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Are cities in Kerala safe for Women?

Research findings of the study conducted in Thiruvananthapuram, Kozhikode, Kochi and Thrissur cities, Kerala 2009-12

Detailed report published in October 2012 (available at SAKHI)

(All rights reserved. This document may be freely reviewed, quoted, reproduced or translated, in parts or in full, provided the source is duly acknowledged. The document is not to be sold or used in conjunction with commercial purpose without prior written approval from the copyright holder.)

Published by :SAKHI Women’s Resource Centre,


  1.  Introduction

Safety is a feeling of security and protection, which encourages greater mobility as well as protection from sudden and harmful disruption in the pattern of daily life. Violence by and large affects the weak and the vulnerable the most. Often women and girls are seen as soft targets. The perception of feeling secure operates at many levels and promotes different behaviors. Cities cannot suddenly become safe. It needs decadal transformations and constant investments and has to be concerned about the ways in which planning and design can diminish or enhance people’s sense of safety. Therefore, safe city is an initiative that aims to reduce crime, build awareness and develop community into safer places to live, work and shop.

The issue of safety for women is now gaining ground as part of the national agenda. The National Policy for the Advancement of India (2001) specifically recognizes diversity of women’s situations and needs of specially disadvantaged groups and is committed to eliminating discrimination and all forms of violence against women and the girl child. The Planning Commission[3] constituted a Working Group on “Empowerment of Women” for the 11th Five Year Plan (2007-11) under the Chairpersonship of Secretary, Ministry of Women and Child Development with the basic objective to carry out a review, analysis and evaluation of the existing provisions/programs for women and make recommendations for the 11th Five Year Plan. Among the many sub-groups formed, one was constituted to address ending violence against women. The concluding remarks from CEDAW[4] (India’s report 2007) has clearly highlighted that India needs to develop a comprehensive national plan to address all forms of violence. Women’s organizations in the country while intensively responding to issues of domestic violence, rape, dowry murders, sexual harassment and other forms of violence including in specific situations of conflict, displacement and communal attacks are also beginning to respond to safety concerns of women in cities such as Mumbai, Kolkata, Kerala and Delhi[5]. The key challenge that lies ahead will be to integrate safety and crime prevention into the strategic plans and service delivery of the city.

The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women is the first international human rights instrument to exclusively and explicitly address the issue of violence against women. In Article 1 of the Declaration, gender based abuse is defined as ‘any act of gender based violence that results in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life”.[6]

Cities have also become the hubs of increasing violence and criminal activities. Delhi has the reputation of being the crime capital of the country, having the highest rate among all cities for the past five years, topping in numbers of murder, rape, dowry deaths, molestation and kidnapping. Delhi also records the highest rate in crimes against women.  At the same time, it would be interesting to look upon Kerala, the southernmost state in India.  Kerala is the only state in India with a sex ratio in favour of women. The literacy rate is also high. But the NCRB’s ‘Crime in India 2011”[7] report points out that Kerala stands third in the rate of crime against women (33.8%).

The achievements in the social and demographic fields of Kerala have been widely acclaimed and often the ‘Kerala model’ is projected as worthy of emulation. Historically Kerala has been quite different from the rest of the country in terms of the indicators of women’s development. In terms of sex ratio, literacy, life expectancy and mean age at marriage, women in Kerala score higher than any other state in the country. According to provisional figures of Census 2011, Kerala’s share in the population of India is 2.76% and the State’s 52% of population live in rural areas. The total population of Kerala is 33.39 million with 16.02 million males and 17.37 million females.

In spite of all the positive indices of better quality of life, Kerala is ranked high in crime and suicide rates. As per the records of National Crime Records Bureau, the total rate of crimes in 2009 is higher than that of the national average[8]. The rate of violent crimes is high against children and women. Among the cities in Kerala, Kozhikode (Calicut) has the highest crime record followed by Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum). The Kerala State Economic Review (2008) showed that atrocities against women have increased in Kerala by a whopping 338.40 percent since 1992. What is more startling is that the number of rape cases went up from 227 to 601 and molestation cases rose from 523 to 2,543[9]. It has been noted that “trends of crimes committed against women in various districts during 1990-2005 showed that the number of cases in Thiruvananthapuram increased steadily and a four – fold increase was noticed between 1990 and 2005”, (Anitha Kumari, 2009)[10]. Clearly this is only the tip of the iceberg with the high levels of under reporting that is common with cases of violence against women. According to State Crime Records Bureau “eve-teasing” cases (sexual harassment in public places) have been increased almost three times from 2008 to 2010. The incidents of violence on women take place as they are the inevitable consequence of unplanned economic changes that are not supported by changes in social structures and attitudes[11]. Last year the Kerala Cabinet has approved the adoption of a new policy to ensure gender equality and prevent crime against women. Under the policy, a few model villages will be set up where there will be “no atrocities on women”. Crimes against women will be tackled by vigilance committees (Jaagaratha Samithi)[12] that have already begun functioning in over 850 Gram Panchayats in the state. The government is also earmarking funds for programmes to empower women.

 2.    Safe City Campaign

SAKHI has been addressing this issue of safety in public spaces for the last few years. Many a time safety of women in public places came up as theme in the ‘16 days campaign’[13]. We have published posters as part of it. Sakhi has done surveys, public meetings with officials, and trainings for bus conductors in collaboration with the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC). Over 12,143 bus conductors were trained in 10 regions of the state in 2009.  A sticker was produced with the message ‘Behave decently with women; safe journey is the right of women’ along with the women helpline number (1091) and the traffic help line number (1099). These stickers were handed over to KSRTC and Police department to stick on both KSRTC and private buses.

SAKHI, proposed to take this process ahead with support from UNIFEM (United Nations Development Fund for Women) (now UN Women) and Jagori. This study, Safe City Free of Violence against Women and Girls Initiative has two phases. The first phase was initiated on 25th November 2009 on the International Day for the elimination of violence against women. The two cities selected for the study in this initial phase are Thiruvananthapuram[14] (Trivandrum) and Kozhikode[15] (Calicut). Once when the surveys and Focus Group Discussions in Thiruvananthapuram was completed, the Kozhikode study started in October 2010 by Anweshi[16], Kozhikode. The first phase of safe city initiative came to an end by July 2011. The second phase started in November 2012, which will continue till October 2013. In this phase, Kochi[17] (Cochin) and Thrissur[18] (Trichur) cities were selected for the study.[19] Centre for Gender Development and Ecology (CGDE)[20], Ernakulam and MAYA[21], Thrissur helped Sakhi in conducting the study at Kochi and Thrissur cities. A study on the women’s help line, 1091 is being  conducted in four Police Districts of the state. Advocacy, campaign and trainings for various stakeholders are activities common in both the phases.

3. Safe City free of violence against women and Girls initiative

Traditionally public places are occupied by men.  Women’s access to and visibility in public is compounded by several factors like time, place and purpose. Conscious use of time and space does categorize them as decent and respectable women. Thus many spaces that women are able to access during the day become inaccessible or more difficult to use at night. Generally women are not seen alone in public spaces after dark, especially after 8.00 pm because women are not legitimately allowed to use public spaces without a purpose.

The study examines how safe the city areas are for women and girls, what is the relationship between women’s fear of violence, their avoidance of specific public spaces/ places or times and how they restrict themselves in terms of dressing, etc. to avoid harassment. Societal response, role of police, knowledge of existing violence redress mechanisms were also explored through this study.

3.1 Methodology

The methodologies adopted for the study in Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode was interviews, Focus Group Discussions (FGD’s), capacity gap analysis and safety audit. In Kochi and Thrissur we have used  tools FGD and safety audit only because of constraints in funds and time. These exercises helped to map the public spaces of the four cities that are unsafe in order to give feed back to policy planning and designing process.

  Survey Questionnaire

 There were two types of questionnaires (see Annexure 2 and 3), one for recording the direct experience and perception of women and the other for common witnesses[22] (CW). The questionnaire designed by Jagori, New Delhi was adapted. It was designed to generate estimates of sexual and physical violence in public spaces perpetrated by outsiders. Questions were incorporated to elicit contextual information about the violence, including the types of violence and the support mechanisms received and looked forward to get.

 The questionnaire is divided into sections that focus on different time periods of the day, types of violence; and validated by common witness both male and female. At the outset of study, the questionnaire was reviewed by the Research Advisory Group and suggestions made were incorporated. The questionnaire was then translated to the local language. It was reviewed and edited again by SAKHI. Further revisions were made to the questionnaire following its pilot test in Thiruvananthapuram and before the Kozhikode survey. The changes in the questionnaire and all other process including the finalization of this report were carried out by the  Research Advisory Committee and Steering Committee.

 The first part of the questionnaire looks into the perception of safety risks women face, factors that contribute to women feeling unsafe and factors that affect women’s personal safety. Then a detailed sharing of their personal experiences of sexual violence experiences, where the incident took place, the time of incident, a brief description of the perpetrator are recorded. The strategies that they took and did when they were sexually harassed were also recorded. The survey also looks into the support and problems they experienced from police, public and family. This is followed by an assessment of their knowledge of the redress mechanisms existing in the State. Lastly, the age, family monthly income and occupation level of the respondents are looked into.

 Sample Selection

 The sample population belonged to diverse categories like students, workers, home makers, unorganized workers, commuters, drivers, conductors etc. and spread across public places such as road sides, bus stops, markets, beaches, buses, hospital compounds, hangouts, knowledge centers and theatres. These public places were selected as they are the places were usually women go frequently and feel unsafe.

 Men and women between the age of 16 and 68 years were part of the whole sample population based on the demographic data. For example the number of samples of students (sample age between 16 to 24 yrs) is the percentage of total girl students out of the total female population age between 16-60 yrs in the Corporation area. Thus, the number of workers was calculated by finding the percentage of female workers out of the total female population in the city. The rest of the samples are divided into unorganized workers, home makers and commuters. The commuters were either student or worker or home maker whom we found inside or waiting for a public transport.

Sites were chosen based on the possibility of getting the particular quota of women for interview. For example in Thiruvananthapuram, Chala, Palayam, Manacaud markets were selected to get unorganized workers or house wives or workers. Likewise commuters o were interviewed from Thampanoor, East fort and PMG, where the railway station and main bus stations are located and from inside buses.

 Research Team

While SAKHI, lead the survey in Thiruvananthapuram city, Anweshi, a Women’s organisation based in Kozhikode, collaborated with SAKHI in planning and leading the research in Kozhikode city.  16 investigators consisting of 2 males and 14 females found out through news paper advertisement in Thiruvananthapuram. There were 10 investigators (2 males and 8 females) in Kozhikode survey, most of them were staff of Anweshi. The research team comprised of Research Advisory Committee, Steering Committee, Programme Coordinator, Programme associates/supervisors, and interviewers.


The investigators received 2 days full-time training. While many of the team members especially of Kozhikode, had previous experience working on gender based violence (GBV), the training nonetheless began with a basic introduction to the project, gender sensitisation and on questionnaire. Tools were familiarised, so that they would be able to get maximum information regarding ways and methods to extract information on the personal safety of women in the city. The pilot test gave SAKHI an opportunity to assess the skills of the interviewers and to make a final selection of the team. Based on the pilot tests, final revisions were also made to the questionnaire.

 Data Collection and Analysis

The Thiruvananthapuram survey took place in April and May, 2010 and the Kozhikode survey from November 2010 to January 2011. The interviewers had to find out the respondents, who were not generally known to them in the public places. They were responsible for conducting a face-to-face interview with the respondents and they also preserved anonymity of the interviewees. Each interview lasted around 30 minutes. The supervisors were responsible for monitoring the activities and verifying the filled-in questionnaires. While the Kozhikode survey was conducted among 400 women for direct experience, 100 common witness in 69 wards[23], the Thiruvananthapuram survey covered a total of 1000 samples (800 women, 200 common witnesses) from 93 sites of 68 wards. The data entry of Thiruvananthapuram was done by GPK[24] and that of Kozhikode by SAKHI itself. The data from the field-surveys in Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode was analyzed in SAKHI with the help of an expert consultant. The main findings of the study were disseminated initially in exclusive press meetings held in both cities. This was followed by further dissemination through workshops.

 3.2 Survey Findings

Throughout the survey an element of “fear of violence” created consciously or unconsciously in women and girls by the society was felt. The high degree of fear of violence, crime and feelings of insecurity makes women more vulnerable and restraints her freedom of mobility, clothing and ability to live her life in the way she desires. This relates to society’s construction of female sexuality.

3.2.1  Thiruvananthapuram

The study shows that all women who were interviewed fear the possibility of violence in the public places of Thiruvananthapuram city. While 34% of the women respondents said they felt safe at the site/space they were interviewed, but have other unsafe sites/spaces to mention. This feeling of safety depends on where one lives or works. As pointed out by the respondents, gender is not the only factor for discrimination in public spaces. Age, social class, occupation, disability, and marital status are other factors which have impact on the safety of women. Women who commute by bus obviously face different vulnerabilities than those who own a car. Similarly, living in a slum or resettlement area poses very different challenges to safe movement than living in a middle class residential area. In the same middle class area, the concerns of safety of the women who are residents and those who provide services can be very different and even opposing.[25]

 Forms of violence / harassment women face in public spaces in Kerala

Different and multiple forms of violence and perception of insecurity which are deemed most common has to be differentiated as gender based forms of violence against women and girls (e.g. sexual harassment, sexual assault), or generalized violence (e.g. theft, other).

  • Sexual harassment has been pointed out as the main safety problem by 98% women and 99% common witnesses.  This was followed by robbery, as reported by 51% women and 60% common witnesses. The respondents have shared their experiences of robbery by young men in bikes wearing helmets and snatching ornaments and many a time they even sexually harass women.
  • Verbal and visual abuse is the most common forms of sexual harassments, as reported by 80% women respondents and slightly more by common witness. This is followed by physical harassment, as reported by 60% women. Only 26% women reported stalking and 21% flashing.

