Making India’s most dangerous cities safer for girls and women

Plan India successful programme ‘Safer Cities for Girls’ has seen them reach the prestigious final of the Womanity Award 2018.

Plan India’s programme has already been run widely in communities in Delhi and around the world as part of its Global Girls 2030 Initiatives. Now, with the support of their partner in the award, Vishakha – a leading women’s rights organisation – they are set to expand it to two of the most oppressive and violent areas of Jaipur.

violence against women in India
1. Safer cities programme comes to Jaipur
2. Street harassment and abuse in India
3. What happens when you make cities safer for women
4. Safer youth clubs for girls
5. Sensitising police to violence against women
6. Boys become champions of gender equality
7. Indian government support for women’s rights

In a public square in Delhi a teenage girl is being followed by a man who will not leave her alone. It’s a scene being portrayed by actors to raise awareness of common harassment. She asks him to stop, but he won’t. Someone nearby says to her: “Have you told your parents?”. She replies “Are you mad? They would stop sending me to school.”

For Plan India, such performances are just one of many awareness-raising tools used to change culture in communities across India, so that the next generation of girls and women can be treated more equally and live with much less fear of violence and abuse.

The organisation’s successful programme ‘Safer Cities for Girls’ has seen them reach the prestigious final of the Womanity Award 2018.

The biennial Award is this year is themed on ‘Safer Urban Environments for Women’ and seeks to make cities places were women can thrive and be free from violence. Currently women are regularly fearing for their safety in cities across the world.

Safer cities programme comes to Jaipur

The team of two organisations will work with governments, community groups, young girls and boys and families, to raise awareness of women’s rights, with a focus on adolescent girls. They’ll seek to change cultural norms and behaviours with interventions such as safe youth clubs, counselling support, safety walks, intergenerational dialogues and sensitisation of duty bearers such as police, and those working on public and private transport. Importantly, the views and feelings of adolescent girls and young women will be at the centre of their approach, including the most vulnerable girls, such as migrants.

Jaipur is the capital and the largest city of the state of Rajasthan with a population of 3.6 million. Like many cities, it continues to expand with the rapid migration from smaller villages and towns to the city for education, employment and a better standard of living.

“Along with the growth in population there is a high crime rate and an increase in violence against women and young girls,” says Mohammed Asif, director of programme implementation at Plan India. “The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report has put Jaipur among the leading three cities India for its high volume of rape cases each year.”

Street harassment and abuse in India

A recent Vishakha study – Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces for Women and Girls – carried out in Jaipur, has also shown that street harassment against women and girls i.e. touching, verbal abuse, passing comments, physical attacks, and obscene acts, is commonly happening in public places, particularly in market spaces and during the night.

Women are living in fear and being restricted by officials and community leaders from being able to move about their city and flourish, to safely go to school, work or enjoy community activities. Patriarchal attitudes and beliefs restrict adolescent girls’ mobility in accessing public spaces, preventing them from using community internet facilities, mixed boys and girl co-education facilities and the internet beyond certain limitations.

In addition, far more men than women have access to mobile phones and internet. Plan India’s experience also shows that even when women have access to mobile phones, the controls are always in the hands of men. There are also fewer and lesser opportunities for women to participate in public engagement, thus further restricting their voice and access to information.

What happens when you make cities safer for women

But Plan India’s interventions so far have shown positive signs of change. Last year, an external evaluation of the Safer Cities for Girls programme in Delhi revealed significant progress on key indicators:

  • An increase of 48% of adolescent girls who report starting to participate in governance issues related to girls’ safety
  • An increase of 34% of girls feeling they always participate in decisions important to them
  • An increase in 15% of girls reporting always feeling safe in public spaces

The evaluation also captured that most girls noted improvements in mobility, confidence, and ability to speak up. Girls who participated in the program highlighted greater confidence with parents or in communities and more freedom to travel in public, where they were previously hampered, both by fear as well as restrictions by parents.

Plan India and Vishakha are  both well placed to bring the programme to Jaipur. Both have worked in the city before. Plan India currently works in more than five thousand communities. Connecting with the government, statutory institutions, NGOs, children’s networks, UN agencies, communities, youth and children, the organisation highlights the issues of all children and women, especially the most vulnerable and marginalised.

Safer youth clubs for girls

Vishakha has worked extensively across India to increase women’s rights and is perhaps best known for its advocacy work in the case where the Supreme Court of India issued the landmark Guidelines for Prevention of Sexual harassment in the Workplace in 1997, updated in 2013.

If the duo wins the award and the financial and scale up support that Womanity offers with this, they will embark on three years of replication and adaptation of the programme from Delhi to Jaipur. “Jaipur is a hub of employment and educational opportunities and girls and women must have access to this,” says Bharat Agarwal, project lead at Vishakha.

The project proposes to launch in two locations in the city called Muhana Mandi and Ragar Mohalla. “These areas have the highest number of reported cases related to crime against women in public areas (in Jaipur) and the majority of their populations are marginalised and vulnerable,” he says.

With creations such as safer youth clubs for adolescent girls and boys and community managed safe spaces/ referral points they will be able to provide immediate support to girls in need and offer information accordingly.

The duo will also establish a youth resource and counselling centre to provide a safe space for young people’s exploration and understanding of various issues.

Sensitising police to violence against women

The safety walks for girls will enable authorities to see and explore where and how girls feel vulnerable and what they’d like to see to help improve safety. Girls will be also be given community scorecards to assess the quality of city services and spaces that are relevant to them.

Throughout the programme there will be regular inter-generational dialogues with girls, family and community members to help increase participation of the overall community. And, the team will run regular awareness-raising campaigns using various strategies to sensitise the general public, the police, users of transportation services and market associations to make them aware about the safety issues facing adolescent girls.

Vishakha’s safe spaces for women in police stations will also be replicated. Known as Mahila Salah Evam Suraksha Kendra and operating successfully in a number of police stations in Rajasthan, these spaces provide counselling and wellbeing support and help women with such tasks as finding legal advice. The spaces were set up in 10 districts 14 years ago and in the first eight years, around 12,000 women sought support.

Boys become champions of gender equality

Mr Asif adds: “Importantly, we have also created a training curriculum programme for adolescent boys that engages boys and men in a dialogue, challenging and transforming harmful gender norms, and building a social movement for the promotion of new models of masculinities and for gender equality. The materials are part of Plan’s Boys Champions of Change global curriculum on gender equality and girls’ rights.”

The approach is deep and broad and with the support of the government and communities has a very real chance of making lives safer, happier and more open for hundreds of thousands, if not millions of girls and women across Jaipur.

Indian government support for women’s rights

Ms Roli Singh, IAS, principal secretary for the women and child department in the government of Rajasthan, concludes:  “Ensuring safety of girls in Jaipur is of top priority and convergence from all departments on the issue will be ensured.  Our department is ready to take lead and give directions. We would like to engage meaningfully with Vishakha, Plan and other committed civil society organisations to make Jaipur safe for girls.”