What a walk can (unexpectedly) reveal
March 7, 2011 4 Comments
I just got back from a walk/run on the beach (that I badly need to get some regular exercise is a long story that belongs elsewhere!). It is 9:20pm and if my grandmother knew, I’m sure she would berate me for going out alone at night.
To get to the beach, I have to walk along a very busy main road. At this time of the night, traffic is particularly heavy. It also happens to be fairly well lit, with several shops lining one side of the road. Not surprisingly, the side with the shops is also marginally better lit.
On my way out, I instinctively crossed over to the better-lit side and walked towards the beach. Outside one of the shops, a group of men semi-leered at me, not in a particularly threatening way. It was one of those halfhearted ‘oh hey you are a woman walking alone so we might as well say something mildly offensive. But we can’t actually be bothered to say/do anything more’ . I of course just ignored them and continued on. Half an hour later, coming back home, I walked on the less-crowded, less-lit side.
Here’s my point. Over the last few months, I’ve been reading, writing and thinking about safety audits quite a bit. I first participated in a workshop by Jagori last year; Prajnya then piloted an audit during the 2010 16 Days Campaign. For those who aren’t familiar with these, a women’s safety audit is a research tool used to understand how safe a particular space ‘feels’. Usually, the audit is carried out by a group of local residents and assesses several factors that all contribute to how safe or unsafe a woman feels – lighting, the condition of pavements, how wide/narrow roads are, whether there are shops, whether it is a busy or isolated road, etc. You can read about Prajnya’s audit here: http://www.prajnya.in/16d10report.pdf
Somehow and entirely unconsciously, while walking back from the beach this evening, I found myself mentally doing an audit. I was looking at lamp posts to see if they were working, at the location of tea shops to see if men were gathered outside, at gates to see if they were open or shut.
And I remembered one of the Jagori team members telling me, ‘once you do an audit, it is very hard to not go on auditing every single place you go to’. She described how could she could no longer enter a mall without going over the safety audit checklist in her mind.
I can’t think of a better reason to do more audits, to get more groups of local residents together. Audits force us to stop and think about the spaces we use every day. And no, we don’t have to become paranoid about these spaces but it surely can’t hurt to become more conscious of the roads and streets that we tend to assume complete familiarity with.