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Friday, December 14, 2012

WOMEN UNDER ATTACK City women unsafe in all public spaces, finds survey

Mumbai: Is Mumbai no longer safe for women? A survey conducted by Akshara, a women's NGO that works towards gender sensitization, 

has now documented that the city's women increasingly feel unsafe in all its public spaces—be it railway platforms, subways, skywalks, inside buses, at bus stops, in the market place, open grounds and even on the beach. 
    In December 2011-Janu
ary 2012, the NGO undertook a Safety Walk Project along with National Social Service (NSS) students from five colleges. They selected 19 disparate locations to understand the physical and social factors that make a public space unsafe for women. 
    "It is not just social but also physical factors that lead to violence against women,'' said Nandita Gandhi, co-director, Akshara. 
    Students carried out the survey in each area during the day as well as after dark, as the place's character changes at different times. 
Many don't know of 103 police helpline 
Mumbai: Fifty per cent of women in Mumbai are unaware of 103 — the police helpline for women, children and senior citizens in distress. 
    Not surprising then that there are more calls about street fights and fracases to the number. 
    In November 2011, women's NGO Akshara carried out a survey among 5,000 women to know if they had heard about the number and which public place they found most unsafe. 
    "Fifty per cent of the women said they had not heard of the number and 65% of the women surveyed said they found crowded buses and bus stops the most unsafe. This was followed by crowded railway platforms," said Nandita Gandhi, co-director, Akshara. 
    Launched more than four years ago, the workstation at the main control room in the city police commissionerate gets, on an average, 10 calls a day from women seeking help. 
    "All these calls pertain to domestic violence, sometimes physical but, more often, mental harassment. The women often call seeking advice on what they should do. Since the police cannot resolve cases of mental harassment, we provide them with numbers of NGOs, lawyers and the family court where they can seek redressal. Complaints of sexual harassment are very rare," said a woman police officer who mans the number. Currently, there are two workstations in the main control room to man the number 24 hours; the rest are for 100. 
    "Overcrowding is one of the principal reasons for sexual harassment in public spaces. But even a deserted street is equally unsafe. Th ere has to be a balance for women to feel sa fe,'' said Gandhi. Often women do not complain about sexual harassment, not knowing whom to approach or where to complain. 
    "If the number were widely publicized, it would certainly help women as it is meant for preventive action,'' she said. Currently, the number is publicized on the sides of 2,000-odd police patrol vehicles and on the back of the BEST bus. "The government should make it mandatory for TV channels to carry social messages as corporate social responsibility." 
    Women police officials said while 100 was ingrained in people's minds, this was not the case with 103. "Better publicity will certainly help us reach out to the genuinely needy,'' one said, adding that sensitizing school and college students to such a facility would certainly help. 
    In September, Akshara trained BEST's master trainers on how to handle sexual harassment on buses, who, in turn, will now train the 
bus conductors. Himanshu Roy, joint commissioner of police (crime), said 103, on an average, received 30,000 calls a year. "It is a specialized service that ensures immediate response. We would be happy if all women are aware of the number and we shall focus on giving it more publicity.''


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