Featured Storyteller

INDIA: When Loitering Is Revolutionary

Shatakshi Gawade
Posted December 13, 2018 from India

Shatakshi Gawade thinks it's time to shake up our approach to women's safety in public spaces.

“I want the city to belong to me, and I want to belong to the city.

Every time I am out late at night, my mother stays up worrying about my safety. My grandmother suggests that I should be married off. And me, I just want the freedom to navigate the city at any time of day or night.

While working and traveling as a reporter, I have noticed that there are many more men than women out in the street, especially late at night. They might be enjoying a cup of tea, a smoke, or just standing around shooting the breeze. Sometimes I see girls in these groups, but I have rarely ever seen a group of girls just chilling in public spaces.

I am lucky that I have only been on the receiving end of catcalling once on a dimly lit street on my way to a metro station in Delhi. Many women are not as lucky. I want well-lit streets with sufficient police patrolling, better public transport, and clean toilets, so that I can come home when I want to. I want to be able to stay out late for work or just have a good time with my friends.

Whenever I am out late, I zip by on my two-wheeler, rushing home to “safety.” My city, Pune, in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, is a fairly safe city to live in. It has been ranked 25th out of 111 cities in the country for safety and security. Yet, I feel a load on my chest while riding home at 1am. The pressure is much too real.

We need policing and better infrastructure, but I don’t think this is enough help our case. In a TEDx talk, author Shilpa Phadke explains how "safety" is a restrictive concept. She says the fear of strangers attacking women persists despite data that says more women are attacked in personal spaces.

Phadke turns the safety argument on its head by arguing that women should not submit to the restrictive concept of safety. She encourages women to access public spaces, while keeping in mind the potential risks of such spaces. She calls this a woman’s “right to risk”.

I was surprised by one of Phadke’s suggestions for reclaiming public spaces: loitering! Women are not expected to be out in the streets unless they are productive or busy. Phadke argues that loitering is a tool that challenges gender norms, allows one to physically claim the city, and amplifies inclusion.

I want the city to belong to me, and I want to belong to the city. I want to claim public spaces like roadsides, parks, bus stops, food stall corners, lakesides and river banks, and long stretches of roads covered by trees. I want to laugh loudly with my friends by tea shops on the side of the road. I want to taste the night breeze without tasting the fear of being attacked.

I think the city would be safer with more and more women claiming public spaces like this. And I agree with Phadke that this idea should also be extended to include other marginalized people, like migrants. After all, there is strength in numbers.

I am ready to claim my right to loiter. Will you join me?


This story was published as part of the Future of Security Is Women digital event and is sponsored by our partner Our Secure Future. World Pulse runs Story Awards year round—share your story with us, and you could be our next Featured Storyteller! Learn more.

Comments 9

Log in or register to post comments
Dec 14, 2018
Dec 14, 2018

Thank you very much for sharing with us, I know Pune too. On many occassions, I secretly think within me that the fear of not being able to claim public spaces is also why we are afraid to claim public position.
Its only women that can create the world they want. Loiter, if it will change the status quo.
My joy is that, we continue to speak out and we continue to act too. God bless everywoman, Amen

Dec 15, 2018
Dec 15, 2018

Congrats, Shatakshi, on winning featured storyteller!!! Good job:-)

Dec 15, 2018
Dec 15, 2018

I really love your story Shatakshi! It has really made my evening. I would also like to loiter knowing that I am safe. Sometimes I feel like taking a walk at night in my neighborhood but it is too risky and I will be considered not be Ok. Thank you so much for sharing your story in search a relate-able way. By the way, I was in Pune in 2009. It was my first international trip and I loved the place.

Sis. Salifu
Dec 17, 2018
Dec 17, 2018

Congrats dear :-)
Hope you are having a great day...

Sharon Bhagwan Rolls
Dec 20, 2018
Dec 20, 2018

“I want the city to belong to me, and I want to belong to the city" - should be a mantra/slogan amplified across the globe ! Thank you for this powerful feature !

Dec 23, 2018
Dec 23, 2018

Very inspiring you are the one we have been waiting for. The world needs more of you.

Dec 28, 2018
Dec 28, 2018

How your feelings resonate, Shatakshi! Living on the Lower East Side of NYC in my 20's in the 1970's, I suffered robbery with a knife to my throat entering my building, then another such attempt. After fear and shock came rage, that I could not move freely and safely on the streets by myself. It seemed a woman had to have a dog or a weapon or behave so crazily that she was scary to be left alone. A man followed me one night on my way home from a class, and I walked around different streets to avoid letting him see where I lived. I stopped a police vehicle, and they assumed he and I were having a transactional or lovers' spat and wouldn't get involved. To attend night school in Brooklyn, I wore construction boots, a P-coat and newsboy hat to look as tough as I felt, and to keep from being accosted on the subway and long walk home. My energy in those years was enormous and I HAD TO run! Speed was my power and protection, as I regularly ran down to Delancey St. and across the decaying Williamsburg Bridge late at night, relishing a feeling that I owned these spaces (nearly empty at that hour). I had boyfriends and assorted friends, but lacked the key asset: a tribe! You are totally on the right track, recognizing that women and girls can revolutionize their right to free use of public spaces by occupying them. Starting first with critical mass to where their presence and agency becomes the new normal, they create the cultural environment that frees individual women to come and go as they please.

Dec 29, 2018
Dec 29, 2018


Dec 31, 2018
Dec 31, 2018

It takes one to encourage the other one and soon there is a long caravan following. Be brave and strong. Do the right thing!