Last Updated : Mar 08, 2018 05:23 PM IST | Source:

Are smart cities being planned to incorporate needs of women?

While some cities have planned night markets for women, taken a conscious decision to purchase unisex bikes as part of the bike sharing initiative and even launched safety apps, much more needs to be done to make them truly gender smart

Vandana Ramnani @vandanaramnani1

As many as 99 cities have been selected to become smart under the Smart Cities Mission and total investments proposed in these cities is around Rs 2.03 lakh crore. But some  questions being raised are to do with whether basic services and transportation needs being planned to incorporate the needs of women or are they largely ‘gender blind’? Are they considering the aspect of gender budgeting and looking at creating public spaces reserved for women?

While some cities have taken the leap forward, most of them have more or less remained largely ‘closed’ to the aspect of planning for specific needs of women.

In Allahabad, customised women day night markets are being held with beat posts manned by women constables. Many cities have also introduced unisex bikes as part of the bike sharing initiative.

“The decision to purchase unisex bikes has been a conscious one. The purpose was to ensure that either sex could ride them. This has been implemented in Ajmer, Bhopal and Ranchi,” said Digbijoy Bhowmik, an urban planner and consultant, adding Sakhi, a safety app has been co-opted in Allahabad city to ensure that women feel safe while travelling in the city.

Interestingly, when the smart cities initiative was being launched in 2015, Bharatiya Stri Shakti, a 28-year-old Mumbai-based voluntary women’s organisation, had initiated a campaign for Gender-Smart Cities and sought for greater space for women in the proposed smart cities. The National Commission for Women (NCW) had extended its support to the move.

It had demanded a Special Economic Zone for women, a mandatory safety audit, affordable housing for single women, crèches and transport facilities for working women, loos at domestic and public places and efficient grievance mechanism etc.

Each Smart City gets a Central assistance of Rs 100 crore per year for five years. The cities are being developed to ensure there is assured water and power supply, sanitation and solid waste management, efficient urban mobility and public transport, IT connectivity, e-governance and citizen participation but there are no gender budgets, say experts.

“When we are planning for people, the language of urbanization in reality is largely unequal from a gender perspective,” says Anju Pandey, programme specialist, Ending Violence Against Women, UN Women.

“While reviewing city plans, there is not a single plan where we have seen a one stop center that may have been integrated into a development plan for women or for that matter public spaces for women and girls where they could engage,” she says.

A global plan by UN Women being implemented across 30 locations is looking at making cities safe for women and girls across the world. “Following the Nirbhaya incident, we realised there was something really wrong with our cities and that led us to develop a strategic framework that identified nine critical areas that included urban design, transport, lighting, streets etc, how women experience the city. We have also included basic services such as access to water and sanitation. We are looking at transport, how roads are being planned etc,” she says.

When it comes to access to basic services in cities such as planning for community toilets “we are looking at bringing in the aspect of gender budgeting and planning along with municipal corporations in these cities,” she says. At a national level, “we now have 56 ministries and departments that have gender budget cells and there are some initiatives that are on at the state level too.”

A draft policy released last year by Institute for Transport and Development Policy (ITDP) and Safetipin on Women and Transport in Indian Cities had stated that “while there is momentum by different levels of government in addressing women’s safety in public transport, urban transport investments are largely gender blind with a limited understanding of the interrelationships between gender and transport. Sustainable urban development will remain elusive without integrating women and girls in urban transport.”

It calls for preparing and implementing gendered mobility plans across cities. The policy noted that at least 80 per cent of all trips made by women and girls are by public and non-motorized transport. It had called for creating safe and comfortable walking environments for women and girls and creating cycle tracks to provide safer cycling environments and reduction in motor vehicle speeds where cycles share the carriageway with motor vehicles. It said that safety audits should be conducted to improve last mile connectivity and to design bus stops, IPT stops, train/metro stations, terminals and interchange stations.

It talks of procuring public transport fleet as per UBS II specifications with lower handlebars, wider gangways, space for strollers, access ramps and women doors and creating campaigns to generate awareness on sexual harassment laws, communicate a zero tolerance approach to sexual harassment, encourage women to report harassment, and encourage bystanders to assist women and girls.

It also calls for providing real time information on arrival and departure of public transport and major destinations around the public transport stops frequented by women and girls.

Taking a cue

In Seoul, The Convenient Seoul policy aims to improve women’s accessibility to public places and mobility by public transportation. The Seoul metropolitan government increased the number of toilets in female restrooms in subway stations, newly-built performance centres, stadia and parks. It also installed di­aper-changing tables and improved lighting in public restrooms. The government designated parking lots for women in public parking zones and installed more CCTV cameras. It lowered the height of the sidewalk ledge and installed hump-type crosswalks. For more convenient use of public transporta­tion, the government lowered the handles in buses and subways and installed transportation facilities to help women and the disabled. It promoted installation of ticket gates for baby carriages in subway stations.

The Women Safety Brand Call Taxi project allows women to access a safe taxi service at night. A phone service sends the plate number, departure time, and location via a text message to the family members of women who use the taxi at night. The city planning committee added more wom­en committee members to encourage women’s participation in policy-making.

Time, Indian cities took a cue from Seoul.
First Published on Mar 8, 2018 05:23 pm
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