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Urban Planning's Role in Making India Safer for Women

A month after a gruesome gang rape, New Delhi takes aim at the lowest-hanging fruit: Improving public spaces.
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Reuters

NEW DELHI, India --- As night falls, the streets surrounding the Jama Masjid are still buzzing. The heart of Old Delhi, one of the several bustling neighborhoods in the city’s center, is filled with bicycle rickshaws, hawkers, pedestrians and dawdlers.

Walk a couple blocks west and hop the metro a few stops south, and the scene is entirely different. The steps off the metro are nearly pitch black. The long streets here, as the city begins to bleed into its suburbs, are nearly empty. And unlike Old Delhi, almost all of the pedestrians are men.

This is the stretch of southwest Delhi where, on December 16, a 23-year-old medical student was horrifyingly and ultimately fatally gang raped. At the protests that followed, activists have seized the moment to highlight the structural ways India's cities are failing women.

Dark, empty streets make it almost impossible for a single woman to walk around at night. Few public spaces cater to women. And, perhaps most importantly, women who ride public transportation face constant intimidation and threats. In a recent survey, 80 percent of New Delhi women reported being harassed on buses or other transit; 62 percent said they had been touched and yelled at on the side of the road.