Tag Archives: gender

The Attractive Metro – not so attractive for women!

By Nidhi Batra

We assume that as a woman you have equal right to the city as your male counterpart. We assume that the city is ours as much as his. We assume that we can also do our normal chores with the city, use its infrastructure, walk, traverse and interact with the city with equal pleasure. But, we all know we assume wrong. Indian cities (and villages) are now synonymous with rapes. These are places not meant for us; these are places where we are ‘justified victims’. Our complaints fall on deaf ears of politicians, horror of civic planning and horrendous urban management.

Anyone familiar with urban literature is well traversed with the concept of ‘Eyes on the sidewalk’ by Jane Jacobs. But in many Indian situations, there are just too many eyes – fixed right at you, piercing through you, making you uncomfortable to the level that it is you and not those eyes that choose to look away.

Metro stations in Delhi and Gurgaon are one such pool of leering eyes. All metro stations were to be equipped for intermodal change. They are to permit a user jump off the metro and take a rickshaw, auto or your own parked vehicle for that last mile connection. Most metro stations have all of this. Autos that are parked right till the entrance of the metro station, rickshaws right behind them and insufficient car parking areas. Metros are being planned and constructed, however no planning and urban design is instituted in the design of these metro stations. Sitting bang on the road, most metro stations have no allocated space for these rickshaws and autos. These vehicles hover up on the street and the resultant is a traffic mess due to ill – managed transport. But it doesn’t really stop there. These autowallas and rickshaw wallas in their full attempt to ‘grab’ a ‘savari’ conglomerate right at the entry/exit of the station and pounce on every single user descending the metro station. This pouncing becomes even greater if it’s a woman user. And if unfortunately you are a user trying to enter the metro station – bad luck! You would have to fight through this wall of ambushing crowd and find your way in. Oh and if you are disabled or pregnant like I was last year, the struggle gets double! How dare then can we assume that this city is ‘also’ for us!

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The picture above is at Sikanderpur metro station in Gurgaon, at 1 pm (not even office hours!)

On the other side of how further the metro is limiting to women passengers is the case example of Gurgaon Rapid Metro. The ingenious move of the Gurgaon Rapid Metro to earn revenue and avail some of its construction cost is to brand their coaches. As a result the entire coach brands a commercial commodity. Skoda and 3Cs are some of the brands endorsing the Rapid Metro. These endorsements wrap the entire coach so perfectly that, in the day time, the dark film doesn’t even let you see inside the coaches. I remember standing at the station wondering whether I should step in the coach – with no idea who or what could be going on inside. Once again, how dare, I even imagine that I could quickly take this metro and meet my friend at cyber hub for that afternoon coffee! Of-course branding is more important than me!

Skoda Rapid-Gurgaon Metro ad campaign

Source: http://www.motortrend.in/autonews/09122013/skoda-teams-up-with-gurgaon-rapid-metro.htm

Design, planning, governance and urban management – all together, need to play a role to make our cities safe for women. Metro is an exemplar for infrastructural development in NCR, but sadly even this successful intervention did not plan for its women passengers. A simple urban design exercise could have saved these transport nodes from turning into such havoc and would have given us the right to the city, we still believe and hope we deserve!

Walls of the Mind

By Neelakshi Joshi – shared by Saurabh Tiwari

A commentary on the impregnable gender bias in the work-site

Feminism and female education has shaken many a male bastion and sometimes even blown up their existence. A lady doctor is now a norm rather than an oddity and teachers are predominantly women. Even in the unskilled sector women now manage small businesses, run shops and organize their livelihoods. Though the world may soon unwrap the first Architect Barbie, on the field in construction and architecture, it is still men who lay the keystone. While analysts scratch their heads over how only 20% of the women end up practicing architecture the scene on the work site is even worse.

For years women have worked on the worksite as labours. Unlike men who come in as small boys, assist the mason for some years as helpers and finally, when the time comes, graduate as masons. Later some of these masons become contractors and move up in the social ladder. However, this order of informal training is reserved only for men. Women enter and exit the site as labours irrespective of the years they have spent working there.

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I asked a group of masons casually over tea why women never became masons and their answers were varied. Most believe that women fear heights hence are unable to climb difficult scaffoldings. This seems absurd when you see the same women going to the highest points of the scaffolding to pass mortar and blocks. Others believe that it is physically demanding work to be a mason. Women on site seem to be giving in their best in this regard carrying heavy loads on their heads, sometimes, with a small child tied on their backs. Interviewing women on site reveals another line of reasons. Most families do not prefer young unmarried girls to go on site both because it is a male dominated environment and also because it is physically strenuous. Earlier on in life they prefer girls to do housework. Later, if forced by necessity, they take up the job on site. By then it is considered too late for specialised training so the women begin and end their careers as labourers.

Supervisors often praise women for better job quality, sincerity and discipline. They are more regular, do not drink alcohol nor create trouble and contribute their salaries for the betterment of the family. However they are held back by tradition and unwritten job hierarchies to assign them better work. These differences become starker on salary day. A woman labour receives much less than a male labour for the same nature of work (Rs. 165 per day versus Rs. 306 per day for men as per the current standard on most sites in Tamil Nadu,India). If you begin to argue the replies stand ready. Women labours have softer duties than men. This does not seem true when you observe them on the long line that passes the bricks from one end to another, shoulder to shoulder under the scorching sun with their male counterparts.

Since women constitute a major portion of the workforce on site and their skill development will play a crucial role in the years to come as construction projects boom all over the country, there have been numerous attempts by the government as well as the NGOs to train and promote women masons. Although the training goes well and women take up the skills it is when the time comes to find a job that the scheme fails. The social taboos surrounding a woman mason overpower them from being active in the mainstream. Contractors are reluctant to accept women and women are reluctant to step in a men-only domain. Post tsunami in Tamil Nadu the government funded many projects to train women masons so that they become agents of reconstruction. One such project was run at the Auroville Institute of Technology. It involved three months of theory classes followed by three months of on-site experience. We received six coy young girls. After an initial hesitation they settled in well. The masons were more than helpful and taught them well. They actively participated in all aspects of construction. 

After three months their skills were commendable. When asked what their future plans were, none of them wanted to be a mason on site. They said the training was fine however their families did not appreciate their working side by side men. Some intended to use this experience and study further, maybe learn drafting on CAD and settle in a comfortable job. Others had plans of going to other countries in the Middle East(where some family member was already working) and try to get some construction work there.

Though it might be a while before we see women skilfully laying blocks, bending steel or plastering walls, the hopeful winds of change have begun to blow. Women have proved that it is not skill that they lack but opportunities. If we strive for better, safer and more equitable sites for them to step down to I am sure they will not disappoint us.

Bibliography

1. Habitat (1997) Women Constructing Their Lives: Women Construction Workers – Four Evaluative Case Studies, United Nations Centre for Human Settlements.

2. Barnabas A, Anbarasu J and Paul C (2009) A Study on the Empowerment of Women Construction Workers as Masons in Tamil Nadu, India . Journal of International Women’s Studies Vol. 11 

Neelakshi Joshi is a graduate from Birla Institute of Technology, Mesra, Ranchi and works as an architect at the Auroville Earth Institute, Tamil Nadu with keen interest in the human dimensions for attaining sustainable architecture