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Can Planning Policies Solve India’s Gender Divide?

As recent headlines reveal the insecurity faced by women in India’s largest cities, the role – and responsibility – of urban planning is being questioned.
January 28, 2013, 6am PST | Melina Cordero
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Although planning failures in India’s capital city have long been cause for policy concern, the recent attack of a young female student in southwest Delhi has reignited the debate, reports Mark Bergen. With the local protests and international attention that ensued, the failure of urban space and planning policy to protect women have come to light.

From poor public lighting to insufficient police presence, Bergen argues that “few public spaces cater to women.” Bergen also finds public service failures littered across the city’s transport system. Eighty percent of females in New Delhi reported having been harassed on buses and other city transit, according to a recent survey. In the same study, an alarming 62% of the city’s women reported having been physically and/or verbally harassed on the street.  The prevalence of illegally operated and unregulated buses in Delhi only worsens the problem, Bergen writes.

For many advocates, Bergen finds, the solution lies in “adding more bodies to the streets.”  The Delhi Development Authority’s Unified Traffic & Transport Planning Engineering Center (UTTIPEC) is calling for more “multi-utility zones.” While many jurisdictions have been seeking to limit mixed-use neighborhoods, the group sees the mix of residence, stores, and street vendors as a source of “vibrant and varied street life” – and a solid source of public security. The UTTIPEC also calls for a crack-down on illegally-operated public transport and a GPS system to track all registered commercial vehicles.

However, the majority of reforms implemented in the wake of the December attack have focused on the police force. Among them are new women’s help desks, 24-hour women’s safety hotlines, and a pledge to increase the number of female officers. For many, Bergen observes, these steps are largely insufficient. Bergen notes that, due to widespread public distrust of the police, such measures are “unlikely to make women feel safer in the long run.”

For Bergen, the most important challenge will require more than police and planning initiatives. “…while planners claim the city is open to enlivening public space,” Bergen writes, “changing attitudes that push women inside may be harder to fix.”

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Published on Thursday, January 24, 2013 in The Atlantic Cities
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