Many women in the world don’t perceive the public realm as safe, welcome, or comfortable. This in turn makes them feel sceptical when allowing their children to access these spaces by themselves. In many places, women’s fear of going out alone after dark means that they confine themselves indoors along with their children. This has a huge impact on women’s and children’s ability to engage in employment, education, civic and community participation, and social and leisure activities.
The number of women that access urban infrastructure during the day and especially at night, is an indicator of the health of a society and the safety and livability of a city. The more that the built environment is planned with women in mind, the more women will feel safe, welcome, and comfortable using public spaces, thus making cities more livable for everyone.
Since women are the primary caregivers for their children, child-friendly urban infrastructure in the built environment is welcomed. The universal standards today provide average dimensions that majorly cater to the physical comfort of men in public spaces. Small aspects like handrail design, seating height, bus stop step up, etc., are some of the examples of design elements that make physical urban spaces uncomfortable.
Making cities safer for women and children should not only cater to violence against them but also include strategies that prevent accidents. City infrastructure that is commonly accessible by all should be a byproduct of inclusive and universal design strategies.
2. Visual Accessibility
Visual accessibility plays a major role in the perception of safety in urban spaces. Visibility is directly proportional to the feeling of safety and security. Having uninterrupted lines of vision in the planning of urban infrastructure contributes to this factor.
The streetlights used should be bright white in color tone and should be placed taking into consideration the foliage of the surrounding trees to avoid dark patches on the roads. This means that they should have large, well-lit walkways along with road crossings at regular intervals.
All major roads should have mixed-use at least on the ground floor along the main street and minimal to no compound walls. This would increase the porosity on the street and opportunities for egress. The streets should also have minimal or no setback policies thus enabling the ‘eyes on street’ concept.
The above considerations during street design will contribute to the safety of women and children on streets and help build safer neighborhoods.
Transportation infrastructure is an important aspect in designing safer cities for women and children. This sole aspect enables them the freedom of equal access to all parts of the city. Well-lit and well-surveilled parking lots and stops with uninterrupted vision lines to the street and the buildings surrounding it are crucial, especially at night.
All transit stations like train stations, train platforms, bus stations, and cab stations need to feel safe and comfortable for women; and this would result in them feeling comfortable with their children using this infrastructure as well. Child-friendly transport infrastructure always results in women-friendly transportation; however, the reverse may not always be true. Hence, in this aspect, considerations of children as primary users may result in better urban solutions.
4. Planned Amenities and Public Spaces
Developed cities comprise planned congregations and interactive urban spaces. These spaces, after a certain hour, become ghost zones in cities leading to them becoming locations of acts of crime. To prevent this, these spaces should have strategies to activate them at all times of the day and night.
24-hour open urban elements like ATMs, medical shops, street hawkers, restaurants, hospitals, and police stations should be placed at regular intervals along or near the streets. This would create refuge/rescue areas in case of an incidence of crime. The streets should create opportunities and places for activity magnets and this should have designated spots along the road. These areas again should be uniformly placed along the stretch to have uniform densification of people.
5. Including Women in Policy Making and Planning
Urban policymaking and planning committees fail to engage with two-thirds of the demographic, that is women and children while designing. Including women at different tiers of these committees will result in design inputs that a male-dominated committee may not have perceived as an urban problem in the first place. Urban designing is not a one-man job and hence having a balanced mix that is surveyed, interviewed, and included may help resolve micro and macro level urban issues.
Conducting charrettes and sample surveys is a good way to include different stakeholders of the society at different stages of the design process while women should also be a part of the team throughout the process.