Whenever a woman is stepping out of her house, she is always going from destination A to Destination B. She will either be going to work or school or shopping etc. She always has a purpose of going outside of her house. She simply cannot loiter. Loiter means, just being in a public space without any purpose. Especially alone… Whenever a woman steps out of the house, she needs a reason. But for a man, he is allowed to loiter. He is allowed to simply exist in public spaces without any apparent reason.
It’s been 10 years since the book ‘Why Loiter? : Women & Risk On Mumbai Streets’ written by Sameera Khan, Shilpa Phadke and Shilpa Ranade has been published. This book talks about women’s access to public spaces.
The public spaces belong to the men. And women still, even in this decade, belong inside their houses. Or else, the public spaces would not be so unsuitable for women. A single woman is always stared at if she is seen loitering around in the street. It is not something a decent woman from a modest background should be doing. She should always be with some protective figure or serving a purpose.
And if she is outside at night, that gives society enough reasons to point fingers at her. If by chance she is sexually assaulted or even molested at night, the question even the police ask would be ‘why was she there?’ The following questions would be ‘Who was she with?’ and ‘What was she wearing?’.
Women who step outside of their house at any point in time in the day or night always must have decent and acceptable answers to these three questions. A woman is simply not allowed to step outside the house at night and have fun and return home late. The excuse we give for this is that outside is unsafe for women, especially at night.
But statistics show that most crime against women is committed inside their home by people they already know. But nobody wants to talk about these crimes. These are secrets of the family upon which the family’s pride and honor hang. Nobody questions or stops a woman from going to her home. But she is simply not allowed to step outside just for no reason and just be in the street, claiming her space, claiming the city.
What is happening is that we are taking away the freedom of women in public spaces. Reinforcing the foundations of patriarchy by not allowing women to exist outside their houses. What we need to do to counter this would be to go outside. Claim the city for ourselves and loiter. Simply be there for no apparent reason and have fun. Go outside for fun, not to serve any purpose. Hang out together in groups or just alone. But have fun.
Public space is considered a safe pace for anyone when the number of people outside is considerably big. So, if the number of women out in the streets increases, if the number of women out traveling at night increases, nobody would have a problem against the women in public spaces anymore. They no longer would have to answer the ‘why was she there’ questions. She was there because she had the right to be there. And nobody has any authority to question her right to be in her city, in her country and in a public space.