 Where harassment is faced

A feeling of safety encourages greater mobility. Lack of safety in fact prevents women from accessing the full range of rights of being a citizen. Therefore, solution has to come from the community and the State.

  • · Both common witnesses and women respondents agree that women face maximum harassment while using public transport, bus stops and roadsides.
  • · Here, women rarely go to theatres and parks alone. And in the case of public toilets, women are reluctant to use it due to its lack of cleanness and safety.  There are also other areas reported where either women avoid going to or go accompanied with a friend or family member. These areas are beaches, festivals, hospital compound, and ticket counters.
  • · There is disparity in the response of common witnesses and women respondents on harassment in public transport. While only 61% of women respondents reported sexual harassment / assault while using public transport, 86% of common witnesses have reported it.  While 33% of the common witnesses point out that there is sexual harassment at ticket counters, 35% women also agree to it.

Who is more vulnerable?

We probed a little more to find the rate of vulnerability when compounded with the attitude of family, level of education and income. Family support is very crucial. Many bear their burden in silence for as long as is possible. When we analysed the income levels and the support received from the family, we found that

  • 64% of the women respondents discussed their personal experience of sexual harassment with their family members or parents.
  •  70% of the women respondents said family members or parents motivated them to react to sexual harassments they faced and 62% had discussions with them on how to deal with such situations.
  • Surprisingly, we found that housewives, low and middle income group unorganized workers and workers claim that their families support them.
  •  47% of the interviewed responded that those women who belong to the age group of 26 to 40 seem to be more vulnerable.
  •  36% did not disclose their issues with family or parents, fearing restrictions to their mobility, inability of the family to help them or fearing over-reaction. 

Factors that contribute to lack of safety

The survey findings show that the following factors contributed to women feeling unsafe.

  • For both women respondents and common witness, seeing men dealing with or taking alcohol or drugs gives a feeling of lack of comfort and safety. Around 68% women respondents and 79% common witnesses said so. Thus, not only the liquor shops situated in public spaces but also consumers make women uncomfortable.
  • While for common witnesses this is followed by crowded public transport / bus stops / stations and lack of effective / visible police. But for women, lack of respect for women (59%) was more crucial factor than crowded public transport / bus stops / stations (55%) and lack of effective / visible police (54%)
  • In the major bus stops women don’t feel comfortable to stay longer as they fear harassment at the stops. They get into the first bus, even if they have to take longer routes. Many of the respondents feel the middle aged men are more problematic than youngsters
  • The link between other safety issues range from inadequate lighting, high walls on both side of roads and state of public toilets. These also emerged as an important factor in determining the safety of a space and women’s access to these areas. The lack of clean and safe public toilets for women in public spaces such as markets, cinema theatres, parks and commercial spaces limits women’s access to these areas. Some women articulated that they are uncomfortable in using public toilets because the toilets for men are very adjacent or the doors are opposite to that of women.  The number of public toilets in the city is 57. But most of them are not in good condition. The classic example is the one behind the central city bus stop at East fort.
  • The lack of regular and familiar people, shops and vendors creates a feeling of insecurity for women when using public spaces. 

How women respond to harassment and lack of safety

Women cannot be told to find their own solutions for their insecurity nor find solutions. They are expected to be  responsible for their personal safety like carrying a pepper spray or learning self-defense and not based on the notion of safety as a right. Every time women move out they have to find strategies in order to remain safe or comfortable — they do this by weighing where they choose to go and where not, what they wear, by seeking company and so on.

  • Women, who have faced harassment 2 to 5 times are more responsive than others.
  • 53% of the women respondents in the age group 26 to 55 years have confronted the perpetrator.
  • Around 26 to 28% have asked help from family or friend
  • Only 7% of women have reported the incident to Police while 33% of the common witness called the police.
  • Very often the people have myths and experiences that are negative with the police. Only 23% women respondents considered approaching the police and 77% said no.
  • 92% of the low income category students hesitate to approach the Police.  They are followed by low income group workers, housewives, and low income group unorganized workers.
  • The survey finds that 38%  of women respondents feel the process is too tedious when approaching the Police
  • And 29% feel it might affect their family
  • 69% avoid going to secluded places and 67% avoid going out alone after dark.
  • 39% avoid going out alone at all times. Whether it is day time or night a man needs to be accompany her.

Knowledge of redress mechanisms

  • The respondents were asked about the redress mechanisms available in Trivandrum Corporation. 91% of the respondents were aware of Women’s Commission and 34% knew about Jaagratha Samithies functioning in local bodies. Knowledge of other systems like women help line, traffic help line and railway alert is insignificant.

Response of witnesses to sexual harassment of women in public spaces

  • Out of the 200 common witnesses only 30% has intervened when they happened to witness any harassment in public places. While 16% of women and 28% of common witnesses prefer not to get involved, 38% of women and 31% of common witnesses preferred to come forward to support the victims
  •  24% of women and 28% of common witnesses gathered public support
  •  16% of women and 33% of common witnesses sought help from police

3.2.2       Kozhikode

     Perceptions on Women safety in public space

80% of the women survey was conducted during day time and 20% after dark. 77% of the CW survey took place during day time and 23% after dark. 58% of the women interviewed described their monthly household income below Rs.10,000 and 3% have income above Rs 25,000. The women survey has 24% housewives, 19% students and 57% workers. Among the common witness there are only 2 housewives and 15 students. The women survey was conducted among 63% married women, 31% unmarried, 5% widows and 1% divorces.   

The survey took place in nine public spaces (Fig. 3.5) in 69 wards. 34% of the women survey took place in bus stops, 24% took place on roadsides and footpath. 18% of the interview took place in bus, auto, train and taxi.

The survey started by looking into how familiar the respondents were with the City. Out of the 500 respondents, 54% are either living in the city or have been visiting the city for more than five years. Fig 3.6 shows to what extend the women in the survey are familiar to the city. Among those who travel frequently or daily to the city, 66% were able to list a number of areas within the city which they felt unsafe for women. The respondents shared their perception on personal safety risks women faced when they are in the City. The risks restrict their ability to move freely.

Sexual harassment has been pointed out as the main safety problem by 99% of women and common witnesses.  This was followed by robbery, as reported by 60% common witnesses and 83% women because it may lead to violence or a situation one cannot control. In Kozhikode also the respondents have shared their experiences of robbery by young men in bikes wearing helmets and snatching ornaments and in some lanes they even sexually harass women. The perception that violence is possible is an important factor in defining problem areas. Lack of lighting, toilets and safe transportation leaves women more vulnerable to gender based violence. The basic factors, which contribute to this feeling of unsafe as pointed out by women and common witnesses are crowded public transport and bus stops. Another main factor is the nuisances of drunkards in public spaces.

 Making public spaces physically safer is one way to reduce the opportunities for sexual harassment and assault. Women feel more vulnerable to violence in isolated places where visibility is limited and no one is around. Therefore the respondents have raised the need for effective police and vendors or stalls. Unclean and unsafe toilets, poor lighting and poor maintenance of public spaces are other major factors attributed for creating insecure feeling. The opinion of both women and men follow a common trend as shown in fig 3.8.

Gender based violence includes physical, sexual, psychological and economic abuse. Women are vulnerable to various forms of violence for several reasons. Of the eight reasons asked on their perceptions on the factors that affect women’s personal safety in the city, both common witness and women feel that being a women is the main reason. When 74% women feel that there is disrespect for women from men, only 28% of common witnesses agree to it. Again there is wide variation in factors that affect women’s personal safety between women and common witnesses, like being single/widow (62%), being of certain age group (43%) and being from certain region or state (46%).

 The condition of public spaces varies in the course of the day. These difference can have a very different impact. For instance, a busy bus station gives more feeling of safety than when it is isolated after dark. When women were asked to identify where they felt unsafe or uncomfortable, they were able to name a few ‘problem’ spots or ‘areas of concern’. Some of the common areas identified are Puthiya bus stand, Palayam area, Railway station and surrounding areas, Mananchira, SM Street and Vellayil beach area.

Experience of Violence: Levels, Patterns and Correlates

Sexual harassment in public spaces is omnipresent but nine of the respondents have not faced it and one common witness  has not witnessed it. Verbal and visual abuse is the most prevalent forms of sexual harassments, as reported by 86% women respondents and 90% common witness. This is followed by physical harassment of women, as reported by 73% common witness and 65% women. And 53% women reported stalking and 43% flashing. Misuse of mobile camera is another major issue reported by the respondents.

The survey brings out that incidents occur mostly during day time. 53% of the women respondents reported that the incidents took place during day time, while 24% reported that it took place after dark. 44% Common witnesses also report that the incidents took place during day time and only 15% witnessed it after dark.

 Which are the public spaces considered to be unsafe? 69% of the women and 76% common witness reported that they face sexual harassment while using public transport. Also it is reported that 71% of women faced sexual harassment while waiting for public transport. Parks are identified as unsafe by women and common witness. While for women, other areas which are identified as unsafe are roadsides and public toilets, for common witness more significant are cinema theatres.

95% of the common witness and 97% of women respondents are able to describe about the perpetrators age group, whether it was in a group or individually and whether the perpetrators were the same in the different incidents they faced. While women respondents say that the perpetrators are mainly in the age group of 26 to 55, common witnesses point out that, they are from age group of 15 – 55.

 On mitigating and negotiating violence in public space

How do women take care of themselves from sexual harassments in public spaces? A number of strategies or precautions for personal safety were taken by the respondents, as they expect untoward harassment any time while going out. For instance, keep away from certain public or crowded places, not going out alone especially after darkness, and elude wearing certain clothes etc. Apparently, all the strategies curb women’s mobility, involvement and participation in public life.

A significant lot avoid secluded areas and avoid going out alone after dark. 68% reported that they avoided walking alone after dark and 49% avoided secluded places because they felt unsafe. But the interesting part of Kozhikode women respondents was that 83% used public transport, 87% wore the dress they preferred, 85% did not carry any thing for self protection and only 19% avoided certain public places.

 Support Mechanisms

The survey has looked into the support received and actions taken by the respondents when they faced harassment sexually over the past one year. 98% of the respondents faced some kind of sexual harassment over the past one year. While 52% confronted the perpetrator, 35% asked help from bystanders, 28% depended on friends and 26% on family.  The respondents least depended on helpline and police.  Only 5% reported to police but 28% thought of approaching police.  19% did nothing when they were sexually harassed in the last one year.

 Only 29% thought of approaching the police. The reasons for not approaching police – 68% mentioned different obstacles  in appraoching police. What are the obstacles? 66% feel the process is too tedious when approaching the police.   Moreover since  the frequency of such incidents is higher than any other crimes, the official procedures will be more.    Apart from the general fear of approaching the police station,  the respondents fear that they would be blamed for it , the issue may be trivialized or they may not do anything and will not take any further action.  31% of the respondents also avoid the police due to the fear that it may reflect badly on their family.

Public support

99% of the common witness and 54% of women respondents have witnessed  other women being harassed in public places. More than half of the women respondents have intervened when they witnessed other women being harassed. They mainly stood along with the victim, spoke for them and a few helped to register complaints in police station.

Of the 54%  (216 persons) respondents who reported witnessing harassements in public spaces, only 71% (153 persons) intervened. When asked how they would respond or what would be their approach, if they witnessed, 10%  of the women respondents preferred not to extend support since they preferred not to get involved.  83%  agreed they will support the victim  and 54% will try to get public support. Only 11% preferred to call the police. In the case of common witness 38% prefered not to get involed and 35% will inform the police.

 Table 2:  Intervened when they witnessed other women being harassed







Not intervened






 Family Support

The family of 65% of the respondents motivated and prepared them to be independent and take care of themselves.  They were prepared to deal with such situations rather than run away from it.  35% respondents were discouraged by the family as shown in Fig 3.15. Maybe that is why 31% of them “did not respond” or “did nothing’ when they were sexually harassed

68 % (270) of the respondents discuss with their family members of the sexual harassments they face. Some respondents got positive response.   Out of the 270 respondents, 2% were advised and warned to stay away due to the hazels involved in it and also due to the unaffordable expenses involved in it. From the survey we find that 66% of the working women, 74% of the students and 67% of the housewives share with family members the sexual harassment and violence they face. All the 5 divorcees in the survey said they do not share their experiences with family members.

64% of the respondents were motivated to take up any situations they face. Discussions on how to deal such situations were taken up within 60% of the families. Around 13% were blamed for the institution and their mobility was restricted.

Around 130 respondents preferred not to share their experiences with other family members because they believed nothing could be done. They were concerned about their families’ feelings and their inability to support them. About 44% respondents feared their mobility would be restricted or their family would not be able to support them.

 Redress Mechanisms

The survey also tried to get an understanding on the knowledge level of the respondents on the existing redress mechanisms to help women or girls facing violence. They were asked if they knew,  / heard  or they know the number and address of the seven redress mechanisms. Railway alert was the least familiar to the respondents. 82% of the respondents had no idea about the railway alert.  55% were not aware of the Jaagaratha Samathi functioning in the Corporation to address atrocities against women. Only 1% did not know about Women’s Commission. But at the same time 37% do not know the contact number of Women’s Commission. 31% have heard about the traffic helpline number and only 16% knows the details. Women’s help line was not heard of by 33% and 40% was not aware of Janamaithri[26] police.

 A comparative analysis of respondents based on their occupation which is broadly divided into housewife, students and working class. It shows that housewives knowledge of redress mechanisms are lower when compared to working women and students. Housewives have least idea of the redress mechanisms. Fig 3.23 shows the percentage of women respondents who reported that they don’t know of this redress system.

