Delhi, where a rape is reported every 29 minutes (UNIFEM 2010), has the dubious reputation of being one of the world's unsafest cities for women. The surprise is that precious little has been done to salvage its image. Increased policing may help mitigate the situation but it will not by itself make the city any safer in a sustained way. The limited success of initiatives by the Delhi Police such as ‘Parivartan', implemented following the three widely publicised incidents including the rape of a Swiss diplomat in 2003, speaks to this. Many of the offences in Delhi are committed with impunity in the most public of places. A survey recently conducted by two U.N. agencies along with Jagori, a non-governmental organisation, found that that women feel more vulnerable while travelling in a bus, waiting at the bus stop, and walking on the streets and in market places. They do not find the police very helpful and are reluctant to complain about harassment. The message is loud and clear. Unless the gender issue is comprehensively addressed in city planning and governance and development becomes more equitable, Indian cities will remain less than safe for women over the long term.
Indian cities can learn a lot from cities like Seoul, which has responded imaginatively to such challenges and enjoys the distinction of being one of the most women-friendly cities in the world. Besides using less intrusive surveillance technologies to improve safety, the South Korean capital has implemented a slew of progressive measures. These include programmes to certify and assess women-friendly workplaces ; an elaborate women's safety audit of public areas such as parks and streets to map the unsafe ones; gender governance strategies; and specific brand programmes such as infant plazas and safe parking locations for women. The city authorities closely monitor the effectiveness of the projects by annually charting the Gender Sensitive Indicators; and based on the changes in the gender-equality level, new schemes for areas that need improvement are proposed. These innovations , which infused a radically new perspective in urban polices, have paid rich dividends. Indian policymakers can make a start by implementing simple but critical measures such as locating bus stops in mixed land-use areas that draw crowds late into the night and keeping the roads well lit. In cities such as Delhi, a few voluntary organisations have conducted safety audits and baseline surveys, and clear directions have emerged from them. These recommendations must be integrated into city development plans without delay.