When Art Creates Safer Spaces

Safecity- Elsa D'Silva
Posted May 17, 2017 from India
The wall mural at Sanjay Camp, Delhi
The wall mural at Sanjay Camp, Delhi (1/2)

Safecity crowdsources data of sexual harassment in public spaces, analyses this data and then facilitates customised solutions according to each location and community.

In one such instance, while we were working in Delhi we came across an area where the girls had stopped attending school. On enquiring they explained that they experiences a lot of staring and harassment on their way to school which made them uncomfortable. Gradually, the girls had dropped out of school one-by-one scared to travel that road alone.

That particular location was a hotspot for harassment due to the presence of a tea stall (a tapri) where men used to gather for a cup tea, an occasional smoke and used to end up spending a great deal of time. This resulted in constant staring, commenting and in some cases, stalking by the boys and men. The women and girls took to usingalternative routes which were much longer and indirect andlimited their mobility to avoid using that street.

We discussed the matter with the girls explaining that education was important and couldn't be compromised.Which solution did the girls decide on?

Along with Shilo Shiv Suleiman, the women & girls came up with the idea of painting big staring eyes on a public wall facing the tea stall. The wall was painted by 15 community women including Shilo and her companion. With the help of the big staring eyes, they wished to make the men and boys understand what they went through on a daily basis. The girls painted messages like

Dil Se Dekho, Aankhon se Nahi- Look with your heart and not with your eyes. The unrelentless gaze, I will not hide.

Brave alone, Fearless together : A single girl’s effort is not enough, your understanding, support & action is required too.

This is the reason why the girls & women now use this street in Lal Kuan. There was a noted drastic reduction in the cases of ogling, cat-calling and overall discomfort faced by the girls & women who accessed the road.The tea stall has since moved to a different area but the mural is still there!The tea stall has been replaced by a fruit vendor which leaves men with no excuse to loiter around.

Sunita* (name has been changed), an inspiring young citizen from Lal Kuan who didn’t give up on going to school in spite of being plagued by sexual harassers on the way said, "I've lived in Lal Kuan all my life and lack of safety has been a concern from as long as I can remember. It felt nice to finally participate in changing something. Painting this wall was not only empowering for a community where most women held the paint brush for the first time, it also gave us the strength to take on other issues including the violence we faced in the absence of toilets and the risks we were facing because of it. It was our first step to make our neighborhood safer through collective action, this campaign was an eye opener and it made us want to act."

Safecity conducted a similar campaign in yet another location in Delhi. The campaign team comprising of the passionate youth of Sanjay Camp analysed the information collected during their surveying. They realised that one of the trending hotspots was a space that was accessed multiple times every day; it was the toilet complex in their neighborhood. The intensity & frequency of the harassment was alarming. Many girls would avoid eating or drinking much in order to reduce the number of times that they would’ve to visit the toilet. This shaped an idea among the campaign group of using art for change.

They wondered-if one were to repeatedly see sensitive messaging & visuals against sexual violence, would it stop them from being perpetrators of it?

They painted pictures of boys and girls dressed in school uniforms with messages like

Kya yah sahi hai? Is this right?

A couch that was right outside the toilet complex, where people would sit and pass comments, block the way of the toilet users, was moved out on the very next day of the painting, without a word.

Encourage girls & boys to move ahead, equally.Loitering and commenting around the toilet and other incidents of harassment such as stalking havereduced and continues to.Read more about this intervention here.

Besides wall paintings and murals, Safecity also uses poetry to reach out to people. The reports sent in by people on our crowdmap are converted into short pieces of poetry called Broken Silences. These poems are created with the attempt of encouraging others to break their silence and report their stories of sexual harassment in solidarity with the others that they read about.

This story was submitted in response to Art for Action.

Comments 6

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Krho
May 18, 2017
May 18, 2017

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p>I am amazed at how the power of Art can create safer cities for women and girls! This is a very compelling story,women and girls should be able to walk the streets freely and not feel like they are being harassed or oggled at. I hope more of these art pieces can be created in these trouble spots.

Safecity- Elsa D'Silva
May 18, 2017
May 18, 2017

Hi Krho,

Thank you for reading our story and your wishes. We continue to use art in our work and hope to create safer spaces for all.

Regards,

Renita Siqueira

Communications Officer, Safecity

Lisa Anderson
May 18, 2017
May 18, 2017

Dear Safecity,

Wow, what an amazing intersection of public art and activism! I'm so heartened to hear the wall painting has helped to reduce the cases of ogling, cat-calling and overall discomfort faced by girls and women who accessed the road. The Broken Silences poetry sounds equally powerful. Bravo!

Warm regards,

Lisa

Safecity- Elsa D'Silva
May 28, 2017
May 28, 2017

Dear Lisa,

Thank you so much for your words of encouragement.

Regards,

Renita Siqueira

Communications, Safecity

Tamarack Verrall
May 22, 2017
May 22, 2017

Dear Safety,

I have told many here about the action of the mural across from the tea stall, and the response is always such happiness to learn about the effective action by girls using art. With this continued news it is equally inspiring to learn more about the ongoing results and continuing actions. How powerful to know these are in place, and how wonderful to click on the links and see these beautiful young courageous and inspired leaders.

In sisterhood,

Tam

Safecity- Elsa D'Silva
May 28, 2017
May 28, 2017

Dear Tam,

Thank you for spreading the word. It is indeed amazing how the girls used something so simple and underestimated to change their daily lives and make it better for all. Thank you for reading our story.

Warm regards,

Renita Siqueira

Communications, Safecity