  1. Focus Group Discussions

During the Safe City Study, 7 focus group discussions were conducted in Thiruvananthapuram, 3 in Kozhikode, and 5  each in Kochi and Thrissur with various groups. The perceptions of each group were elicited with some guiding questions. SAKHI adapted the guideline developed by Jagori and formulated the following   framework according to Kerala situation. 

  1. What do you mean by safety in public places and how do women feel safe in such places?
  2. Do you think women and children at any age can walk freely without fear in the public places of this city? Can you mention any place which is not safe? Why? Do you think the issues in each place are different at different times? Are you saying this, based on your own experience or experience of others, media reports, or rumors? Can you share any experience regarding your safety in public place in the city?
  3. Do you think any place in the city is safe or unsafe? Why? What should be done to make the unsafe places safe (better infrastructure, societal support, better services)?
  4. Do you take any precautions when you go out like keep something for self protection, avoid some places or avoid travel after dark?
  5. What would you prefer to do when faced with safety problems in public places?
  6. Did you ask for help to anyone at any unsafe or risky situation? Whom did you approach? What was their response? If you have not been in such situation yet, whom would you approach for help if you face harassment? Why?
  7. What kind of help you are expecting from the society?
  8. Did you ever approach Police for help on this issue? How did they respond? Are you satisfied with them? Will you again approach them if you have problems?
  9. Mention three major issues regarding women’s safety in public places in the city
  10. What would be your response if you see a women facing harassment in front of you? If she is your friend or relative/ if she is stranger to you?
  11. How can we improve the safety feeling of women in public places? (changes in policy, changes in urban planning, changes in the behavior of men)
  12. What is the response of family when you share such incidents?
  13. What would be your response when your daughter shares such incidents to you?
  14. How much extra time/ money/ energy you have to spend for your safety in public places of our city.
  15. To girl students – have you shared such incidents to your male friends?
  16. To men – What would you do if your mother/sister/wife/girl friend is being harassed at public place in front of you? If it is towards a stranger?
  17. Do you think you should help such women? If no, why? Did you ever stop your friend/s when he/they misbehave to any women?


4.1.           FGDs at Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode

In phase I, a total of nine vulnerable groups of women who frequently use public spaces as part of their day to day life were identified in Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode cities for FGDs. . Following are the groups with whom FGDs were conducted from the month of June till January, 2011: domestic workers, women conductors, women from Kudumbashree clean well unit, women journalists, blind women, girl students, sex workers and a group of men from different fields.



Domestic Workers


  • Women in the city face harassment, irrespective of age or place.
  • Men’s attitude towards women as a sexual object is the major reason for the occurrence of violence.
  • They carry safety pin or blade etc while traveling to ensure their safety.
  • Usually women do not support or respond if a co-passenger is being harassed.
  • The harassers are generally from the age group of 35-45.
  • Exhibitionism is common in buses and byroads.
  • If the city has to be safe for women, there should not be any men.
  • Police are not able to help women and they are easily viable to bribery and political influence.
  • They never ever complained or discussed their experience of sexual harassments with family members because all of them believe that it would lead to restriction in their mobility.
  • Vulgar comments, physical harassments and lack of clean and safe public toilets are other issues raised.


Women Conductors


  • One of the usual comments by men is “Why  women take up the job of men”?
  • Have to be careful not to hurt male ego.
  • Women don’t want to react or complaint even to the women conductors because of shame.
  • Harassments by drunkards in the evening trips are common.
  • Other passengers generally get impatient and are not interested to settle an issue.
  • The problem is the attitude of men, not the area.
  • Today safety in public places is one’s own responsibility.
  • Uniform gives some kind of feeling of security.
  • Any incidents encountered are not shared with the family because of the fear of restriction in their mobility and even may lead to resignation of their job.
  • They told that harassment on women is more after dark.
  • They also identified that most harassers are men above 35 yrs.
  • Unavailability of safe toilets in the work place and while traveling the whole day in the city is another issue.


Kudumbashree garbage collecting women
  • Uniform gives them strength.
  • Since it is not safe many of them would not go out after 7 pm.
  • Police are very approachable and supportive, whenever a complaint was filed. But they are afraid of giving written complaint to Police. Moreover they have to give up a working day and remuneration and also they fear it may cause shame to their family later.
  • Mobile phones are affecting the life of their children especially their sons’ very badly.
  • Lack of sufficient safe and clean public toilets.
  • Foul language as well as physical harassment against women does happen on a regular basis.
  • Even during festival seasons and at public markets, women do not feel safe while going out.
  • Irrespective of any age or socio-economic status, women experience such instances of physical and mental violence.
  • Bus conductors and auto-rickshaw drivers are very uncooperative and have a negative attitude towards women.
  • Lack of spaces for resting.


Women Journalists
  • Identity as journalists gives them more courage to use public spaces freely.
  • The negative response of the general public as witness, to sexual harassment or even to an accident, need to be changed.
  • Lack of clean and safe toilets for women in public spaces.
  • Misuse of mobile and information technologies.


Blind Women
  • Deliberately harassed and exploited knowing that they are blind.
  • Usually they do not get the seat reserved for blind in the public transport. Conductors also are reluctant to help them.


  • Face more problems in public transport and most of the harassers are middle aged men.
  • The perpetrators have many excuses for exploiting girls that the bus is too crowded to stand untouched or they are enjoying being touched.
  • Students generally respond to harassments if they are with friends but if with a family member they keep silent.
  • Usually family members discourage girls from raising their voice loudly in a public space especially in matters like sexual harassments.


  • They also have fear and face safety problems in the city, but they accept that the dimension is different from what women face.
  • One participant shared that he was not aware on women’s safety issues in public spaces until he got married. At the same time he does not know what support mechanisms are available when he confront with a situation to help a woman victim. Even the women’s helpline number 1091 is not advertised properly[27].
  • Due to the gender discrimination prevailing in our society, girls and boys are brought up differently. Socially constructed norms and restrictions lead to lack of opportunities and personal development of girls/women. The end result is women’s seclusion from mainstream society and treated as ‘second sex’. This is also attributed to the cultural hypocrisy of Kerala society about sexuality.
  • Lack of safe and clean public toilets for women.


Sex Workers
  • Various kinds of atrocities perpetrated by the police against the sex workers including physical violence have been reported. The hooligans and antisocial groups of men also subject the women to innumerable tortures ranging from individual rape to gang rape.


  • Police turn deaf and blind to all the atrocities against them because they are sex workers and at the same time demand bribes from them. But junior police officers are comparatively more fair to them.


  • Antisocial groups are always actively looking for women walking in the street after 7 pm.
  • Those who have night shifts face various problems like reluctance by auto-drivers to take them to their destinations, and men in the street very often make obscene comments etc.
  • Public toilets in the city are insufficient and the liquor and narcotic users in the city are always a threat to women in public places.

4.2.           FGDs at Kochi and Thrissur

In Phase II, the studies conducted at Kochi and Thrissur cities are limited to FGDs and Safety audit. Five FGD’s each were conducted with diverse groups of women / men who access various parts of the cities during different times of the day / night.

The discussions were held at Kochi with fifteen Kudumbashree CDS members, fifteen girl students of Sacred Heart College, Thevara, eleven male auto drivers, fourteen women residents’ association members at Edappally and with fourteen women embroidery workers of a self help group at Thoppumpadi. Students, teachers, LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender) community, women advocates and men were the five groups identified for the FGDs at Thrissur.

The aim of the focus groups was to identify and understand the factors that make women feel unsafe in public spaces in the city of Kochi, and how their safety could be enhanced. The FGDs helped to gain a deeper understanding of women’s experiences, perceptions of safety and access to the city’s public spaces.

Women face lots of problems while travelling and while moving in/ using public places. The issues faced when they travel by bus and train, the poor infrastructure, fear and anxiety developed through various means such as consumers of drugs and alcohol etc. make them feel that the city is unsafe. 100% women in Kochi, who came into the purview of the study, shared that they are not feeling safe in the public places. The general feeling of the FGDs conducted at Thrissur city was, as a student said, “Women always –at all ages- have been facing problems. But they kept silent.But now women have dared to open up their issues to the society.” The issues in each place are different at different times. The key questions and a brief summary of the FGDs are given below.

Meaning of Safety for women

  • Freedom to walk, travel in public transport and to eat even from roadside shops without fear and being stared at or harassed at day time or night.
  • To travel in a relaxed mood, sleeping or sitting as one wants without the fear of intrusion into the privacy.
  • To exercise the right to use or linger in a public place without any aim or purpose like men, without being disturbed, questioned, shooed away or arrested.
  • Not to be attacked physically or mentally.

 Safety issues in the cities

Public places

  1. Early morning and evening are the times when women get more harassed while travelling, especially by Bus.
  2. While travelling by bus women report pinching, fingering and groping. In private buses, which are more in numbers than transport buses in both the cities, the reservation seats for women are in the front portion. But men occupy this space and harassers make use of this situation. Men touch and caress women inside their blouse/ dress.
  3. Sometimes men ‘accidentally’ fall on women’s body, when the vehicle negotiates a curve or apply a brake. Some people try to lean on women’s body, especially when the bus is very much crowded. But women who travel regularly in the same bus are less harassed.
  4. The crew of the bus converse in obscene code language which is humiliating to women in the private buses especially when women travel after 6.30 PM when there are relatively less people in the bus.
  5. Conductors unnecessarily manage to touch women while selling tickets.
  6. Conductors of private buses behave very rudely towards girl students who are enjoying concession rates. They have to wait to board private buses and some buses do not allow girls to get in and if they get in, not allowed to be seated even if there are vacant seats.
  7. While waiting in bus stops and bus stands women face staring, commenting, soliciting etc. Men come close and murmur in sexually coloured language at women. Men would approach women if they stand for two minutes anywhere– streets, bus stops or bus stands, even in front of the school waiting for an auto – in Thrissur.
  8. Auto rickshaw drivers refuse to take trips, they stare at women through the rear view mirror. Exhibitionism by auto drivers while travelling or waiting in public places is very common.
  9. While travelling in the train at night, men ‘sleeping soundly’ have their hand dangling freely so that this dangling hand can very ‘inadvertently and conveniently’ touch women in the lower berth.
  10. Even though trains have wide open seating arrangement women get harassed there too. Exhibitionism is a common form of sexual harassment in trains. Women are facing sexually toned talks and approaches by co-passengers, even by people representatives in higher class compartments.
  11. Park is another place where women are commented at, stared at, flashed at and solicited by men and most of the time questioned by police.
  12. For Transgender (female to male) people (of Thrissur), any time any where trouble could be expected. The streets, cinema theatre, auto rickshaws, working place, market, hospitals…. all places are insecure and unsafe for them.
  13. If women sit alone or with a man/men in the Thekkinkadu maidan (Vadakkunnathan Temple premises, Thrissur), then police would definitely come and question. Women are not supposed to sit there after 7 o’ clock.


  1. Street lights do not work properly at many areas of both the cities especially late in the evening.
  2. The drainage slabs turned pedestrian paths are often cracked and there is always the danger of falling into the drainage. The dirt after cleaning the drainage will be heaped up near the road side. This makes difficult to walk along the road .
  3. Women complained that in many places foot paths are narrow and always vehicles are parked on the foot path. In almost all places the footpaths are used by shops or vendors. Even the newly built footpaths are not accessible for physically challenged people as they have sudden dips at the ending/beginning.
  4. There are no seating facilities inside bus shelters. Bunches in the newly built shelters at Thrissur city are widely occupied by drunkards to lie down. Therefore the bus shelters are generally inaccessible to aged or pregnant women.
  5. Pocket roads / bye lanes are experienced to be danger spots. Men come in bikes wearing helmets, which masks their face, to commit offences.
  6. Number of public toilets in the city area is insufficient. Some of them are kept under lock and key. Also there is scarcity of clean toilets in both the cities. Therefore women are forced to go to expensive hotels and to have coffee even if they do not want.

Drugs and Liquor

  1. Presence of drunkards on the road creates uneasiness/ fear among women. Saturday is the worst day for ladies to travel as there would be weekend celebrations by men with alcohol. They make advances towards women. Women sarcastically view the ‘disciplined queue’ in front of Beverages Corporation outlets because these are the very same men who never obliged to queue up before ration shops or any other place where it is required.
  2. Men smoke cigarette and beedi and blow the fume on women.
  3. Even High School children are initiated into the use of drugs. These drugs are easily available in front of schools.

Fear & anxiety

  1. When incidents of harassment and molestation are heard, women are gripped by a fear. The painful thought to be conscious dawns and the doubt arises “Will tomorrow, the same thing happen to me and my children?” So even during day time, even in emergency situations, ladies often avoid going out alone. Mothers feel insecure to send their children alone out in the city or to leave the children alone even in their own homes.
  2. Young girls are not comfortable to seek help from anyone when men stare or make advances. They feel reluctant to tell the parents, fearing that there will be tighter control over their mobility. They do not feel comfortable to share their problems with others, fearing they might be blamed for their dressing. The usual reaction to such advances is: “we just withdraw without any reaction”. Girls feel that they need freedom to move. If they walk during night, there image will be tarnished and they will be branded as bad.
  3. Ladies are stopped on the way to enquire about route with the intention to snatch chain or touch their body. When the lady tries to answer it, another person snatches away the chain and runs to the bike which is waiting to whisk him off. Or they come in pairs on the bike. One boy will be on the bike, without switching off the engine, while the other person will come near and snatch chain.
  4. The presence of migrant labours creates fear.


