Part of the rash of sexual violence we are witnessing today in India has to do with who owns public space. As the world today goes through many fundamental structural changes from the advent of digital economies to the transforming relationship between people and work an important trend that is emerging is the changing association between women and public spaces. We now have more women than men in higher education in the world. And women are increasingly breaking glass ceilings across politics, business, sports and multiple other sectors. As a result, women's presence in public spaces is becoming more pronounced. The old social contract whereby women were confined to house-bound domestic roles is breaking down.
But since public spaces have been structured according to patriarchal mores over centuries, greater participation of women in public life is leading to a virulent backlash, evidenced by the surge in crimes against women. This highlights the need to make public spaces more women friendly. After all, women having equal access to public spaces is imperative not just for gender justice but also critical for women to contribute positively towards society as a whole. In this regard, public spaces need to be reimagined to make women equal stakeholders. When women are able to claim public spaces as their own, it will automatically push back patriarchal mores.
Therefore, it is time that women start owning public spaces. They should be enabled to flood public transport, take back the streets at night and feel safe in the open. Governments should formulate policies towards this, perhaps by declaring women’s ownership of certain public places at certain times, backed by official support. This would have a strong psychological impact, and signal intent towards making our public places friendly and empowering for women.
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