Women’s safety- whose problem is it ?
Light weekend banter with my girl gang got us discussing a sort of “rite of passage” status that going to the neighbourhood grocery store has acquired amongst pre teens of the apartment complex. Even my fairly liberal, woke friends said that it is “different for girls” because of all the things we read and hear about. So, while 10 year old boys can be allowed to go to the store by themselves, sending 10 year old girls would warrant a rethink. While we all agreed that it was equally unsafe for boys and indeed a sad state of affairs, I also held a view to the effect that we need to take the bull by its horns, i.e,the young girls in question need to stake claim to public places without fear in the quest for a safe environment for all. We as their mothers and they as individuals have to let go of our fears to ensure we don’t perpetuate the same beliefs that we are mounting a fight against everyday, and a spirited one at that ! How does one go about that ?Whose problem is it really ?
While most policy solutions centre around either markets or governmental action there are a few issues for which solutions rest firmly in the intersection of markets, governments and societal action. Women’s safety is one such issue- and an urgent and important issue at that. So, what can each of these institutions that form the pillars of society do to tackle the issue at hand?
Hans Rosling in his book Factfulness says while summarising the chapter on “Blame instinct” says — “look for causes, not villains; look for systems, not heroes.” Clearly, blaming a section of society or the government alone is not going to solve the problem. Analysing causes and offering system led solutions rather than looking for individual acts of heroism, is what will help us get to the desired outcomes of relatively safe places for women.
From a governmental action point of view, as we have seen in the past, legislation is the most obvious and the easiest solution. In the aftermath of the Jyoti Singh/Nirbhaya rape, the laws around rape were strengthened. But did it ensure greater safety for women? The number of rape cases being reported have only increased. So, what else can the government do?
In the long term, the government needs to invest in education all around. Education delivers a positive externality- that is, an interaction between 2 people leads to benefit to people around them too. Therefore, the more the number of people brought into the fold of education, the more the society benefits. Education not just implies the number of people into schools for literacy and numeracy but also setting the foundation for equality between the sexes. Curriculum and teachers that impart values of equity and respect rather than perpetuating antiquated values of patriarchy are the need of the hour. ( one text book had a statement- the father is the head of the family…eye roll)
In the medium to immediate term, an increased and sensitised police force will go a long way in increasing confidence of general public about safety. Fast track courts, women police stations are other ways that the government can intervene to increase women’s safety. From a municipal works point of view, just ensuring presence and functioning of street lights can go some distance in building confidence among people. Drawing from the RTO experiment in Bangalore city, where one can apply for a driving license from any of the RTOs instead of the one demarcated as in the jurisdiction, what if people were allowed to complain anywhere and the incentives for the police stations are altered so that they reflect the state of women’s safety? Would it ensure a more alert and responsive police force? Just thinking out aloud ! Government bodies should adopt a “push”approach to communications by proactively publishing locality wise reports to improve information asymmetry which inturn will help increase perception of safety too. People’s perception of safety is also important because it creates an atmosphere of confidence . Would making public transport cheaper for women make more women take them and thus the increase in numbers help in reclaiming public spaces ?
What can markets do ? Going by the basic principle of markets working on self interest- markets will step in to service a need if they see a profit there.While safer public transport is the single most important factor in increasing mobility and safety of women, the market too can play a role. What do you think of women-only shared cabs or cabs driven by women- for women? What if the government incentivises separate women’s only cab hailing platforms? These may provide solutions to women but won’t necessarily lead to integration.However, this could change the market place by creating competition among other cab operators to ensure they provide safe mobility solutions. This will force regular cab operators to tweak their products/services to include safety is an important feature in their offering. Once they commit to it on their advertising and communication platforms, they will ensure they will live up to it.
The third one i,e society is probably the most important because once we wake up and begin to assert our rights and demands the government and the markets have to respond. We often undermine the role of individual action in bringing about societal change.Whether it is cleanliness or tax compliance, it is always looked at as someone else’s problem to solve. This piece explains why we should not fall into that trap- (https://www.thinkpragati.com/opinion/1574/a-case-for-societism/)Society is but a collection of individuals and unless we as individuals are ready to let go of our fears and conditioning, we can see little change on the ground. As this piece goes on to say, we are indeed feminists in beliefs but not in action, feminists with bad habits. (http://blog.juggernaut.in/feminists-with-bad-habits/)We have to find ways to ensure our girls lay claim to public spaces as their right and not cordon them off. We have to find creative solutions in the short term. Had some women not made their entry into the corporate workforce, however much they were in the minority then, we would not see winds of change sweeping us. The conversation around diversity and inclusion would not have begun. So, we need to take those small steps to ensure we realise the dream of an equal society. For a start I recommend to my friends- how about we allow the girls to go to the neighbourhood store in groups? As this article points out, the decrease in confidence in girls is not due to lack of ability but the ecosystem.(https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2018/09/puberty-girls-confidence/563804/)It is upto us to aid our girls take their rightful place in society. Will we rise to the challenge?