  1. Some men stand facing the wall pretending to pass urine and when women come, they indulge in exhibitionism
  2. Men urinating near the walls along streets is a common scene in all cities (and everywhere in Kerala)
  3. When senior ladies try to “protect” young girls against molesters, the latter make very derogatory remarks against the seniors like, ‘you are jealous for not being ‘attended to by us’.
  4. Misuse of mobile phone is creating problems for women.
  5. A particular age group cannot be pinpointed as perpetrators. Young and old are equally trouble makers.

Reasons for violence against women

The FGD also focused on the reasons for the unsafe environment. Some of the reasons highlighted are:

  • Streets lights are functioning only after 6.30 pm. (On those days when dusk falls early). Also in some places lights are not functioning
  • Either because of social situations or of lack of self confidence women and girls does not react generally to harassment.
  • The desire to make “quick and easy” money leads to chain snatching. The money which in turn is mainly used for drinking and luxurious life.
  • Some women had the opinion that girls should dress modestly and mothers have the responsibility to discipline the girls. Then the facilitator raised a question that whether all the girls who were molested on the street dressed provocatively? Then they didn’t have clear answer. At the same time one woman in an FGD at Thrissur responded that blaming the victim on her way of dressing is a method to divert the attention from harassment.
  • One of the male auto drivers opines that the type of food boys and men eat these days make them sexually hyper active
  • It was also heard in FGDs that ‘some women / girls enjoy sexual advances by men and boys’.
  • Increasing migrant labours in Kochi Corporation becomes a big factor for women’s fear that they can perpetrate any crime and disappear because they are untraceable. To make quick money, building owners rented out rooms without any conveniences to these migrant labourers who share the available facilities in large groups. This poses threat to persons in the  neighbourhood
  • Improper parenting and family atmosphere creates our boys as perpetrators. Since both parents are working, there is nobody to share their problems. Few ladies said that they advice daughters on sexual morality. But none said that they give any sort of advices to boys. When boys reach home late, they are not even asked the reason. No healthy discussions take place at homes. Boys are not taught to respect women.
  • Boys also are possible preys to sexual predators and there are chances that these boys become perpetrators later. But nobody warns them about such possibilities.
  • Mobile phones are used indiscriminately and irresponsibly.

Precautions taken by women

The participants mentioned that they take precautions to ensure their safety.

  • Carry pins, umbrella and grow nails. Some carry a small knife / scissor in the bag.
  • Even small girls are advised not to sit on the lap of boys/men if they do not get seat in the bus. From the age of 3 girls are told not to entertain touches by persons of opposite sex. They are advised “to have eyes all around”.
  • Girls are advised to dress “non provocatively”
  • Women avoid travelling alone and make it a point not to go out alone in the dark. Girls are advised to reach home early
  • Try to travel in ladies only bus.
  • Walk with very bold steps; Show extra boldness in behaviour while travelling to keep away strange men.
  • All go out prepared mentally to face these issues – they ignore, stare back as if going to hit or use sharp object to deter the attack.
  • Making friends with auto drivers while travelling in autos.
  • Standing in between girls and men in crowded buses to stop harassment of girls.
  • Always cautious about what is happening around.
  • Avoid insecure places
  • Keep a small weapon handy all the time.
  • Avoid late evening travels and meetings.
  • Advocates use their uniform as much as possible to muster respect.
  • Though it is expensive always use auto to travel at night.
  • Always make sure the mobile phone is recharged – both power and talk time.
  • Careful in dressing. Some women have the feeling that usually saree is respectable and churidar is tempting men to touch.
  • Always prepared to defend with firmness and courage to face anything.

Specific unsafe places

Kochi city:

  • Kisan Colony, Bus Stand and Railway Station
  • Karakkamuri
  • The walkway from Transport Stand to Railway Station
  • Kaloor- Palarivattom- Edappally
  • Area near Amrita Hospital and Railway level crossing
  • Ponekkara, near Rail Cross
  • Manassery- Chellanam road is felt to be very unsafe for ladies after 7 PM ,

Thrissur city:

  • Sakthan Bus Stand,
  • K S R T C Bus stand
  • Vadakke Bus stand
  • Vadakke chira
  • Park
  • Railway station
  • Municipal Office Road
  • Theatres

 Support / attitude towards sexual harassment

Family members

  • Many women share their experience at home but not in detail. But all do not get support from home. Married women get support at home based on the status of her job and salary.  Also they are very cautious while explaining incidents to their husbands and in-laws fearing the possibility of misunderstanding.
  • Husbands very patiently and sympathetically listen to the woes of women. But once they are under the influence of alcohol, they question them on  this incidents and blame the wives. In some cases, family members and others remark that the women might have done something to provoke men to make such advances.
  • Often husbands advise wives not to create problems by responding to violence.
  • Once a Nun told her bad experience to her fellow members, they kept ragging her and now she has stopped sharing.
  • One woman shared that when her daughter explained her bad experience, she adviced her to take more precautions while going out.

Other men

  • Usually other people stay away and don’t help either the victim or someone dare to take proactive steps. This discourages women from responding. Sometimes even the victim may not stand with the supporter till the end; she may withdraw the complaint fearing the response of family or society.
  • FGDs have shown a common trend in Thrissur that women do not ask help to anyone at any unsafe or risky situations. Usually what they have seen is people do not help, but ridicule the woman who fight and ask for help. Educated middle class women or men never support harassed woman, but not much educated working class people usually come forward to support.


  • There were incidents when Police took firm action. While an exhibitionist was spotted by a lady and reported, the Police took immediate action and the pervert shouted at the lady “You only showed me to the Police. You will face the consequence”. (FGD with women in the embroidery centre)
  • A girl seeing a man trying to take photograph of another girl using mobile phone complained to the Police. The photographed girl was not at all aware that her photo is being taken. The Police took quick action
  • Advocates shared that when they have approached for help, police responded positively.

At the same time, women shared that police generally are not supportive to harassed women. Sometimes they make fun of the victim

  • Once a lady complained regarding the issue of drunken pedestrians causing problem to the ladies. The response of the Police was ‘They are not coming to your home and making trouble’.
  • Many students thought of approaching police. But not yet approached because of fear.

The team feels that the reply exemplifies the lack of understanding of Police regarding the right of women to have safe public places. The response also shows the attitude (though at subliminal level) that the right place for women is home and if she ventures out into roads, she will have to face the consequences.

Janamaitri Police

  • Janamaitri Police is a good venture by the city police but not active everywhere. In different areas some chosen ladies are employed and their telephone numbers are publicised. If anything untoward happens, the matter will be reported to one of these ladies in the network who in turn will contact the lady appointed for that specific area of occurrence of the incident. The latter will take the matter to the Police .Unfortunately Janamaitri is functioning actively only in some areas.

Auto drivers

  • There are instances of auto drivers rescuing ladies. Once a lady came running from KSRTC stand and she told that she was being chased by somebody. She ran into an auto and  asked to be dropped in a relative’s house. There are instances when auto drivers  even help ladies to  buy tickets for them to reach home. In such cases they pool money
  • The auto driver can see what is happening at the back seat through the two mirrors fitted inside the auto. Once an auto driver saw two school children indulging in excessive intimacy.  The auto driver questioned the pair and understood that the girl had quarreled at home.

Reactions / response of victims

Women react to harassment  in different ways. Many women believe that if we react against a harasser he may revenge and launch a mass attack later. Therefore generally they refrain from questioning and reacting. Some women shared that it is really impossible to do anything if panicked. But some women, when harassed, react spontaneously.

  • They react aggressively, question, stamp and shout; “go to your mother and sister, don’t come to us with this behaviour”. Some have thrown stones / bricks.
  • Stare angrily at men who make advances. In some instances this works
  • If harassment happens while going for work, the hot tiffin box works as a handy weapon.
  • Some women shared that it is really impossible to do anything if panicked.
  • Some talk with husbands and take action
  • Some people refrain from questioning and reacting because they fear the harasser  next day  would wait with his gang to launch a mass attack.

Why women are reluctant to react?

Women are not in a position to take decisions in harassment issues even if they are financially independent. If they intervene in a situation of harassment, they will be pulled up when they reach home by family members, especially by men. Understanding this, no women dare to intervene in any situation.

Women do not want to be centre of attraction at a public place for such a ‘not so good’ reason. Men/women do not support those who become victims of sexual harassment but stare at them as if they are ‘bad’ women. So women do not want to be labelled as ‘bad women’

  1. Usually the harasser escapes.  They are not caught nor punished by the Police. When someone supports a victim, the harasser asks “If the affected person has no complaint, why are you worried?”
  2. Women suspect there is nexus between Police and criminals. When complaint is lodged against some criminals, next day, all details of the complainant including the mobile numbers are passed on to the criminals.  “Once a few boys were trying to harass a girl and when the incident was reported to Police a car came by and the boys were whisked off”.
  3. If one lady reacts to protect a harassed girl/woman, the victim herself might withdraw and the person who reacted will be isolated. Sometimes, nobody else will join her to fight the issue on the spot and she becomes a lone fighter
  4. When women try to make interventions, especially on behalf of others, husbands tell, “You need to look after your own affairs only. Why do you want to make such interventions and invite trouble”

 Measures to improve women’s safety and inclusion in public space?

Some found solutions in correcting infrastructure, some suggested attitudinal change, and another group put the burden on women themselves by saying “If women dress well, then there won’t be any problem”.

But it is obvious that deliberate actions should be made at different levels such as individual, family, civil society, local body and state levels to make our public places safe for women.

1        Empower girls/women to react.

2        Women should learn rules and procedures of governance system and make studied interventions against violence on women

3        Women should take initiatives to manage public places, just as they manage their homes in order to have safe public places for women,

4        Women do not refrain from lodging complaints

5        Have strict law enforcement. Strong punishment should be given to the culprits

6        Strict police patrolling. Police should maintain a very good relationship with the ordinary people and local groups including SHGs.

7        More Women Police will have to be deployed. Girls and women will feel more comfortable with them.

8        The sale of alcohol and drugs should be controlled and stopped. It is not advisable to take up a one man army fight. Residential Associations can take initiatives in this by pointing out to the Excise department which shops are selling drugs.

9        Strict monitoring at the cyber cafes are suggested in the discussion as this would help to find out those shops which allow browsing of blue stuff.

10    The sale of cigarettes may not be amenable to control. But we can prevent the shop keeper from providing fire to light up the cigarette

11    Stringent measures against drunken driving should be taken. Rash and negligent driving should also be handled strictly

12    More ‘ladies only’ buses needed for comfortable journey in public transport

13    More bus services are needed to avoid congestion in buses, especially during peak hours.  KSRTC buses are better

14    “Women and students only” buses needed.

15    The size of buses should be increased

16    The responsibility of women’s safety should be entrusted on the crew of the bus and they must be given awareness on women’s issues.

17    There should be common awareness programmes for the society on women’s rights.

18    Girls should be given training in martial arts and encouraged to defend physically and mentally.

19    Boys also should be given gender, sexuality classes. Teachers can take initiative in this

20    Give awareness to boys regarding the dignity of women and giving due respect to women

21    The phone number of community policing ladies should be made available to girls and women. Also, that of the general help lines of Police and Railway.

22    There should be proper street lighting. Interventions should be made to make the street lights to be lighted at correct time.

23    Residential Associations and other local organisations have responsibility to make their area safe for women.

24    Jaagratha Samithi, a platform to open up and solve such problems, at the Corporation level should be activated. Similar kind of platform is needed for students also.

25    Most of the shops close by eight o’ clock in Thrissur. After that the town is deserted. If the shops can be kept open more time, then women would feel safe. Night shopping on a shift basis is recommended.

26    Police need to be aware of the problems of transgenders and should have friendly relationship.

27    Media should rethink the way they report cases of sexual harassment. Sensationalism would not help either the victims or to stop violence against women in society.

  1. Women’s Safety Audits

 A Women’s Safety Audit (WSA) is a participatory tool for collecting and accessing information about perceptions of safety in public spaces and brings together an entire community to work to improve their quality of life. This is based on the premise that users of a space are experts in understanding how they experience and feel about it. It is a process which brings people together to walk through a physical environment, evaluate how safe it feels, and identify ways to make it safer. The Audit helps to create a safer and more comfortable environment for everyone, especially women and vulnerable group. Safety audit can be conducted in all kinds of spaces such as streets, areas around residents, parks, markets, bus stops, hospital compounds, educational institutions etc. 

The Audit is conducted by a group of women comprising of 4 to 6 members who are familiar with an area as well as who have concerns on safety. In case of a larger area, the audit team can have more members and split into groups to cover different parts of the area.  In addition to interview, mapping of the area, checklist and camera are other tools used by the team to evaluate the safety of women in the public spaces of a particular area. In this audit physical characteristics like lighting (how well the area is lit?), signage (knowing where you are and where you are going), visibility (seeing and being seen), isolation (how busy the area is, hearing and being heard), escape routes (being able to escape and get help), maintenance (how well looked after the area is) and nature of usage of space are observed to analyze safety.

Areas selected for Women Safety Audits

Two safety audits were conducted in Thiruvananthapuram city and one in Kozhikode in phase I of the study. The selection of area was based on the information received through the survey about the most unsafe places. Places like Thampanoor, East Fort, Medical College, Statue etc were highlighted as unsafe in Thiruvananthapuram city by respondents of the survey. Among the list, East fort and Medical college areas were selected for safety audit. East Fort or Kizhakkekotta, as it is known in Malayalam, is the main city bus-stand and is considered the heart of the city. In Kozhikode city the new bus-stand, Palayam and S.M street are the most inconvenient and difficult areas in the city. So S.M Street was selected for safety audit.

In  phase II two safety audits each were conducted in Kochi and Thrissur based on the information received through Focus Group Discussions. In Kochi, it was in Thoppumpadi junction and in the KSRTC stand. In Thrissur city, Vadakke (North) Bus stand, Sakthan Bus stand and roads leading to these from the Swaraj Round were selected for safety audits. The audits were done during day and night to understand different dimensions of the issue.


