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Monday, March 27, 2023

What’s coming in the way of Delhi women from stepping out of home

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With a bottle of milk in one hand and a rattle in the other, Tavleen Tandon, a mother of two, barely has any time to talk. The 27-year-old woman doesn’t remember the last time she stepped out of her house for leisure or work.

A former teacher, Ms. Tandon had to quit her job after the birth of her first child three years ago. “In the past few years, I can count the number of times I stepped out of my house. While it’s difficult to take out time for any leisurely activity because of household chores, it’s also not easy for a lactating mother to travel with her baby in public spaces in a city with no feeding rooms,” says the Dwarka resident.

Ms. Tandon is one of thousands of women in Delhi who do not step out of their houses even once a day, as per research published in the Springer Journal. Rahul Goel, Assistant Professor at Transportation Research and Injury Prevention Centre at Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, who contributed to the paper, says Delhi was the only one out of 19 cities worldwide where the rate of immobility among women was much higher than the men. The other cities were Accra, Kisumu, Cape Town, Melbourne, London, Berlin, Cologne, Hamburg, Munich, Zurich, Buenos Aires, São Paulo, Santiago, Bogota, Mexico City, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City.

The research found that 58% of the 6,844 women surveyed from lower- and middle-income families did not step out of their houses even once a day. Mr. Goel attributes it to the lack of personal safety, absence of women-friendly infrastructure and gender roles that keep women tied to homes even though this is a very small sample for a city which had around 78 lakh women out of a total population of 1.68 crore, as per Census 2011.  

Experts say there has been a considerable increase in the number of girls getting enrolled in schools and colleges, and many more joining the formal and informal workforce. But the concept of mobility translates differently for women under different circumstances. But that’s not the case with men. Like, in the case of Ms. Tandon. While she had to quit her job, there was no change in her husband’s lifestyle or mobility after the birth of their children.

“I do see that my wife doesn’t get much time for herself. I help her with some household chores on weekends but taking care of the needs of children is something she understands way better than me. So, even during weekends her hands are full,” says Ms. Tandon’s husband Ritesh, 32, a software engineer.

Sunita Jhangu, 19, who is in her final year of college, had been stepping out of home to attend her classes all these years. However, after college, she wants to take up a job only if the place allows her to work from home as she doesn’t wish to add to her parents’ anxieties.

“I have seen my neighbour carrying a cane stick while going to drop her 28-year-old daughter to the main road as there are always a group of men hanging around and catcalling at women,” says Ms. Jhangu, a resident of Chhatarpur.

Her father shares his anxiety. “It’s not that we don’t want our daughter to get ahead in life, it’s just that we feel scared of her going out and coming back alone in the evening. What if her office is far away? You can’t always get a job near your residence. Then there is work pressure and traffic jams which will keep her from reaching home before evening,” says Ms. Jhangu’s father, Manohar, 52.

“You keep hearing about terrible things happening to women,” he adds.

Main obstacles

Socio-spatial hindrances hold back women from stepping out, says Mr. Goel. “Again, those who get to step out for paid work and education have to deal with a public space saturated by men,” he adds.

Sonali Vyas of Safetypin, a personal safety application, says the mobility of women in a city depends largely on public infrastructure like public lighting, well-connected and affordable public transport and the availability of community spaces.

“While Delhi has many median lights to illuminate the main roads, the pavements still remain dark which makes it very difficult for women to walk and feel safe,” says Ms. Vyas.

According to Ms. Vyas, the “overwhelmingly masculine city streets can also be feminised” if there are more accessible community spaces for women. “Active measures need to be taken to stop public spaces from becoming hangout zones for drunkards and addicts,” she adds.

She also stresses on the need to make the roads more friendly by setting up more mobile shops and the need to create awareness about the availability of helpline numbers — 100 (Delhi Police) and 1091 (women helpline) — to change women’s perception about the support system that this city can provide.

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