Indian women are confined to the home – because their cities designed for men

Traffic in Delhi. Image: Getty.

The inequality between men and women in India is stark, and nowhere more so than on the streets of its cities, which are undeniably the domain of men. Of course, this is partly because there are fewer women in the population. With 940 women per 1,000 men, the nation has a low sex ratio, stemming from families’ preference for male children, as well as poor nutrition and health care for women.

What’s more, just 27 per cent of Indian women participate in the work force, compared with 79 per cent of men. This trend is most obvious in urban areas. Although women in India mostly walk, cycle or use public transport to go to work, they are still much less visible in public spaces than men, because many do not have jobs to travel to at all. This has a significant impact on women’s health, and their opportunities in life.

According to India’s 2011 census, only 17 per cent of all people commuting to work in urban areas are women. Even in India’s large metropolitan cities, such as Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai, the proportion of women commuters never rises above 20 per cent. Overall, there are nearly five men to every one woman who commutes to work.

Staying home

This inequality is also reflected in data about drivers license holders, where men outnumber women by nine to one – compare this to the US, where women outnumber men (albeit by a small amount). Even with its rapidly growing economy, India’s level of vehicle ownership is still very low. There are only 20 cars per 1,000 people in India, compared with more than 400 in most high income countries.

This means that the vast majority of people travel on foot, cycle or take public transport – so 83 per cent of those women who commute to work in Indian cities will take one of these options. In England, only 27 per cent of women travel to work by one of these three modes of transport, and in the US, fewer still.

City of men. Image: Rahul Goel/University of Cambridge/author provided.

According to a travel survey my colleagues and I conducted in Delhi in 2013 – which includes all journeys, and not just those to work – Indian men attain similar levels of physical activity through travel as those in the Netherlands, where cycling is very popular (though in Delhi its mostly from walking). Meanwhile, women are only half as active.

Given the evidence, it’s clear that this is not because women travel more by car – it’s because many women do not travel in the city at all. Our study found that only 20 per cent of all the trips in Delhi are made by women, and only 25 per cent in Bengaluru city. With lower levels of physical activity, women are exposed to higher risk of heart disease, breast cancer and depression.

Safer streets

What’s more, over a third of women who work in Indian cities do so from home. Confined to the home, women are socially excluded, which means they lose out on the benefits that often come from developing a social network, such as emotional or financial support, access to opportunities, or participation in the social or political life of the community. For women to willingly participate in activities outside home, streets, neighbourhoods and transport infrastructure must be designed to be sensitive to the needs of women.

Getting out and about. Image: Luisen Rodrigo/Flickr/creative commons.

The safety of women in public spaces should not solely depend on stricter laws on violence against women, or better law enforcement – although this has a role to play. Women’s right to move through public spaces without fear can also be safeguarded through the built environment, using principles such as “eyes on the street” – according to which people feel safer in open, attractive streets with lots of other people around, while lonely streets instil fear.


Making streets safer for women would also help make public transport more accessible, as bus or train journeys typically involve walking at both ends. Stops and stations should be located in busy areas, and should be well lit at night. A plethora of other measures – such as training for transport staff and more women employees – are also needed to make journeys by public transport safer for women, as harassment on buses and trains remains a major social issue (and not just in India).

With the presence of street hawkers, high population density, narrow streets and a large number of people walking and cycling, Indian cities do have some of the liveliest neighbourhoods in the world, where women can feel safe. But these neighbourhoods often exist in isolation, as cities grow in size. The challenge is to ensure safety by design at a much larger scale.

The Conversation

Rahul Goel, Research Associate, University of Cambridge.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

In South Africa's cities, evictions are happening despite a national ban

An aerial view shows a destroyed house in Lawley, south of Johannesburg, on April 20, 2020. The city has been demolishing informal structures on vacant land despite a moratorium on evictions. (Marco Longari/AFP via Getty Images)

On the morning of 15 July, a South African High Court judge ruled that the city of Cape Town’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit had illegally evicted a man when it destroyed the shack where he was living.

That afternoon, the Anti-Land Invasion Unit was out again, removing shacks in another informal settlement.

Evictions were banned in South Africa for nine weeks, after the national government placed the country under a strict Covid-19 lockdown in late March. At present, eviction orders are automatically suspended until the country moves to a lower “alert level” and can only be carried out with a special order from a judge.

Yet major cities including Cape Town, Johannesburg and eThekwini (created through the merger of Durban with several surrounding communities), have continued to use municipal law enforcement agencies and private security companies to remove people from informal housing. In many cases those operations have been conducted without a court order – something required under regular South African law.

Around 900 people were evicted from three informal settlements in eThekwini during the eviction ban, according to the Church Land Programme, a local NGO. Its director, Graham Philpott, says it’s also aware of evictions in other informal settlements.

While evictions aren’t a “new experience” in these communities, the NGO released a report on lockdown evictions because they were “so explicitly illegal”. “There was a moratorium in place,” Philpott says, “and the local municipality acted quite flagrantly against it. There’s no confusion, there’s no doubt whatsoever, it is illegal. But it is part of a trend where the eThekwini municipality has acted illegally in evicting the poor from informal settlements.”

Evictions also took place in Cape Town and Johannesburg during so-called “hard lockdown” according to local activists. In eThekwini and other municipalities, the evictions have continued despite restrictions. In Cape Town, authorities pulled a naked man, Bulelani Qholani, from his shack. That incident, which was captured on video, drew condemnation from the national government and four members of the Anti-Land Invasion unit were suspended. 


The cities say they’re fighting “land invasions” – illegal occupations without permission from the land owner.