Routes of the audit

Safety audit at East fort was done on 14th and 15th of October 2010, during day time and after dark. The audit started from Over bridge signal to Vettimuricha kotta. Since there was a larger portion to cover the 12 member trained team was split into two groups and did audit at both sides of the road. The audit started around evening (4.00 pm – 5.30 pm), the peak rush hours of the area and took almost one and half hour to finish in the first day. The audit after dark was carried out from 7.00 pm to 8.30 pm on the same day. On 29th October 2010, the safety audit at Medical College was done by the same team from 4.30 pm to 6.30 pm. The night was done after a week by the core team at SAKHI.

A nine member team conducted safety audit at S.M Street, Kozhikode on 18th January 2011 which started from the Taj Road up to L.I.C corner during 4.30 P.M to 5.45 P.M and the night audit was also done on the same day from 7.00 pm to 8.15pm.

A team of seven audited the Thoppumpady junction and surrounding one kilometer road on February 17th, 2012. The audit during day time extended from 4.30 pm to 6pm and the night audit extended from 8pm to 9pm. The KSRTC stand was audited on February 20th, 2012 from 4pm to 5.30pm and 8pm to 10pm. The area of audit was KSRTC stand, toilet at its end and the way towards South Railway station.

In Thrissur city, Vadakke (North) Bus stand, Sakthan Bus stand and roads leading to these from the Swaraj Round were selected for safety audits.

5.1    Observations from Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode

Streets, bus stops/stands, market places and public toilets were observed to discover new aspects of safety other than the usual notion of women’s safety at public places. The team found that East Fort, Medical College and SM Street were not only unsafe for women but also for men. Since most of the issues observed are common to the three areas, it is consolidated as follows:

 Streets, market place and bus stops:

  • Generally the design (lay out) as well as maintenance of Thiruvananthapuram city is very poor.
  • At Medical College area the width of pavement is insufficient. So, pedestrians often are forced to use roads to walk, as road-sides are taken over by parking vehicles, thus risking collision with moving vehicles and it is more dangerous when there is heavy traffic.  The women have to also avoid harassments from the miscreants trying to exploit the situation.
  • Open space urination by men at East Fort in front of Karimpanal arcade is a shame for all. Salesmen of nearby book shop reported that exhibitionism is yet another nuisance in the area.
  • Many of the interviewed complained the presence of beverage outlets close to pavements and hence nuisance by drunkards to pedestrians, especially women.
  • Generally, these areas are crowded with both men and women; but as soon as darkness set in, the number of women dwindles. However at Medical College junction even after evening, many women were seen walking through the streets, waiting for bus, shopping etc. Also there were groups of sales girls and nursing students in their uniforms rushing towards buses.
  • Condition of the footpaths for pedestrians is pathetic. Slabs were broken or encroached by street vendors or parking vehicles.
  • Zebra crossings are limited in numbers, in some areas not so visible.
  • The street lights are insufficient and are covered by the trees. Many street lights are not in working condition. At the same time lights from the shops lit the nearby area as well.
  • Women street vendors reported harassments from men after darkness.
  • Open drainage, dislocated slabs, wrecked pavements, hanging wires, lack of sign boards, heaps of construction materials left on road side (also empty telephone cable boxes, wires etc) were further limiting the scope of safety.
  • Vehicles were found parked in non parking areas. The sign boards are few, and displays are not so visible.  The narrow roads encroached upon by street vendors and for vehicle parking especially in S.M.Street.
  • Bus stops were located here and there without shelter facility. Absence of seating amenity, no signage to show route maps, lack of lights, lack of cleanliness as well as  lack of timely maintenance etc. were adding up the issue in both areas. The people who were interviewed reported occurrence of sexual harassment irrespective of time. Many of them complained the problems created by drunkards at bus stops and buses.

 Public Toilet:

There is no public toilet in the Medical College area. East Fort has one at the back side of the bus stop. The passage to the public toilet is dark and fully occupied by men mostly smokers. There is no waste bin inside the toilet. Men were found using women’s public toilet because   cigarette butts were seen inside the toilet. The male caretaker of the public toilet pointed out that since women are not coming to use ladies toilet, men are also allowed to use it. A rope with fire hanged in front of women’s toilet to lit cigarette was a shocking scene!

The only toilet seen in S.M.Street is the one located on the way to L.I.C corner which is meant for both men and women. But in effect it is used only by men. It is littered with cigarette butts, match sticks and other filthy things so that women would not dare to go near it.

Towards the end of phase I, Sakhi did audits of 10 public toilets out of a total 57 in Thiruvananthapuram Corporation. Almost all of them lack cleanliness and are not at all accessible to physically disabled people. There were no waste bins inside the toilets. In some of the toilets there is no water facility. Generally, women use these toilets when they are in extreme need; otherwise they avoid using public toilets.

5.2    Safety audit at Kochi

The Safety audit at Thoppumpady junction was at 4.30pm. But even at that time, there were very few women on the street. So the interviews were not effective. When the team approached a lady with her two daughters, to make enquiries about her perception on safety, she said that she was picking up her daughters from the tuition classes and the three were heading home. It was very evident that she was trying her best to evade us and to rush back home. She said that they were OK and did not have any fear.

There are street lights in the area but unevenly distributed. During the night audit it became clear that they are not lighting the pedestrian path. There are hardly any signages in the area. Foot paths at many places are very narrow with obstructions and large cracks. The footpaths are encroached by shops and vendors.

Right in front of the studio in the area the slab is broken and is an imminent danger to any passerby. If a Volvo bus comes by and the pedestrians try to keep to the road side, unwatchful of the broken slab, s/he is sure to have a dangerous fall. The studio people had witnessed several such incidents. They said that in spite of the matter being taken up with the Corporation, since 2 years nothing had happened. The shop owner is ready to undertake replacement of the slab. But they have no permission to do it by themselves.

Foot paths are not accessible for physically challenged people. There are many unfinished buildings and demolished buildings which could possibly be unsafe for women.

Within one kilo metre of the road, there are 5 bars and 2 outlets of Beverages Corporation. There is a school and a church at a distance of less than 100 metres from these. There are no public toilets in the area. The bus stop doesn’t have seating facility. Men were observed urinating on the walls along the street except at the busy area. People were observed queuing up in front of the Beverages Corporation even at late evening. People shared that there is 24 hour Police patrolling  in the area.

The safety audit at KSRTC stand was also revealed so much safety issues in the area. There is a ladies’ waiting room inside the bus station, which is donated by the ‘Lions Club’. But it seems women are not using this. The room is not clean and many of the plastic chairs are broken.

The toilet in the KSRTC stand is far away from this room and run by Sulabh. Here also, as in all other Sulabh toilets in the State, the caretaker is a man. There is no board displaying the fee charged for using the facilities. Women have to pay charges as high as Rs 10 to pass urine. The path to the toilet had no lighting. It closes at 6pm. Women feel unsafe in the place. The place is filthy and stinking. The toilet was smeared with faecal matter. Another thing is that there is no lock for the door from inside. The Policeman on duty said that Corporation ran a toilet which is neat and situated about 150 meters away from the lady’s waiting place. Not even the shopkeepers nearby could knew about this toilet. There was no signage directing to the toilet.

On the way from the bus stand to the toilet, a line of beggars could be seen on the foot path in lying and sitting positions. During late night, there used to be intense fighting within families and between families.  While interviewing the people around it was found that a hotel near to the stand mixes foreign liquor with ganja and then bottle it back under the label of known brands. People get a quick kick on its consumption and hence people throng the place for purchasing this.

The interview revealed that there are commercial sex workers and harassers in the area. These things had been happening for quite a long time. Even though culprits are known by everybody concerned, each time they are caught and set free on bail immediately.

Two types of patrolling by police are there in the area – panther patrolling and romeo patrolling. The former one has police force roaming about in jeeps/vans. The latter constitutes police, roaming about in two wheelers. There are no women in either of the team.

When some buses are cancelled or change its routes without prior notice, then again women are put into more trouble than men. This might force them to travel at night. Usually it will be too late to make new alternate plans

Book shops, especially long established ones invoke trust of women and they feel at ease to approach the book stalls. Any stalls which are permanent in nature radiate a feeling of security. Long established means they would be having social connections in that area and the personnel inside cannot be usually expected to indulge in anti social activities. Planners can conceptualise special roles for them in the wider safety initiatives

5.3 Safety audit at Thrissur

Vadakke (North) Bus stand is from where long distance private buses to certain routes and some KSRTC buses plying within Thrissur district are operated. Buses from north of Thrissur pass through this bus stand to Sakthan bus stand via Muncipal Bus stand. Sakthan Bus stand is bigger in size with a structure having bus bays on both sides and office and shopping complex at its entrance.  All buses to west and south west directions start from here. Buses to certain routes to north and east depart from this stand. People using the city has to pass through either of these bus stands to enter or depart from the city.

Observations of the team

The team did observation and did informal interviews with people. Maps were drawn and checklists were prepared. Photographs were taken.

Streets: -

  • These are the busiest area in the city and was generally crowded with people both men and women; but as soon as darkness set in, the nature of population gets changed and struck into a scene with a lot of men and limited number of women.
  • Women interviewed had shared that roads leading to both Vadakke Stand and Sakthan stand are unsafe.
  • The design as well as maintenance of both the area is very poor. The foot paths mostly are broken or encroached by street vendors or vehicles.
  • The width of pavement towards Vadakke bus stand was not enough. These encroachments and piteous condition of foot path force people to walk through road.
  • Generally the foot paths cannot be used by elderly, physically challenged due to sudden dips and height of it from the road.
  •  Zebra crossings are limited in numbers and there aren’t any to cross to Sakthan stand.
  • Traffic rounds are confusing and dangerous without control over vehicle speed.
  •  Street lights are there but most of them were not working. Only one third of the street lights were in working condition in the approach road to Sakthan Bus stand. Lights from the shops lit the area and once the shops closed the area become dark.
  • People are urinating and dumping waste just under warning notices placed on the way to Sakthan Bus stand.
  • Many of the interviewed, complained the presence of beverage outlets and nuisance by drunkards.
  • Open drainage, dislocated slabs, hanging down wires and lack of sign boards are limiting the scope of safety in large.

Bus stops: – Many shortcomings were found while auditing bus stops on the roads to Vadakke bus stand and Sakthan bus stand. The people who were interviewed were reluctant to report the occurrence of sexual harassment but were vocal about lack of amenities. Many of them referred about drunkards at bus stops and buses.

  • Bus stops were crowded with men and women; but after dark the presence of women was rare. Scene of group of sales girls in their uniforms rushing towards buses were seen and they did not have time to speak to us.
  • Visible police was not there at any of the bus stops.
  • Half the bus stops audited were without shelter facility. Absence of seating amenity, no signage to show route maps or name of the places, lack of lights, lack of cleanliness as well as  lack of timely maintenance etc. were adding up the issues in all areas.

Bus stands: Three bus stands namely, Vadakke bus stand, Muncipal bus stand and Sakthan bus stand, were audited.

  • There are no sufficient facilities for people who travel. All the three bus stands are dirty, smelly and crowded, especially by men. Women disappear, at the latest by 8pm.
  • There is no shelter at Vadakke bus stand. Shelter at Muncipal bus stand is just the extension of shop fronts. There are no facilities for people to sit.
  • There were hardly any lights. Sakthan has six tube lights to light up entire area. Lights from few shops spill over to platforms to light up the place. Neither drinking water facility nor garbage bins.
  • Entering into  both the bus stands by pedestrians isa herculean task as one has to run across  buses  coming into the stands.  Every woman is in a hurry to escape from the place. Given a chance nobody wants to wait for buses there more than three minute. Employed women reach bus stand calculating the timing of their bus.

Public Toilet: – There are public toilets in or near bus stands.

  • The public toilet at Vadakke Bus stand under Corporation is situated at back side of the bus stand.  There are no women on the way to toilet as the buses are parked there and a smelly sewage channel is passing by. Toilet premises are occupied by men, mostly smokers. All the cubicles except one of toilets for women are kept locked. And that too is closed by 6.30pm saying no woman comes to user it after that time. The area is used for storing goods of street vendors.
  • A woman only toilet block is built and ready; waiting for opening for the last two years in the Vadakke Bus stand.
  • The toilet of the Muncipal Bus stand was also audited and it is situated in the market area. There are no signs or boards indicating the existence of this. There is only one cubicle for women open and the other is locked. Tiles are broken. Early mornings men are using these toilets.
  • In the Sakthan Bus stand, the toilets are away from the crowd. There are no signs towards toilets. Smelly and broken. Used by men and used as storage space. Locked up by 6.30pm. Big holes in the wall towards outside. There is a coin box phone at the entrance of toilet for women. Men are found crowded around it.
  • In all these places men are the care takers.

Parks: Vadakke Chira park is on the banks of Vadakke Chira (North tank).

  • The park is open by 4pm and closes by 8pm. Women hardly uses this place. And no facilities for children to play. Police question women who use park after 6pm. Very poorly lit place. There are a good number of ornamental light posts but hardly four are working. Elderly and physically challenged cannot use the space as it is in different levels and there are no path ways for wheel chairs. Men in groups and alone use the space.

Major challenge: Women were reluctant to speak up in the interview suspecting that it will be a problem if they said something against the system. They also believe that only bad women get sexually harassed. Also they do not want to recount the bad experiences they had. The women in the audit team were angry and desperate to see this kind of attitude. They themselves were touched and hit, stared at and followed by men while doing the audit. 

  • 6.    Capacity Gap Analysis

Capacity gap analysis was undertaken to understand and to analyze the policies, programmes and budgets put in place by governments to address safety and security of women in the public places and to counter violence experienced by them. It aims to look at awareness about various types of violence faced by women, the available data, the existing legislations, budget allocations and various institutional mechanisms to address violence against women.

