The editor of EDRA Connections recently asked me to write a book review for their May 2013 issue. Included below, with links and further reading, is the introduction to my review of Why Loiter: Women and Risk on Mumbai Streets by Shilpa Phadke, Sameera Khan, and Shilpa Ranade. New Delhi: Penguin India, 2011.
This book is a timely fit, not just in the spate of recent protests in the Global South against endemic sexual violence, but also in the ever-expanding literature on critical spatial scholarship of value to the theory and practice of urban design across wider social geographies. Shilpa Phadke (Assistant Professor at the Centre for Media Studies at The Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai), Sameera Khan (journalist and writer) and Shilpa Ranade (architect and cultural theorist) set out on an ambitious task: to challenge the normative assumptions about the way we see and use space; criticize the narrative of safety for women in parochial community structures; establish how loitering might allow women equal access to urban space; and eventually formulate a new feminist agenda involving each of these concerns, but inclusive of all marginal groups. Throughout, we encounter references to the writings of 20th century urban social theorists; read stories of everyday negotiations of access by women of different backgrounds; and finally, come full circle to a greater understanding of the significance of the title question, Why Loiter?
The essence of Phadke, Khan, and Ranade’s argument is that the notion of safety has long been employed by patriarchal institutions in which not only men but also women participate to implicitly monitor the behavior of other women in public space. “Safety,” they say, “is connected not as much to women’s own sense of bodily integrity or to their consent, but rather to ideas of izzat and honor of the family and community” (p.53). In such settings, women are guarded against assumed sexual dangers from less desirable groups, including lower-class men. Due to such a deceptive opposition between class and gender, women are consistently marginalized in larger urban contexts. “Instead of safety,” they add, “what women should then seek is the right to take risks …” (p.60) for it is only by claiming the right to “chosen risk” that they can claim full access to public space.
Continue reading: “EDRA Connections,” EDRA, May 2013, pp. 9-10 (with images of #SafeCityPledge from Blank Noise). EDRA Connections was launched in January this year to serve as an extended forum for conversations and connections between and among EDRA members.