“Land invasions derail housing and service projects, lead to the pollution of waterways, severely prejudice deserving housing beneficiaries and cause property owners to lose their investments over night,” Cape Town’s executive mayor, Dan Plato said in a statement. (Plato has also claimed that Qholani did not live in the shack he was pulled from and that he disrobed when municipal authorities arrived.)

South African municipalities often claim that the shacks they destroy are unoccupied. 

If they were occupied, says Msawakhe Mayisela, a spokesman for the eThekwini municipality, the city would get a court order before conducting an eviction. “Everything we’re doing is within the ambit of the law,” Mayisela says. But “rogue elements” are taking advantage of Covid-19, he added.

“We fully understand that people are desperately in need of land, but the number of people that are flocking to the cities is too much, the city won’t be able to provide housing or accommodation for everyone overnight,” he says. 

While eThekwini claims to be a caring city, local activists say the evictions show otherwise.

In one case, 29 women were evicted from shacks during the hard lockdown. With nowhere to go, they slept in an open field and were arrested by the South African Police Service for violating the lockdown, Philpott says.

“These evictions are dehumanizing people whose dignity is already compromised in many ways,” says S’bu Zikode, the president of Abahlali baseMjondolo, a community organization whose Zulu name translates to “the people of the shacks”. 

“It has reminded us that we are the people that do not count in our society.”

Municipal law enforcement and private security contractors hired by cities regularly fire rubber bullets, or even live ammunition, at residents during evictions. Some 18 Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed since the organization was founded in 2005, Zikode says, most by the eThekwini Land Invasion Unit and Metro Police.

(Mayisela says that if city employees have broken the law, Abahlali baseMjondolo can file a complaint with the police. “There is no conclusive evidence to the effect that our members have killed them,”  he says.)

Other Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed by what Zikode calls “izinkabi,” hitmen hired by politicians. Two eThekwini city councillors were sentenced to life in prison 2016 after they organized the killing of Thuli Ndlovu, an Abahlali baseMjondolo organizer. A member of the Land Invasion Unit who is currently facing a charge of attempted murder after severely injuring a person during an eviction remains on the job, Zikode says.

South Africa’s 1996 constitution is intended to protect the public from arbitrary state violence and guarantees a right to housing, as well as due process in evictions. But for Zikode, the South African constitution is a “beautiful document on a shelf”.

“For the working class and the poor, it’s still difficult to have access to court. You’ve got to have money to get to court,” he says. 

The actions by municipal law enforcement are breaking down social trust, says Buhle Booi, a member of the Khayelitsha Community Action Network, a community group in the largest township in Cape Town.

“There’s a lack of police resources and those very few police resources that they have, they use to destroy people’s homes, to destroy people’s peace, rather than fighting crime, real criminal elements that we see in our society,” Booi says.

For him, it’s a continuation of the practices of the colonial and apartheid governments, pushing poor people, most of whom are Black, to the periphery of cities.

Around one-fifth of South Africa’s urban population live in shacks or informal dwellings, according to a 2018 report by SERI. Many more live in substandard housing. City governments maintain that the shacks destroyed during anti-land invasion operations are unfinished and unoccupied. But Edward Molopi, a research and advocacy officer at SERI, says that this claim is an attempt to escape their legal obligations to get a court order and to find alternative accommodation for affected people. 

The roots of the current eviction crisis go back to apartheid, which barred non-white people from living in cities. Between the 1940s and 1970s, tens of thousands of people were forcibly relocated from neighbourhoods like Johannesburg’s Sophiatown and Cape Town’s District Six to remote townships.

In the 26 years following the end of apartheid, deepening economic inequality and rampant unemployment have limited access to formal housing for millions of South Africans. Government housing programs have mostly focused on building small stand-alone homes, often on the peripheries of cities far from jobs and amenities.

While these well-intentioned projects have built millions of homes, they’ve failed to keep up with demand, says Marie Huchzermeyer, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism & Built Environment Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Government-funded housing projects “will never on it’s own be enough,” she says. “It has to be accompanied by land release.”

Government policies call for the “upgrading” of informal settlements and the formalization of residents’ occupation. But “there are still very, very, very few projects” of that nature in South Africa, Huchzermeyer says. “Even if it’s an informal settlement that’s been around for 20 years, there still seems to be a political wish to punish people for having done that.” The government wants people to go through the formal process of being given a house, she says – and for them to be thankful to the government for providing it.

At the municipal level, change will require “real leadership around informal settlement upgrading and around ensuring that land is available for people to occupy,” she says. 

Despite the end of enforced racial segregation, spacial apartheid remains a factor in South Africa. There are few mixed-income neighbourhoods. Those who can afford to often live behind walls in sprawling low-density suburbs, while the poor live in overcrowded slums and apartment buildings.

The creation of the apartheid city “didn't happen by chance,” says Amira Osman, a professor of architecture at the Tshwane University of Technology. “It was a deliberate, structured approach to the design of the city. We need a deliberate, structured approach that will undo that.”

Since last fall, Johannesburg’s Inclusionary Housing Policy has required developments of 20 or more units to set aside 30% of those units for low-income housing.

The policy, which faced significant opposition from private developers, won’t lead to dramatic change, says Sarah Charlton, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism and Built Environment Studies, but it is “an important and significant step.”

Zikode isn’t optimistic that change will come for shack dwellers, however.

“People in the high positions of authority pretend that everything is normal,” he says. “They pretend that everyone is treated justly, they pretend that everyone has homes with running water, that everyone has a piece of land – and hide the truth and the lies of our democracy.”

Jacob Serebrin is a freelance journalist currently based in Johannesburg. Follow him on Twitter.