Through the last 15 years, unlike the rural local self government institutions which succeeded to develop strong gender component through many years work, urban bodies are still encountering problem in addressing the needs of women. Urban women are a diverse group -working women, elderly, women living in areas with minimum basic facilities like the coastal areas, women who come to city for various purposes. Their needs are also diverse. When urban Local Government’s plan city development, do they think of these women? Do they ever think that these women too have specific needs and expectations? Urban planning in India is done by men for men and women hardly matters. The analysis of the JNNURM City development Plans (CDP) and the development plans under decentralization points to this

  • Infrastructure development especially of roads gets top priority and greater funds. This is mainly for maintaining existing roads and building new roads. A good and safe road with proper street lights and proper pavement is an important requirement for enhancing mobility of women. Lack of understanding on issues of women as commuters or users of public roads and transport are major gaps.
  • Housing schemes are given high priority. High price and non-availability of land within the city limit is a major problem in this sector. Slum development is a major concern. Importance of women’s ownership over land and house is not taken into consideration while giving assistance.
  • Projects for childcare sector are unevenly focused on building and providing other facilities. Trainings for anganawadi workers and improvement of learning environment are not addressed effectively.
  • Both the cities have a rich heritage of culture and women are always active in the cultural life. But in the development plan of the city no mention is made about women’s role, participation and relevance in the cultural life. A striking gap is identified in vision on improving spatial and programmatic aspects of the cultural life.
  • Development plan has clear vision on environmentally safe city with greener areas and innovative energy efficient projects.
  • Planning process is done without the basic minimum understanding or data on women’s occupation, skills and nature of unemployment. Many activities related to the projects in local economic growth are directly linked to women’s labour but they do not have a gender focus. InThiruvananthapuram, women fish vendors are a major category but their specific needs of market spaces in different locations is not given due importance
  • Lack of concern over specific women’s health issues and public sanitation facilities are a striking gap in the gender component and outlook adopted by the decentralization programme in Kerala. Recently a women’s organization, ‘Penkoottu’ (Women’s Friendship) in Kozhikode staged a strong agitation ‘Right to pee’ by organizing sales girls in the city demanding public toilets in the shopping complexes, markets and other public places in the city.  Sanitation is given high priority in local planning from the beginning of decentralization process in the state. Yet in the Cities, safer and cleaner public toilet for men and women is a major issue.
  • Many projects under WCP can easily be included under other sectors. Toilets for girl students are a basic infrastructural requirement to be addressed either from education or from infrastructure sector. Lack of vision on women’s practical needs and its linkages with basic physical planning is a clear gap identified regarding the capacity for quality planning of the city.
  • Lack of awareness to adopt technically supported advanced waste management methods without harming the health of women is a gap to be bridged.
  • Physical planning of the city at present is not considering the gender specific aspects or needs of the special groups like children, aged and disabled.
  • There is a comparable positive shift seen in approach of designing WCP projects in the last year. An attempt to address gender specific needs in work and prevention of violence against women were made.


Integrating gender mainstreaming in urban planning process is an important step towards working for safer cities for women and children.  City planning should consider women residents and the women visiting the city for various purposes.

v  Collect gender disaggregated data on the status of urban women, identify their needs in the urban environment for sound and gender inclusive urban planning

v  Special care to ensure active participation of women in planning of projects and programmes (JNNURM, KSUDP, WCP etc) and wider consultations must be held with women from various sectors(organized and unorganized sector workers, women from different age groups) to identify women’s specific needs.

v  More efforts and money allocation to activate Jagratha samithis in all local governments, including urban bodies must be a priority. Various stakeholders like the police, health personnel etc need to collaborate with this initiative.

v  The Kudumbasree movement in Kerala has great potential to make women conscious of their safety in public places and to work towards educating young women to learn self defense mechanisms

v  The biggest lacuna is in addressing men. The attitudes, mindsets of men belonging to various categories and professions have to be addressed. Specific gender training be given to male professionals like doctors, police, judiciary, transport employees (TTRs of trains, conductors in buses), urban planning officials etc

v  More public toilets with safe and clean environment, sufficient water and lighting are to be built and made available to women all the day in shopping complexes, markets, parks, bus stands, places of worship, beach and other public places.

v  Sufficient restrooms (toilets, changing facilities, breastfeeding spaces wherever needed) for women in all public offices and  educational institutions

v  Ensuring safety of women and girls in public vehicles, in bus stands and railway stations and in public gathering places has to receive priority. Trained police personnel have to be deployed in trains.

v  Physical planning of the city to be improved considering gender specific needs and needs of the special groups like aged and disabled. Pedestrians need to be given due importance while planning roads.  Now many public buildings and structures deny or restrict accessibility to groups like physically challenged and senior citizens. Considering the fact that Kerala is fast ‘graying’ special care has to be given to such issues.

v  Effective implementation of police help lines and gender sensitization of police and other implementing officers who have responsibility to protect women should receive utmost priority. The helpline numbers need to be widely disseminated.

v  Special attention and more projects needed for single women and women headed households; joint ownership of titles should be made mandatory in all housing schemes to ensure women’s right over property and residence.

v  Ideas and plans for building maximum number of houses with the minimum available land needed. New patterns of dwelling and houses to be developed.


v  Women commuters who are stranded in the cities at night be offered safe overnight accommodation. New bus stations being built by Kerala transport corporation (KSRTC) should include this in their plans

v  More attention needed to develop safe and quality learning environment for child care services. More programmes for adolescent girls to enhance their confidence, mobility, physical &nutritional profile and self esteem needed. Special focus and trainings to be given for the issues of women with disability.

v  Multiple and combined issues of social security, disability, poverty and health of women are to be addressed in Planning. These aspects to be included in the trainings for planners.

v  Care and support for terminally ill women is an urgent concern considering their lack of economic independence and property rights.

v  An efficient waste management programme with improved technology and less drudgery to women cleaners is to be implemented.

v  A detailed occupational profile of women has to be prepared to help effective planning in the local economic growth sector.

v  Women’s role as beneficiaries as well as care givers to be considered while planning the projects in health, social security and local economy.

v  A comprehensive plan for disabled to be developed rather than distributing few support measures.

v  Lack of database and understanding on people’s skills and potential of the area makes a major gap in planning for local economic growth.

v  Integration and linkage with major institutions (for example IIM and NIIT) and sectors to be developed. Gender specific planning to be initiated to involve more women and to enhance the working conditions of those who are already working.

 7.    Way Forward

            Towards Possible Interventions

A number of suggestions have been put forward by the 1500 respondents to make the city safe for women.

       In Infrastructure development

  1. Provide more public transport to reduce the rush in buses and ensure safety inside the bus.
  2. Conscious inclusion of women’s needs and facilities in the planning of city, and especially public utilities.
  3. Build restrooms for women in major bus and railway stations. Construction of sufficient neat, safe and functional public toilets with proper amenities like clean water, light, bucket, mug, sanitary napkin disposal facility, doors which can be locked from inside, and hooks or small shelves to keep their handbags. The design of public toilets should take into account the amount of privacy women need.
  4. Parking space exclusively for women, which can be used without any fear or questions like ‘why are you here at this time?’
  5. Proper, regular and timely functioning and maintenance of street lights is very crucial. Poorly lit areas pose a threat to the safety of women. Ensure street lights in all bi-roads.
  6. Proper and regular maintenance of public roads and waste disposal
  7. Place more CCTV. Control the misuse of mobile.
  8. Help line numbers need to be shown where it is visible to all
  9. Separate waiting sheds and toilets for women in bus stations
  10. Provide school bus to all areas
  11. Check competitive race of vehicles, especially private buses.
  12. Ensure the safety of children inside buses
  13. Restrict beggars in public spaces and also people sleeping in bus stands
  14. Increase the number of ladies’ compartments in trains
  15. Audio-Visual announcements/messages creating awareness among men should be shown at railway stations especially on TV.
  16. Setting up of free public telephone services.
  17. Provide stay homes at bus stands and railway stations for women passengers
  18. Install complaint boxes at major points in the city.
  19. Establish pre-paid auto system in major areas. More women taxi and auto drivers have to be encouraged. Local bodies can take initiative to bring in more such projects

   Strengthening of Manpower 

  1. Police need to be more active. Increase the number of women police and depute them in bus-stops, schools, buses especially in the early morning between 6 am to 8 am.
  2. There is need to strengthen shadow police.
  3. Police should be more gender sensitive. They should not humiliate women coming to Stations
  4. Caretaker of ladies public toilet should be a woman.

      Awareness Creation

  1. Create and enhance awareness among, men, women, children, and bus crews.
  2. Control alcoholism and drugs abuse.
  3. People need to be more sensitive to women’s safety issues
  4. Provide gender awareness programs.
  5. Remove wrong sign boards
  6. Remove vulgar posters
  7. Women should respond and self protect
  8. Ensure the safety of children in public buses
  9. Civil society should be alert on sexual harassment on women
  10. Women’s help line numbers be advertised effectively through big TV screen, bus tickets etc.
  11. Empower all Women Police Constables and give them powers to act.
  12. Promote gender education and sex education in schools
  13. Restriction of consuming alcohol or drugs at public spaces
  14. Change in the attitude of men towards women,
  15. Empower women to respond against harassments,
  16. Build a socially responsive society,
  17. Co-education for girls and boys, gender and sex education in school, promotion of mutual respect among children as human beings, children should be educated on abuse etc.
  18. Provide both girls and boys with mutual rights and opportunities and appropriate information on sexuality.
  19. Parents should build confidence in their children to deal issues positively.
  20. The position police takes is very crucial. Police have to be made more gender sensitive

       Strengthening Institution Mechanisms

  1. Strengthen Jaagratha Samithis.
  2. Fast settlement of cases
  3. Strict implementation of law and stringent punishment
  4. Special institutional mechanism to settle bus related complaints.
  5. Elected representatives of local bodies need to take stern actions to ensure women safety.
  6. Conductors should intervene and ensure that reserved seats for women are not occupied by men
  7. Government should take an active role to ensure safety of women.
  8. Safe city committees under the Corporation or police should be formed which can give focus and legitimacy to safety in the city for all and develop a policy document to build strategies to prevent violence against women, girls and the marginalized.
  9. Urban planning process need to integrate the idea of security and safety in their planning process
  10. A new planning philosophy has to be developed, with high level of democracy as well as quality.
  11. Institutional mechanisms have to be built through community development approaches with a range of activities that can reduce harassments faced by women and girls.
  12. Women’s police cell has to be more active and given power to take independent decisions. Sufficient funds needs to be allocated to make the women’s help line and cell more effective. The personnel managing these also have to be well trained
  13. A mobile women’s court would encourage women to register complaints and make the process easier.
  14. Programs like Jana Maithri police need to be strengthened.
  15. Deployment of women police in plain clothes in public spaces will help to catch the culprits and bring them under law.


 Suggested action from the review of the initiative

by C.P.SUJAYA  IAS (Rtd)

“Coordinated thinking on ‘safety’ is needed to pull all threads together.”

One example of the need to coordinate thinking relates to gaps in legal definitions, existing assumptions regarding women’s safety, and the legal ramifications of the inclusion of safety as an essential component of women’s status in two cities. The usual mode of thinking connects the idea of safety of women to ‘the law and order situation’ i.e., crimes against women, such as rape, marital/dowry violence, etc. where the offences have to be registered in the police stations and the police take charge as the entity that has to deal with offences under IPC etc. But the new ‘safety’ paradigm of women in cities we are now talking about is not completely at par with ‘penal code/law’ or ‘crime’ related to marital/dowry violence. The current model of safety in cities that we are dealing in is located in all public places, not specifically to the matrimonial home or its outskirts. But it is the same police establishment that is responsible for receiving and investigating complaints made by women relating to their experiences of lack of safety in public places, for which strangers would be largely responsible, such as harassment in buses. This complexity has to be accommodated in the action phase.

A specific gap is the legal ambiguity that surrounds the term ‘sexual harassment’. It could refer to types and forms of physical harassment, but also to vocal and non-physical but visible and audible harassment. Sexual harassment, as a broad-band term, has not been defined in law so far (with the exception of the Vishakha judgement of the Supreme Court, where the bill currently is under drafting, but this is restricted to women’s safety in the workplace) A very large number of women (80% who were interviewed in the survey mentioned ‘verbal and visual abuse’ when asked what kind of safety problems they had to encounter, (whereas 60% had mentioned physical harassment). In one of the Sakhi workshops, the discussion on safety turned to the need for more legal clarity on the issue of ‘harassment’ of women from the viewpoint of safety.

The Tamilnadu Prohibition of Harassment of Women Act 2002 came up for discussion in the Sakhi workshop, initiated by a lawyer-participant. This Act defines ‘harassment’ very broadly, imposes penalties and punishments, defines ‘public places’, places the onus to prove innocence on the offender and, very crucially, places the responsibility of reporting harassment on the management of the public facility where the incident takes place. Failure by the management to report the harassment is punishable under this law. The punishments provided in the Act are quite severe, the highest being imprisonment up to 10 years.

Taking this as a cue, a recommendation was made and recorded in the Sakhi workshop that a new law be passed to protect women in public places, in which the responsibility for registering complaints should be vested with the particular public facility in which the crime or the incident of harassment has occurred. This should be followed up. This will go a long way to increase the responsibility of the various departments for women’s safety and enable quicker results.

