The streets of Hyderabad are filled with chaos: cars and motorcycles swerving in and out of lanes, people crossing the streets wherever possible, the never-ending sounds of car horns, and trash thrown everywhere. I would know. I walked to work every single day through the streets of Hyderabad for six straight weeks while working at VOICE 4 Girls. I quickly became accustomed to the chaos, but in the overwhelming amount of sights and sounds in the streets of Hyderabad, women are very noticeably absent.
To be fair to the women of Hyderabad, I completely understand why they would want to spend as little time in the streets as possible. Men pee anywhere and everywhere along the sides of the roads, regardless of the nearness of cars or people. Women must ignore the countless, creepy photographs that men not-so-secretly take of them whenever they wear a nice dresses or decide to go for a run. Some men see a woman simply walking down the street as enough of an invitation to grope her. Even the streets themselves are not conducive to women’s safety: only a few of the streets have sidewalks and even fewer have lights at night.
What does it say about the state of the streets that women feel uncomfortable walking outside after sunset but men feel comfortable pulling out their penis to pee anytime of the day?
The safety of women in the streets of other Indian cities does not seem to be much better. Just today, a story about a woman who was molested and nearly stripped in broad daylight by a group of men in the streets of Mumbai made national news in India. Take a look through Indian news stories for the last few months, and you’ll find a similar trend. Whether she’s a young student, returning home from school or an older tourist asking for directions, any female who braves the streets of India’s greatest cities is at risk. It is no wonder that India was ranked dead last in a poll measuring the best G20 countries for women (yes, this means that India was ranked lower than Saudi Arabia, where women are not allowed to drive and are allowed to vote for the first time in 2015).
Though, this is not to say that India’s streets are without hope. In an effort to make city streets safer, Delhi is creating a new, all-female commando force to patrol the streets. In Ahmedabad, the recently named safest place for women in India, one can find women street vendors often working as late as 2am.
Small changes can make Indian streets a lot safer. When I traveled to Mumbai, I was struck by how many women I saw walking on the streets, even late at night. The two biggest differences between Mumbai streets and Hyderabad streets? Mumbai streets are incredibly well lit and are much more likely to have sidewalks. Nevertheless, we need to remember that not all efforts to promote street safety are equal. As anyone who’s been to an Indian movie theater knows, the efforts of violence reduction against women in India have focused on asking women to be more safety conscious. Moving forward, we should stop asking Indian women to be more safety conscious and instead ask Indian men to make streets more welcoming to women.
Rachel was a Business Development intern at VOICE this past winter. She is currently a junior at Dartmouth College, majoring in Geography.