WOMEN OCCUPY NEWSSTANDS
Streets, sidewalks, footpaths – call it what you may – they are the soul of the city. So much happens here besides walking. People socialise, transact business, create street art, indulge in people gazing, wait for transport and a myriad other things. In Mumbai, we also have another phenomenon located in these spaces – Street Newsstands. They are makeshift stalls which have newspapers and magazines clipped to wooden stands and an awning or asbestos roof to keep the sun out. It’s an open space for anyone who wants to stop by, read a bit, browse through a magazine and move on to his or her next appointment.
Anyone can use it? Theoretically yes, but women are hardly ever spotted there.
“Every day on my way to college, I pass the newsstand on the corner of the footpath, but I never stop there. It is full of older men reading or younger men hanging around. I feel odd. I read the paper in the night when my father brings it back from office”. Said a journalist working in Parel.
You might think that perhaps it’s their choice? Women and girls from the G South Ward of Parel would beg to differ.
Around 200 women and girls decided to ‘occupy’ Street News Stalls to prove their point that these spaces are not women friendly. They too wanted to use them without feeling ‘odd’ or harassed. These women and girls wanted to establish their right to use public space which has been tacitly denied to them.
On International Human Rights Day, 10th December 2015, Akshara along with local women did the first ‘occupy’ on Elphistone Road, Parel. Ujjwala from Akshara Centre said, “With this campaign, we are spreading the idea that women also have a right to read and gain knowledge safely in public spaces. We are saying that public spaces are for everyone – reading and self-education is not just for men. This is about gender equality for women in both their public and private lives.”
The campaign involved 17 newspaper stalls across the G South Ward. Stickers and banners acknowledging women’s right to the space were adhered to walls. On December , the local Municipal Corporator had a small ceremony in the neighbourhood and handed over magazines, specifically for women, to read in the street news stall.
WHAT CAN BE DONE
There are thousands of these street news stalls all over Mumbai. How can they be re-invented in the era of TV and Internet? Here is what our survey of 103 men and women from 18 to 50 + years came up with:
- All the women interviewed said that did not visit the news stalls. 69 of them said that they would like to if they were a bit more gender friendly
- 45 of them said that their preferred time to visit would be afternoon or evening. Women usually complete their household chores in the morning. From afternoon to evening they rest, go to the market, pick up children etc, so they have time in between to sit there
- 59 said that they could spend time like half hour up to two hours there given the nature of their tasks
- Many of the women interviewed said that besides newspapers, they would like magazines to read.
There was a demand for either separate benches for men and women or different timings for men and women users so there would be no harassment.