Women Police for Women’s Safety – the issue of possible typecasting

As already mentioned, what is commonly termed ‘crimes against women’ listed in the IPC and in other stand-alone criminal laws, generally involve incidents of domestic/marital violence, such as cruelty, harassment of women by husbands and in-laws and not violence against women in the public arena. With the passing of years, this policing activity has increased, where filing a complaint, registering cases, investigation, and finally the judicial procedures go on apace. Since the police are a major player in this area, it has, obviously, gained more experience of dealing with incidents of infringement of women’s safety in the domestic sphere. These are mostly husband-and-wife disputes that lead to a range of situations involving women’s lack of physical and psychological safety – could be from physical injuries, psychological harassment or torture, violent behavior, incitement to suicide etc. The police can be said to have gained a great deal of experience and understanding of dealing with a particular category of lack of safety of women as compared to the other departments and organizations involved in the women’s safety project. In addition, they are also now, increasingly, expected to deal with public safety issues relating to women, such as cases filed by women in police stations relating to harassment in public facilities such as buses or toilets, or while travelling on roads.

This pre-eminent role it plays naturally puts the internal working of the police establishment in the spotlight, specifically aiming at greater scrutiny from the gender aspect. It appears that the police department in Kerala employs a much larger number of women at all levels, mainly in the lower middle and lower cadres. A process of gender typecasting seems to have gradually taken place, perhaps as a corollary to the increase in numbers of women police. Traditionally, police establishments everywhere in the country – uniformed, regulated, and high on certain

physical attributes for entry – have been invested with a male image. The entry of more women in the last several decades has, naturally, thrown up new challenges. In Kerala, one could not help but notice a certain tendency to associate women police with a limited set of tasks at the lower and middle level because of their gender. An apprehension that may be justified in these circumstances is whether ‘women’s safety’ in cities may not be seen not only as a ‘women’s issue’ but as a ‘women policing task’ within the police establishment at the lower levels.

One of the Sakhi documents observes that sometimes the recommendations (relating to women’s safety) are aimed at using women police staff for duties which could be easily done by male police – somehow, the tendency is to assume that it is women police who have the duty to protect women facing lack of safety.  Not surprisingly, many respondents (from the general public) have voiced these views in the city surveys. Yet when it comes to incidents of sexual harassment of women cops within the precincts of police stations (this was mentioned in the End Workshop), it appears that this is a submerged issue, is not talked about.

The same dilemma was posed in a remark made in the last End Workshop on the Delhi situation, where a decision has been taken to have a gender desk in every Police Station in Delhi – obviously to be ‘manned’ by a woman cop. One of the concerns articulated was that these women cops may not be allocated ‘police’ jobs.

Another example relates to the women’s college lane in Trivandrum, generally accepted to be a very unsafe place. When this came up for discussion, an IPS officer participant responded promptly and positively by saying that ‘women police have been placed in the women’s college lane’.  Another response to the issue of women’s lack of safety in cities was to depute women police in mufti to reduce harassment in buses. Is it because women are seen to be more honest and conscientious at their work or, more probably, is there an automatic linking of women with women?

Yet when a woman police officer speaks, the insight seems to change. During a discussion on the unsatisfactory functioning of women’s help lines, the woman Circle Inspector in-charge (middle level status) came out with her problem of acute shortage of staff as the reason why the unit was not doing well. Only 12 numbers

of women staff, she explained, were posted in the unit as against the stipulated strength of 24. She then followed this up this with the comment that these 12 women police in district help-line office “have never got special gender training to deal with women’s issues”. This comment, for a refreshing change, conveys that women also need gender training and cannot be automatically slotted in places to deal with ‘women’s issues’ only on account of their gender.

Talking to people interested in women’s issues seems to reveal that typecasting or stereotyping in the public arena, seems to be becoming wide-spread in Kerala.  As already mentioned, of all the stakeholder departments involved in the Safe Cities programme, it is the police establishment that have had the longest experience of working on women’s domestic safety. More insights can be picked up from the police establishment’s experiences as well as from the policewomen’s lobby interactions. Many women’s groups in India have been working closely with the police establishments since the 1980’s in different parts of the country. But the basic issue here is to sensitize all members of the police establishments to the gender issue of safety of women in cities, irrespective of their gender.  As an experienced woman activist attending the End Workshop put it, an informed police is more valuable than more and more women police officials (for ensuring women’s safety).

Many off-the-cuff remarks made by members from the Government establishments, in the relaxed settings of training programmes or discussions facilitated by women’s organizations, refer to on-the-ground realities as well as genuine needs and home truths. A junior woman cop, referring to gender sensitization programmes she has gone through, told the trainers ‘you have sensitized us but our seniors have not been sensitized’. This observation would be applicable not only to the police but to other departments and cadres involved in the Safety of Cities project as well. It is true that efforts to sensitize are made usually at junior/cutting edge levels only. One reason may be because the senior level officers may be too ‘busy’ to spare time for training.

There seems to be a real problem of obfuscation between ‘women’ and ‘gender’ in many contexts. An snapshot description, given by the Councillor of Kozhikode Corporation, of a seemingly iconic woman cop (working in a tribal area) describes her as a“24 hour cop” (she did not adhere to normal working hours) who has broken all sex stereotypes in her profession and is hated by all the other women cops in the station. He also questions the equation – being often made – between the words used for the concept of sameness, or similarity, with those used for the concept of (gender) equality.

There is an urgent need to sort out this obfuscation and to ensure that women cadres, especially where they are numerically large, do not get into the groove of being all things for all women. They have the same rights to opportunities for professional advancement as their male counterparts; this should be understood both at policy and implementation levels within the safety programme. The Councillor whose remarks are quoted above was on the right track on this aspect and the alliance should further follow up on this.

 Socialization of Kerala youth

An example of sex-segregated patterns of socialization of young children in Kerala is cited by Mridula Eapen – what she calls the ‘unhealthy’ arrangements in schools where boys and girls sit separately on two sides of the class. This, she says, restricts development of a healthy interaction between boys and girls. One can take the liberty of extrapolating this to the accepted Kerala practice of separate earmarking of seats in buses for women (generally in the front of the bus) in the name of women’s safety, which, far from being questioned, seems to be accepted by all as a necessary safety device or precaution. The assumption then is that sitting with men in the same rows in a bus is not safe in Kerala. This gets reinforced when the ‘separate seats’ pattern gets further emphasized as a State policy – in the public eye – and more safeguards introduced for ensuring scrupulous adherence to its implementation, such as visible indication of reserved seats to be placed on the outside of the bus. (Mentioned below)

A similar experience in Delhi was the recent introduction of separate compartments for women in the Metro. While there were opposing views on this (from Metro- users as well as others) in the initial stages, by now the media has also brought in stories of young girls continuing to feel unsafe in these reserved compartments.

In the Sakhi workshop, a question was put as to whether sex segregation would help women in the context of safety, by opting for special buses for women. Shri Sen Kumar, Transport Commissioner, point out  that it could be only a short-term solution and that ultimately the public transport system, in its entirely, has to be made safe for travel. He further said that there could be a trade-off as well – installing CCTV’s, hidden cameras etc. may increase safety and decrease privacy, but this would be surely necessary in the short run, including public notices both inside/outside buses and at bus stops that such-and-such precautions are being taken for women passengers’ safety. On the other hand, he said, the introduction of modern technologies such as low floor buses would be a win-win proposition by improving safety without any costs in the long and the short run.

An important overall strategy to adopt within the Safety Programme is a process of consciously distinguishing between what is necessary in the short term and what has to be ensured in the long term. To confound both would lead to negative results for women’s own status and their stature in the public eye.

On the one hand, while efforts are being made to sensitize the men, especially of the younger age groups, on women’s right to safe travel; on the other hand, more ‘safety safeguards’ (police women for ensuring women’s safety, segregation of seats, CCTV, hidden cameras etc.) are being put in place in response to demands for ensuring women’s safe travel in cities. This sends mixed messages to the public and further hardens the issue to one of necessity of segregation of the sexes. There seems to be urgent need to ensure women’s safe travel through short-term measures and simultaneously educate the youth on the practicalities of gender-equality. Such educational programs on safety should be made compulsory in colleges as well as in schools as part of the curriculum so as to increase awareness.

Infrastructure and human resources

A crucial link exists between the availability of ‘safety infrastructure’ (buses, bus stands, waiting rooms, roads, toilets, rest places, adequate lighting) and its human resources management, which ensures women’s safety with greater certainty. Maintaining this link requires not only higher investments, but also coordinated investment (which is more difficult to manage) through processes such as annual budgetary allocations or special allocations and grants. In one of the interactions facilitated by Sakhi, Shri Senkumar mentioned a figure of Rs. 8 crores allocated for modernization and building of new infrastructure in the transport sector, with a likelihood of further increase.

The use of these funds for ensuring women’s safety (more low-floor buses, toilets, depots etc.) could be closely monitored by the women’s alliance. During the safety campaigns, many suggestions were articulated to improve safety. These included the increase of conductors from 1 to 2 in a bus; ensure two doors in each bus, reservation of seats uniformly on both sides (at the front side) of the bus, so that women who do not find seats can stand without any fear. It was also suggested that details of such reservation be indicated outside the bus, so as to make women feel safer when they get into the bus. Other suggestions made were the proper maintenance of steps, doors, handles of doors etc. inside the buses, ensuring that long distance stops should be at convenient places where facilities are available such as good toilets and rest rooms.

Women with disabilities, for example, are a category that generally does not receive any special attention or care by the conductors and other staff, but who particularly need such safeguards. Another problem that women face is alcoholism in the buses. All these issues deserve to be taken up at higher levels of decision-making within the transport establishment, such as the Road Safety Authority (see below) by the alliance and by the transport departments concerned.

Vital ‘safety’ portfolios such as transport management and transport safety, roads management and road safety, electricity and lighting, health and sanitation, management of traffic, safety measures for pedestrians, etc. are handled by different State establishments and managed by members of diverse technical and professional cadres. To fulfill the pragmatic needs of Women’s Safety in Cities, these establishments and cadres need to come together. The work of one individual establishment may be dissimilar from the work of another, (and may not even be congruent with each other’s) but they have to be linked together on the common platform of women’s safety to synchronize many different aspects of their work. Inter-establishment coordination will therefore become a very important input. The formation – under the State aegis – of a Coordination Committee to enable this synchronization would be advantageous, in which Sakhi and her partner-organizations need to be included.

A possible example of the State facilitating this coming together is the inclusion of ‘experts’ on women’s safety in the Road Safety Authority, a statutory body under the provisions of the Kerala Road Safety Authority Act 2007. As per the Act, the Ministers for transport and public works are to be the Chairperson and Vice-Chairperson respectively. The other members, who are named, are bureaucrats except for 3 ‘nominated experts on safety’. There is provision for a Road Safety Fund under the Act, meant for programmes including awareness creation, research on road safety etc. Similarly there are Road Safety Councils in each district, headed by the District Collector. These statutory bodies could have representatives of women’s organizations, starting with the two districts in which the women’s safety programme is running.

Women who use public transport have devised their own patterns of seeking safety in bus travel. One the devices practised by women travelling in buses is the use of their official identity tags, uniforms, coats or other conspicuous markers of identity, which gives them some protection, till they get out of the bus and reach home. This is another example of short-term solutions that women are made to search out, to ensure their safety. At the risk of repetition, it has to be said here that this cannot be treated as a substitute (except in the short term) for sustainable safety measures, which are the responsibility of the public agencies in Kerala to ensure.

Institutional Mechanisms for Women and their Functionality

The presence of institutional mechanisms such as those concerned with devolution to local bodies and the Women’s Component Plan, would seem to make it appear that the governance system of Kerala has inbuilt safeguards to enable women to get their rightful share of the Government budget, and, also ensure that women’s articulated needs on how this money would be spent – would receive the highest priority. In other words, the Safety Programmes for Women could dip into these earmarked funds wherever necessary for augmenting resources. The Sakhi report on capacity gaps however, has pointed out the absence of a coordinating mechanism within the administration to pull together all the strands that are moving separately on their own, without any coherent pattern – be it programmatic, financial, managerial, coordinating or in terms of a coherent conceptual or strategic policy.

Women’s Safety is visualized as part of a ‘rights’ regime and the onus is on the State to provide the wherewithal for ensuring safety to women. In this ‘safety’ format, women are not envisioned as helpless or dependent beings but as individuals who have a right to live safely in cities. But in most of the State programmes for women, (accompanied with budget heads) it is still the social welfare approach that is followed – both in terms of the eligibility criteria as well as the programme delivery – old age homes, homes for physically handicapped, etc. ‘Women’ seem to be dealt

with as just one of the deserving categories eligible for assistance along with the ‘disabled’ or the ‘mentally deficient’ or children. Institutional services for women coexist in the same frame with those for the ‘infirm, destitute, aged, orphans, disabled, juvenile delinquents’ etc. To give an example, destitute women, widows, unmarried women above 50 years and poor widows who need help to marry off their daughters get assistance through the programmes. These programmes are mentioned detail in the Capacity Gap Analysis.

 The missing element seems to be a forceful and well argued policy statement on women and women’s rights in Kerala.

It stands to reason that the criteria for satisfactory completion of the activities under these programmes would follow the same social welfare ethos. When there is no format or criteria that relates to women’s rights and autonomy, or to women’s strategic needs, the evaluation of such programmes, when completed, would also go by a more perfunctory approach of checking whether a particular activity has been taken up and completed or whether the delivery of certain goods and services have taken place. The status of women would remain unchanged.

The introduction of the concept and practice of women’s safety in cities into these programmes without a revision of underlying principles in the State’s thinking, or any reference to how gender planning is understood and put into practice, may not result in any useful learning (and therefore the acquired ability) on the part of the implementing agencies to make the corresponding connections in actual programming between women’s safety, law and order, penal crimes, judicial and legal processes, achievement of urban self-sufficiency in building safe infrastructure with the necessary financial and technical inputs, self-sufficiency and the technological and scientific capabilities. More important, the programmes of awareness of women’s safety as an all-embracing concept cannot succeed unless the Government thinking or its declared policy on women clearly spells out the connections with women’s safety.

