As a woman, are you comfortable taking public transport? This was one of the questions addressed by Chennai-based non-profit organisation AWARE (Awareness for Wo+Men to Advocate their Rights and Equality) through its initiative, ‘Reclaiming Safer Spaces for Women and Girls in Chennai’.
Launched on March 8 as part of their ambitious project #NoMoreNirbhaya, the initiative aims to create safer public spaces for women. They conducted a 45-day-long survey, encouraging residents of various neighbourhoods to participate in it and voice their views about travelling in Chennai.
The survey offered questions that touched upon three significant topics: general opinion about the safety aspect of public transportation in Chennai; their personal travel choices and experiences; and specific questions related to sexual assault.
“Among the 1,400 online respondents, 64% were female and 36% male; and about 90% were between the ages of 18 and 35,” points out Janani Viswanathan, who co-founded AWARE with Sandhiyan Thilagavathy.
Around 30 volunteers surveyed commuters using public transport, both bus and train, in Velachery, Thiruvanmiyur, Guindy Industrial Estate and Koyambedu. They also took their survey to public places such as the Marina beach and Anna Nagar Tower Park.
While 1,400 residents responded online, 400 were surveyed on-site.
“Chennai may be a relatively safer city in India, but we have also come across many incidents where women were assaulted. We wanted to sensitise people about this and encourage them to adopt gender-equality practices. For this, we needed some data through which we could conduct awareness programmes and workshops,” she explains.
Some of the stakeholders, who the founders believe will benefit from the data, include Metropolitan Transport Corporation (MTC) staff, share auto unions, Ola/Uber representatives, Metro Rail staff, corporates and even NGOs.
The primary benefactors are, of course, the women as well as the residents of Chennai, says Sandhiyan.
“By sharing the survey data with these stakeholders in the transport sector, we intend to start discussions about incorporating features in various modes of transport, that display a sensitivity to problems faced by women. These features could include women-only buses or creating systems to ensure safety of women in overcrowd buses.”
In addition to approaching law enforcers and other NGOs working in this area, AWARE is considering partnering with corporates to make women safety one of the focuses of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities.
“Sticker campaigns to promote safer travel on the IT corridor and ensuring all drivers of buses and share autos have undergone training are some measures we have taken,” she says.
Janani adds, “82% of the people who participated in the survey expressed their interest in learning the basics of self-defence. Hence, we will start sessions of empowerment for women from all walks of life soon.”
As a first step in this campaign, AWARE has associated with MTC. With the assistance of Gnana Sambantham, associate director of safety, MTC, AWARE recently conducted a gender sensitisation workshop for their drivers and conductors, at the training institute of MTC in Chromepet.
Around 140 MTC drivers and conductors from Chromepet, Gummudipoondi, Aynavaram and Guindy participated in the workshop.
“Many staff are unaware of how to handle complaints and women still fear to draw attention to any problems they may be facing on the bus. The goal of this workshop is to create awareness about gender-based violence and discuss gender discrimination and the myths surrounding it. We will educate them on legal accountability and their responsibility when a passenger faces assault. Most important of all, it will encourage them to be amiable,” says Sandhiyan.
Gnana Sambantham agrees that such workshops are essential for the MTC staff.
“I believe such workshops will sensitise them to the rights of women and encourage them to report any harassment they witness. In fact, this workshop encouraged them to share their experiences with female passengers. It also detailed certain decorum they need to maintain during their duty hours,” he says.
Prajnya, an NGO specialising in gender studies, trained a few volunteers of AWARE to carry out the training.
AWARE also collaborated with Mounica Tata of DoodleODrama to illustrate the data.
To connect with the AWARE team, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.