Why women’s movements to access public spaces are important

Social media has functioned as a fertile platform for promoting such movements, ensuring that they gain momentum across boundaries.

Written by Radhika Iyengar | Published:November 4, 2016 3:23 pm
delhi, delhi campaign, Pinjra Tod campaign, Pinjra Tod campaign ABVP, du pinjra tod, du hotels, du hostels campaign, ABVP member Akhil Choudhury, ABVP posters, delhi latest news Two Members from Pinjra Tod have accused a member of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) of threatened them.

In a patriarchal society like ours, women are still battling for equal access to public spaces. Pinjra Tod is an on-going protest led by Delhi University’s female hostelers. It began when the university imposed a curfew on its female students dictating that they return to their dormitories by eight o’clock in the evening. The curfew was deemed orthodox and unacceptable by women students who took to the streets to protest against the lopsided rule that was obligatory only for women. Under the veneer of women’s “safety”, the hostel authorities were trying to control women’s mobility. Pinjra Tod is an on-going rebellion against hostel authorities. In a larger context, it is a rebellion against the country’s rigid patriarchal system.

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Several such movements are emerging on a smaller scale. In Chennai, Sri Sairam Engineering College students protested against the arbitrary rule that prohibited female students from wearing jeans and talking to their male companions. The protests received considerable media attention, resulting in the campus director being sacked. New rules, more favorable to the women students were introduced on campus shortly after.

Social media has functioned as a fertile platform for promoting such movements, ensuring that they gain momentum across boundaries. Bangalore-based BLANK NOISE. a community project that advocates women’s rights, launched its #WalkAlone campaign to encourage women to walk the streets alone, unchaperoned by men, particularly at night. It invited women across the country and beyond, to post photographs of themselves accessing public spaces on their own accord and sharing them on social media platforms. In Pakistan, Sadia Khatri launched #girlsatdhabas on Tumblr and Instagram, an initiative that promotes the right of women to access public spaces, particularly those which are traditionally dominated by men, like dhabas, public gardens etc.

The intention of such movements is to ensure greater social inclusion of women and their subsequent presence in the public domain. More women on the streets. particularly during the evenings, would mitigate street harassment and sexual assaults in such environments.

Inevitably, such movements are perceived as acts of social transgression and are bound to face resistance in patriarchal societies. “Pinjra tod” for instance, received a hostile response from the pan-India nationalist student organization ABVP. Women participating in the movement have been berated and labeled as “loose”. ABVP has even made attempts to crush the movement.

Regardless of the resistance, movements such as these are the linchpin for change. Their presence and the subsequent emergence of similar movements are designed to empower women, giving them the opportunity to walk the streets undaunted. Movements such as these are the need of the hour. When more women will enter public spaces, the streets will become safer.