The Capacity Gap Analysis document has recommended a review of policy, programmes and budgets, for this very purpose. It says that this exercise will enable capacity-building strategies to be planned and implemented. This is an important area for immediate action.

There is also a strong likelihood that in spite of official policy and stated declarations of decentralization of funds, functionaries and functions, the power to autonomously take programming and project decisions (at urban body or panchayath levels) may not be accompanied by the requisite skills and the necessary abilities at these very same levels on the part of those who are responsible for programmatic action.  Support from the women’s alliance may be needed. Sakhi has been working with the elected panchayats on women’s issues, including gender planning, since long. This should be strengthened in the context of the safe cities programme.

It is also quite likely that, in spite of decentralization having taken place in favor of local bodies, the element of the Government budget that has not been devolved to the local bodies would be still following the earlier top-down direction of planning and implementation. The Capacity Gap Analysis document shows, as an example, that the funds for awareness of the provisions of the Domestic Violence Act are distributed to many organizations in a top-down direction, with the result that the recipient organization(s) may not have had the information or the time to ensure that the initial spade work and the preparations for the awareness programmes or the necessary publicity planned in advance and information disseminated before-hand could be done. The capacity gap analysis shows that the awareness programme had to be cancelled because of poor participation. This may be just one example, but it could hold a wider implication.

The continued use of the older top-down mode in administering new programmes with a new ethos such as safety for women (or even other strategic programmes for women) should be reviewed and replaced with a more egalitarian and consensual set of procedures, besides the policy review already suggested above. An immediate assessment (not just the content but the methodology of implementation) of the Women’s Component Plan should receive very high priority – it could be the first instrument to be reviewed – in terms of the WCP being an institutional mechanism that was launched with great expectations, on the part of women, of getting their share of the budgetary pie as well as in terms of the purposes for which the WCP funds would be spent. A consultation that was arranged by Sakhi in January 2010, with NGO’s and individuals had brought out some new ideas – Wenlido training, putting up of public toilets for women, etc.

The Critical Gap Analysis brings out that Kerala does not prioritise the women’s question as a politically important area of governance with the result that administrative attention is not given to the encouragement of the women’s portfolio. This is a serious matter and Sakhi needs to discuss this on a continuing basis with partners in the women’s movement in Kerala, research organizations doing work on women, activists, academics, the State Planning Commission, Women’s Commission, the Women’s Safety Alliance etc. This is an appropriate time in view of the new Government having just taken over the reins of governance for a period of 5 years.

 Improvements in reporting offences to the Police – changes needed 

Director General of Police and other senior functionaries of the Government joining with women’s groups in interactions on women’s safety in cities have frequently bemoaned the unwillingness of women to report offences to the police. The Surveys have highlighted the extent of these failures. This fear, lack of trust and lack of confidence have to be overcome. Unless a case is registered, the police can take no action. Even a 10% reporting, says the Director General of Police, would be a good achievement. But in spite of the many moves to facilitate women’s readiness to report (help-line, Women’s Commission, increase in numbers of women police staff, new formats, legal changes, etc.), only 7% women opt to come forward.

Investing the power in the officers/staff of the Transport establishment to register cases of harassment or lack of safety of women occurring in buses has been suggested in this paper already. This would preclude the necessity of women to approach the police stations. This suggestion has been made in the meetings convened by the alliance and would appear to be a suitable change to make. This procedure is followed in the Tamilnadu statute.

But the same worrying questions arise – why should the public fear the police establishment, to the extent it hesitates to approach them for their legal rights? In one of the meetings, a point was made that when even the men hesitate to reach out to the police, but similar behaviour by women is but ‘natural’. As in so many of the issues relating to programming on women’s safety, the solutions to be thought of need a mix of short and long term perspectives. Obviously, some are to be put into place with greater urgency while others need a longer time-span. Examples of the former would be the inland format printed cards, innovated by the police, ready to be used, along with provisions to make their use easier. Or the immediate need to build more toilets and to make them functional, or to provide better lighting in unsafe areas.

Medium or longer-term solutions would include destroying the myth that women have to keep quiet, in order to enable women to speak up when they experience violence or harassment – this can be partly enabled through mechanisms such as victim support groups located in police stations. There is another issue emerging here. At the present stage, it is quite probable that the task of putting together such support groups would be ‘naturally’ seen as that of the ‘women’s groups’ of the Safety Alliance. (Women for women’s safety) Instead, it is suggested that the DGP and the police establishment should start the initiative so that the correct messages would go out to the public as to where the responsibility for ensuring women’s safety lies. The status of an intervention made by the Police, on its own initiative would also be higher in the public eye, especially if the media highlights this aspect. The inclusion of ex-EWR’s and other local women leaders in these support groups, as suggested, would also invest a certain standing to the groups.

The participation and the contribution of women’s groups to this initiative is in any case, part of the overall programme on women’s safety in cities – and the need to form such support groups has been already discussed by women’s groups. But such initiatives taken, seen as being taken by public agencies, both in the short and long term create a greater sense of civic responsibility on their part in the eye of the public.

Changing myths relating to women’s sexuality and ‘good woman/bad woman image’ calls for a change in gender perspective in Kerala – and would need to be a long-term mission. In this endeavour, safety as well as many other concerns relating to status, both within the household as well as outside in the public arena should come together and, in fact, such a process can start simultaneously with the programming for women’s safety. However, the perspective of such a mission cannot be shrunk to smaller dimensions – it has to encompass the entirety of women’s

lives. The need to bring such an overall change in perspective, to the theme of women in Kerala has already been referred to in this paper.  The vital issue here is to use the issue of safety in cities to activate movements towards larger perspectives on women’s status.

Hard choices for policy makers

Since the survey was conducted through a gender framework, the results are now posing some hard choices for public policy makers.  In terms of fulfillment of basic needs, the results are demanding responses to the large number of gaps that have been revealed (both physical and human) in basic infrastructure. In terms of policy and strategy, a larger futuristic question emerges, what is the priority that is required to be accorded to women’s safety in Government policies across the board? In operational terms, how do we integrate these required changes within the departmental protocols that are presently guiding the management and administration of cities in Kerala?

Also, we have to keep in mind the new priorities (both in terms of development strategies and in policy priorities) that the new Government may have – which may relate to women as well as to other groups. Lobbying with the new Government and sensitizing the newly elected leaders to the issue of women’s safety in cities is of the utmost priority and importance. Sakhi and her cohort of allies and sympathizers could usefully search for new associates and partners for increasing the energy put into efforts at lobbying with the new Government. The Sakhi alliance

should also not only be fully conversant with the possibility of changes in the existing pattern of autonomy (planning, budgeting, resource mobilization, devolution etc), of the two municipal bodies where the project is being implemented and its impact on women’s safety.

Since the processes involved in the preparation of plans and budgets in the State essentially have target dates and completion schedules, what is needed crucially is coordinated action relating to the women’s safety programme, with maximum flexibility and inter-disciplinary/inter-departmental coordination.   An important

activity of the next phase could be to evolve a system by which the extent of the change in thinking and proposed changes in the implementation dynamics that will occur across the next time-period could be measured and evaluated.

(Abstracted from the review report prepared at the end of Phase I)


[1] In July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly established the United Nations Entity on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women).  UN Women combines the mandates and assets of UNIFEM, OSAGI, DAW and INSTRAW, with an expanded mission and vision. (for more information see http://www.unwomen.org/about-us/about-un-women)

[2] Focus group discussion (FGD) is a form of qualitative research in which a group of people are asked about their perceptions, opinions, beliefs and attitudes towards a product, service, concept, advertisement, or idea[2]. Questions are asked in an interactive group setting where participants are free to talk. It allows interviewers to study people in a more natural setting than a one-to-one interview. Approximately 6 – 12 persons can be grouped for an FGD. This would help the interviewer for gaining access to various cultural and social groups, selecting sites to study, and raising unexpected issues for exploration. Focus groups have a high apparent validity- since the idea is easy to understand, the results are believable. Also one can get results relatively quickly, and they can increase the sample size of a report by talking with several people at once.

 [3] vide its order no. PC/SW/1-23(2)/2005 dated 17th April 2006

[5] http://safedelhi.jagori.org/ and http://blog.blanknoise.org/

[6]  Human Rights Newsletter United Nations Department of Public Information. Feb 1996; www.un.org/documents/ga/res/48/a48r104.htm

[7] www.ncrb.gov.in

[9] http://www.thaindian.com/newsportal/uncategorized/rimes-against-women-on-steep-rise-in-kerala_10024071.html   The number of kidnappings of women went up from 86 to 202. Likewise, cruelty by husband or relatives to wife or women also showed a steep increase from 290 to 3,708 cases. A record number of 51 children were murdered in 2006, while 219 rape cases were registered as compared to 140 in 2005. Kidnappings of children showed a steep increase from 45 in 2005 to 73 in 2006.

[10]Anitha Kumari, K.R.(2009) Scenario of  Crimes against Women in India and Kerala. Population Research Centres, PRC Division, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Government of India (Head Quarter) 4-6.

[11] An article written by Kalpana Sharma, Assistant editor of the HINDU for Habitat debate in 1996.

[12] Jaagratha Samithis are committees formed at the level of local government in Kerala and under their umbrella.  It acts as a quasi-judicial mechanism from the Panchayat Ward level upwards, to protect the rights of women and girl children.  They also facilitate mainstreaming of gender in the decentralisation process  leading to qualitative improvement of the status of the women in society.  Built on the principles of gender equity and justice, the Jaagratha Samithi pro-actively, as well as by responding to complaints, takes steps to ensure the safety and security of women by addressing matters related to violation of women’s rights. http://sdccapdeck.in/publications/jagratha%20samithi.pdf

[13] The 16 Days Campaign is an international campaign originating from the first Women’s Global Leadership Institute sponsored by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership in 1991. Participants chose the dates November 25- International Day against Violence against Women and December 10- International Human Rights Day in order to symbolically link violence against women and human rights and to emphasize that such violence is a violation of human rights. The 16 Days Campaign has been used as an organizing strategy by individuals and groups around the world to call for the elimination of all forms of violence against women by:

  • raising awareness on gender-based violence as a human rights issue at the local, national, regional and international levels
  • strengthening local work around violence against women
  • establishing a clear link between local and international work to end violence against women
  • providing a forum in which organizers can develop and share new and effective strategies
  • demonstrating the solidarity of women around the world organizing against violence against women
  • creating tools to pressure governments to implement promises made to eliminate violence against women

Over 3,400 organizations in approximately 164 countries have participated in the 16 Days Campaign since 1991

[14] Thiruvananthapuram Corporation has the highest population with 7,44,983 people among the five Corporations of Kerala. Population of women is 3,78,748.  It has an area of 141.74 Sq Km spread out in 86 wards.

[15] Kozhikode Corporation has a total population of 4,29,608 persons and 2,22,596 (52%) of women. It has an area of 84.23 Sq Km spread out in 75 wards.

[16] Anweshi is a women counseling centre functioning from 1993 in Kozhikode. For more details www.anweshi.org

[17] Kochi, the commercial capital of Kerala is the largest urban agglomeration in the state having a total of 94.88 sq.km area. It is the most densely populated corporation in the state (6340/km²). The Kochi City has a population of 601,574 according to 2011 census data.

[18] Thrissur is the fourth largest city, the third largest urban agglomeration in Kerala (Pop. 1,854,783) and the 20th largest in India. Thrissur city has a population of 325,474 in 2011 census. Males constitute 48.6% and females constitute 51.4% of the total population. The density of population is 3,130/km2.

[19] The study at Thiruvananthapuram had completed by June 2010 and the Kozhikode study by November 2010. The studies at Kochi and Thrissur cities had undertaken during March and April, 2012.

[20] SAMANWAYAM – CENTRE FOR GENDER, DEVELOPEMNT AND ECOLOGY (CGDE) was started by the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary in Kerala. It’s vision is to build a society based on Social Justice, Gender Justice and Eco Justice. It’s programmes are mainly Capacity building and empowerment programmes, Life skill education for adolescents, Prevention and intervention on gender based violence Short stay home for shattered women, Day-Home for elderly people. Legal awareness and legal aid, Campaign against Ecological destruction and alternative approach to environmental protection, Indigenous health practices, Yoga and Meditation, Counseling, Library and Documentation, Research. They collaborate with local governments, net working with government and non-governmental organizations/groups for like-minded activities with focus on Inter-religious collaboration.

[21] MAYA is an organization working with young people on social issues with a special focus on Gender.

[22] The term common witness refers to men and women who by virtue of being located physically closer to public places have a high probability of witnessing acts of sexual harassment on women.

[23] Out of the 75 Wards the following wards are not covered -47,49,52,57,68,73

[24] Grameena Patna Kendram, Karakulam, Trivandrum

[25] http://www.india-seminar.com/2008/583/583_kalpana_and_surabhi.htm

[26] Janamithiri (meaning- Friends of Public in Malayalam) policing is first experimented with Kochi City Police. The main feature of the initiative is to create a Police-Public interface and ensure various plans and methods to keep crimes at lowest with support of public at lowest grassroot level. The highlight is ensure maximum participation of general public into day-to-day activities of police and create a permanent mechanism for constant interactions with public. Janamaithri also aimed to reduce the negative image attached to police by public and build up a positive brand of Kerala Police.

[27] SAKHI through RTI, got the information from the city police, that only ten boards were erected to advertise the number.


[i] Source: Heise, Pitanguay and Germain (1994). Violence Against Women: The Hidden Health Burden. World Bank Discussion Paper. Washington. D.C.: The World Bank.

The Centre for Diseases Control in the US; Wikipedia