Photo: Hansel and Regrettal on flickr

Photo: Hansel and Regrettal on flickr

What New Delhi can learn from Bangkok in terms of women’s safety.

I have lived in Delhi for several years and no matter where in the world I go, I am still haunted by the fear of being chased and harassed in the streets.

India, and other countries of South Asia, are notorious for what is called Eve-teasing; a euphemism for the sexual harassment or molestation of women by men in public.

Often the authorities stand idly by and do nothing. Once when I found myself the target of unwanted attention, I approached a police officer to report the harassment; he shunned me, asserting that he was not responsible for that area without offering any further help.

This made things clear to me that if there is any threat to my safety as a woman in Delhi, I was solely responsible for my own protection. Ever since I have taken the issue seriously.

A few months ago I got an offer to work in Bangkok for three months. While I was excited to discover a new place, I still had apprehensions about moving to another big city as I tend to transfer my feelings about New Delhi onto every other place.

After stepping off the plane, the taxi driver at the Suvarnabhumi airport was baffled by the address of my apartment, muttering something in Thai when I gave it to him. Immediately I began to wonder if my new home was in a bad area of the city.

When we arrived, the taxi turned into a narrow, dark lane in a dimly lit neighborhood. Some people peevishly peered into the car.

The neighborhood I found myself in resembled the Malviya Nagar area in New Delhi where Eve-teasing, is a regular occurrence. I began to think of the worst and suddenly the next three months in Thailand began to seem unbearable.

But as time passed so did my concerns.

I must have asked my neighbours a million times whether the area was safe to walk around at night. They always answered yes. I also saw motorbikes buzzing through the streets, mostly with female passengers sitting behind uniformed men and women with security numbers patched onto their dresses.

It was also a relief to always see women queuing up to ride with the motorbikes outside the Bangkok Mass Transit System stations. Traffic guards and police were omnipresent and approachable.

There were several times when I lost my way while trying to find an unfamiliar place. But there were always other women in public spaces in the early hours.

Taxis were always on the streets as well, making it easy for women to secure a ride at any hour; as added security the drivers had their profile details hanging from the front seat.

It was during these times that a constant thought crossed my mind; perhaps India’s Look East policy could well incorporate some of the significant steps that its near neighbour has taken to improve security and safety for women.

An example is the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority’s “Orange your journey campaign”, which was supported by UN Women and encouraged passengers to report verbal assaults.

The authority also initiated the “Pine Apple Project”, training staff to better understand sexual harassment and the tools that can be used to tackle it.

Both actions represent the collective will that exists among public officials to ensure a safer city for women.

Another innovation that New Delhi can borrow from Bangkok are the one stop crisis centres, which have representatives who play a multifunctional role in providing assistance to women affected by violence.

Not only do they have nurses and doctors, but agents from the Royal Thai Police, the Office of the Attorney General, the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, as well as NGOs and emergency shelters. These centres provide psychological assistance and free medical services as well as legal advice.

At the national level, Thailand’s Ministry of Social Development and Human Security also runs a 24-hour online service called “Prachabodhi” that has been widely advertised and offers holistic assistance to women of all nationalities suffering from violence.

Recently, Thailand has also passed a Gender Equality Act which aims at eliminating all forms of discrimination against women.

Serving three million commuters per day on its 3,509 buses, the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority joined efforts to end sexual harassment against women and girls through its “Orange your Journey” initiative. Photo: UN Women/KithandKin/Pornvit Visitoran

Serving three million commuters per day on its 3,509 buses, the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority joined efforts to end sexual harassment against women and girls through its “Orange your Journey” initiative. Photo: UN Women/KithandKin/Pornvit Visitoran

Often debates concerning women’s safety and empowerment in India fade out within the vast gap that lies between traditional and modern society. Due to increasing international media attention, India, to some extent, has been able to bring the issue of women’s rights to the fore. But there still remains a lot to be accomplished in this area.

This world is still a far more dangerous place for women than men and any progress would need a deep and fundamental change in cultural attitudes and perceptions.

This change has to stem from everywhere. It requires political will and the perseverance to take steps against gender discrimination and prevent violence and harassment of women in public spaces.

But as Bangkok shows, it can and it must be done.

After all, safety and freedom for women in public spaces is a fundamental human right.

Pratibha Singh is a researcher and writer on women and conflict in South Asia. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree at the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy, University of Erfurt.