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  • Ammaar Chowdry

PEPPER SPRAY CITIES – Gender Segregation in Public Spaces of Cities

Co Author : Kshitij Bahl

Public urban space is a site where many inequalities are reflected and staged. How one experiences public space is shaped by the dimensions of one’s identity. Racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, and ageism often result in exclusion from, and/or discrimination in, public spaces. The design of metropolitan areas can reinforce gender dichotomies, thus, although the notion of a public space suggests inclusivity, it can be very excluding. (Metropolis, 2018). In this article, we see gender segregation in the public spaces of cities: by analyzing factors contributing to the exclusion of women in the public sphere and highlighting the gender conflicts in particular typologies of public spaces.

While gender segregation is a global issue and does not strictly adhere to a rural-urban divide, our report focusses on the plight of urban women, where some of the ramification of exclusion and diminished participation are more clearly visible. Urban women, overall, have greater access to services and infrastructure, more opportunities to engage in paid employment and enjoy a relaxation of sociocultural restrictions compared to women living in rural areas. However, urban environments also provide tremendous challenges, inequities, and insecurities for women (Reichlin, 2015)

Women do not benefit equally to men in urban environments. Gender inequalities are experienced in many areas of everyday life, accessing decent work opportunities, increased workloads with the double burden of earning income and care work, accessing

financial assets and housing security, fair tenure rights, access to services, asset accumulation, engaging in public governance structures, and personal security, the latter due in part to unfavorable infrastructure and transport designs (Mclwaine, 2013) (Tacoli, 2012)

( Image taken from the internet)

The cause for such a lopsided access to opportunities, and public space engagement, is not singular. A nexus of factors – cultural, social, economic, political. This study of the causes and effects helps draw parallel between the notion of ‘strangers’ as mentioned by Ash Amin in Land of Strangers and the condition of the urban women. In the context of such parallels, the crux of this article can be gleaned in the following research question:

What are the factors leading to a lack of women representation and participation in public spaces?

What are some of the initiatives take to make these spaces inclusive and how effective are they?

A Literature Review Comparison with Ash Amin’s Land of Strangers:

Land of Strangers argues that humanist policies of inclusiveness are not up to the demands of our extraordinarily cosmopolitan age. The book instead calls for a different kind of politics of togetherness, one in which a certain kind of “civility of indifference to difference” can be cultivated. And it looks at how this attitude might play out in reality at the level of the state but also in our habits of daily living, through which we might become unperturbed by the presence of the stranger in our midst – in other words, ways in which a different politics of the stranger may be forged.

Keeping this ideology of book in mind, the “stranger” in our context can easily relate to a “woman” in Indian societies. The central critical device used of ‘the stranger’: a figure which has featured in an enormous amount of social science literature, representing those racialized and/or minoritized groups who are marked culturally and politically as others, as outsiders, and as threats. In the case of Indian societies, the woman is considered as someone whose designated place is inside and not outside. Amin offers a counterargument by looking to relations that are not reducible to local or social ties, to offer new suggestions for living in diversity and for forging a different politics of the stranger.

The strong claim of the book is to “extend and supersede” a “sociology of ties” that has become ubiquitous in policy circles concerned with issues of community cohesion, social integration, and economic efficiency. In fact, even the solutions in place to rectify this still focus on women oriented / women dominated spaces. rather than having gender inclusive solutions. In seeking to connect some of the strands of contemporary social theory to the task of rethinking the equal and natural co-existence of men and women in a public space we can link this with Amin’s arguments that any such politics cannot rest alone on an ethos of recognition and community – it requires institutional supports, embedded in material infrastructures of various sorts. In contrast to the sociology of ties, Amin develops the theme of “the freight of social ties”. By this, he means to draw attention to the ways in which social relations of community and identity are always mediated – material infrastructures, organizational forms, technologies, and embodied dispositions and habits.

Amin also touches on a general account of how social action is often shaped by pre-conscious, embodied, subliminal dynamics rather than rational, deliberative ones. A clear link of this can be made with the historical functioning of Indian culture where the rights of women have always been lesser than the male rights. These exist in Economic, religious, family and community aspects.

Women Safety in Public Spaces

The issue of sexual harassment, specifically street harassment, and violence against women in public space has become more and more familiar. Indeed, women constantly must deal with remarks and improper conduct, which constitute a violation of their sexual, physical, and moral integrity. Most women interviewed agree that they face barriers in access to the outside. They face constraints that hinder their mobility and all confirmed that they had been victims of harassment or sexual assault, in various public spaces (streets, public transportation, or workplace).

The presence of women in public space engenders spatial differences and social tensions, because men continue to identify women with the private and not to consider them as full partners. Indeed, women’s access to the outside and the expansion of women’s spaces has led to an identity crisis among men not sufficiently prepared for this mix. The women are often victims of verbal and psychological abuse in the public space, it’s a way for men to exercise their illusion of power and domination. Street violence affects women and has implications for the use they have of public space. Among the most important is the use of the outside. Indeed, for most of the questioned women, the public place limits itself above all to well-frequented places and to the places where they must go for a particular need. The women also continue to accept. that a woman, especially young, should not go out alone “without a good reason.”


Neighborhood scale spaces can play a significant role in social engagement and contribute to place identity. These spaces could have influence on spiritual and physical health of women and could increase their sense of belonging and sense of place.” There is a considerable difference between activity patterns of single and married women in neighborhood open space based on individual characteristics like free time and number of children. Women’s presence in neighborhood space is mainly for necessary daily activities, however it fosters an ethic of care in the culture of the neighborhood. Religiously gendered space might be socially limiting on a larger scale, however on a neighborhood level these spaces provide women with the opportunity to comfortably participate in society on a daily basis.

But the bigger hindrance in the forming a more gender welcoming public space scenario is the societal norms and cultural restrictions which in prevalent in the city. As Ash Amin mentions, social action is more often than not shaped by pre-conscious, embodied, subliminal dynamics rather than rational, deliberative ones.

Where the interaction of people is just as complex as the place, and even more so as a woman. But that is what brings female empowerment and representation in public space- -the daily struggle of resistance. Public spaces of cities are proof that minority groups matter, and it is up to the people themselves to be responsible for their own rights to the city.


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