A pilot study conducted in Thiruvananthapuram city among women by Sakhi Women’s Resource Centre and Jagori, a New Delhi-based NGO working for women, to examine women’s perception of `safety’ in their city, has reported that 66 per cent of women felt unsafe at the site where they were interviewed.

Another 34 per cent women said that while they felt safe at the site where they were interviewed, there were plenty of locations in the city where they felt quite unsafe and threatened.

Of the 800 women who were surveyed for their direct experience, 98 per cent said that sexual harassment was the biggest problem they faced on city streets. This was followed by wayside robberies. While much of the sexual harassment instances involved use of obscene language and gestures, 60 per cent women also reported physical abuse.

The sites where women said they felt most unsafe were public spaces like bus stations/terminals, cinema theatres and certain city streets which were relatively secluded.

The ‘Safe city free of violence against women and girls’ , was a major initiative funded by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and the survey was held in March-April this year among 800 women at 93 sites in the city , spread out in 68 Corporation wards.

Apart from the 800 women who cited their direct experience to the survey team, another 52 women and 148 men, who said that they were witnesses to incidents of sexual harassment on the streets, also took part in the study.

Shockingly, 65 per cent of the women who took part in the survey said that they had to face at least two to five instances of sexual harassment on the city streets in the past one year. Another 13 per cent women reported that they had to face over five counts of instances of sexual harassment during the same period.

Only seven per cent of women who participated in the survey said that they did not face even a single instance of sexual harassment in public spacers in the city in the past one year.

“The study was conducted to find out how safe women felt in the city where they lived, the violence and harassment faced by them in public places and on city streets. We also wanted to know the manner in which the society, police and civic administration responded to women’s complaints of sexual harassment or violence against them in public places,” G. Rejitha, the Project Coordinator for the Safe City study, said.

The study report was formally launched at a press conference here on Wednesday.

It examines women’s perception of safety in Thiruvananthapuram city streets, the relationship between women’s fear of violence and their tendency to avoid specific public spaces / places, if they restricted themselves to traveling only during the day fearing harassment and if they were forced to change the manner in which they attired themselves to avoid harassment.

Women’s knowledge of existing redressal mechanisms that were available to them in case they had to face any violence or harassment was also explored.

Only 28 per cent of the women respondents in the survey had any knowledge about the police’s women help line (Ph. 1091). Of those who had faced sexual harassment on the streets, only seven per cent sought police assistance, while 54 per cent said that they tried to handle the situation by themselves. About 67 per cent women said that they had not even thought about seeking police assistance because they believed that the police will not be of any real assistance or that seeking police intervention would create more problems for them.

Sakhi said that the Safe City for Women Initiative would be conducted in all major cities in the State. It had already launched the survey in Kozhikode city, which according to the figures of the State Crime Records Bureau had the maximum incidence of crime.