GENDER?

- Nighat Gandhi


If women’s rights are human rights, it stands to reason that a feminist city is a humanist city.

                                     Urban anthropologist, Katrina Johnston-Zimmerman


Does your city have a gender?


Picture uploaded from Google

How you answer this question depends to some extent upon your gender, gender identity, social class, caste, religious affiliation, area of residence within the city, means of transportation most often used, your age, and your ability/disability status. 

In my case, regardless of the intersection of the above determinants, the city I live in definitely has a gender. And it’s not female. It’s a city made for men by men. This realization hits me every time I think of going out into the street for a walk. At night. I don’t walk alone at night. If I have to go out at all, I drive.

Can you walk your city’s streets alone, at ease, at any time of the night? After it gets dark? I can’t.

Or do you prefer to go with a friend or relative, preferably taking a male as a shield? I do.

Do you feel comfortable visiting a park, sitting alone on a park bench in your city especially after dark? I don’t.

Do you feel comfortable using your city’s public transportation system, buses, trains, rickshaws after women’s self-imposed curfew hour at night? I don’t.

Do you avoid short cuts because it may pass through an “unsafe” neighbourhood in your city? I do.

Do you feel comfortable entering a restaurant or bar alone and ordering food or drink in your city? I don’t.

Do you find yourself drinking very little water when you’re out for several hours in your city so you won’t have the urge to pee and look for a public toilet since very few exist? I do.

Do you avoid eye contact with strangers, especially men, when walking in your city? I do.

Do you pull in your shoulders, check your attire to make sure you’re well-covered, and for instance, your bra strap isn’t showing, and try to look very inconspicuous in your city? I do.

Do you stay up and wait for grown up daughters to return home if they plan to stay out late? I do.

Have you stayed home when you wanted to go out because it was too difficult to go out with small children using public transport? I have.

Have you said no to job opportunities because the workplace is located too far from home, or is not in a safe neighbourhood or the hours you are required to work are not safe? I have.


NOW IMAGINE A CITY WHERE YOU FEEL SAFE TO DO ALL THE THINGS YOU DON’T DO IN YOUR CITY. A CITY WHERE NO FEAR OR THREAT OF VIOLENCE EXISTS JUST BECAUSE YOU ARE A WOMAN. 


A feminist city is such a city. It will be a city where every woman uses public transport safely, night or day. Where No woman has to say no to a job offer because the working hours are unsafe, or the workplace is too far, too unsafe.

A feminist city is a city where women of all ages feel safe to visit their city’s parks and recreation areas at any time of day or night.

A feminist city is a city where all women can go to a bar or restaurant of their choice without discomfort, with or without a companion.

A feminist city is a city where women don’t avoid short cuts because the short cut is unsafe.

A feminist city is a city where parents don’t stay up waiting for their daughters to get back home safely.

A feminist city is a city where no woman carries the rape fear at the back of her mind every time she steps out of her home.

A feminist city is a city where public transport is safe and child-friendly, so mothers with small children don’t avoid using it.

A feminist city is by default a city that’s safe for all genders. It’s a humanist city.

                My fellow women, unfortunately, we don’t live in such a city. There exists no blue-print for such a city in our part of the world. Most of us live in cities designed by men for men. And unless more women become women-centric urban planners, developers and designers, unless more women become feminist architects, unless more women are responsible for running our cities, we will not live in cities designed by women for women. We cannot envision a Feminist city at present. And it’s not just in our part of the world that feminist cities don’t exist.

For comparison, here’s an excerpt from a recent book by Leslie Kern, where she’s writing about the city of London:

                Women’s bodies are still often seen as the source or sign of urban problems. Yet the reality is that women are much more likely to suffer from the structure of the city than their male counterparts. The constant, low-grade threat of violence mixed with daily harassment shapes women’s urban lives in countless ways. Sexist myths combined with the everyday barriers that women face in the city remind us that we’re expected to limit our freedom to walk, work, have fun, and take up space. Every time I got off the bus at a distant stop or took a long and winding route home because I worried I was being followed stole my valuable time and energy.

In short, the message is: The city isn’t really for you.

          Leslie Kern, writing about London, in Feminist City: Living in a man-made world

How do you experience your city?

What needs to change about your city?

Please share your experiences in comment section below. 


PS- Nighat Gandhi is a writer and has published four  books, story collections and many articles. She is also a mental health counsellor. She identifies herself as south Asian queer feminist. 

7 comments:

karma yeshe said...

Here in my city i love the fact that more and more women cyclists are on the streets. 30 years ago, we were a rare sight. Unfortunately, we still get harassed. Macho culture is not easy to root out.

rukminidey said...

My city Bangalore is quite gender biased....blatantly as well as subtly...the fact that I am a researcher takes people by surprise ....also the fact that I don't wear ornaments raises brows...I haven't had any terrible experiences, but I have heard of cases of molestation and harrassment.

Dharmesh said...

to imagine a city is to also imagine a world. this world without police & prisons, not just that of the carceral state but also of carceral masculinity, is a world for which we need to build our own spaces as much queer feminist as we wish the city to be. thank you for writing this & such poignant points.

Varsha Agrawal said...

As I live in a small religious city of Banaras, where old and new always lock horns, where at one point you see pandits almost naked on ghats, and where eve teasing for girls wearing short clothes occur daily, these points create validity for my thoughts and make me wonder if we're the only ones thinking about this? You have raised such important and yet such a taken for granted topic. Safety in a city. We should definitely give more thought to this. Well written!

Unknown said...

Never looked at it from a infrastructural and architectural lens! Thanks for the insight!

Anjali sinha said...

प्रिय निघत 
लेख अच्छा लगा।एक ज़रूरी मुद्दे को रुचिकर ढंग से पेश किया है
- अंजलि  

Chandrakala said...

This is very insightful. I must say, I had always thought about how my city is not safe for women, but the idea that most cities are made *by men for men* is something that interested me a lot. I liked it very much! I hope women step forward to make a city that is safe for them, because nobody else will do it for us.

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