Gender and Policy Lab to work towards a safe and inclusive Chennai

The first of its kind Gender and Policy Lab was inaugurated in the city on April 1. How can the Lab improve women's safety and inclusion?

Chennai saw the inauguration of the first of its kind Gender and Policy Lab on April 1. The Lab will work with the civic body, transport agencies and other organs of the government to create a ‘safer and gender-inclusive city’. 

The inauguration was attended by the Mayor of Chennai Corporation, R Priya, Commissioner of Chennai Corporation, Gagandeep Singh Bedi, Commissioner of Police, Shankar Jiwal, representatives from the World Bank, officials from various departments of the civic body and transport agencies and members of various non-profit and civil society organizations.

The Gender and Policy Lab has been formed as part of the Chennai City Partnership Program and the Nirbhaya Program. The lab will be housed in Ripon Building. 

Mission of the Gender Lab 

The proceedings of the day outlined the various areas in which the Lab hopes to make an impact in terms of policy and planning for gender inclusion. The key focus of the Lab is to improve public safety for women and accessibility of public spaces and public transportation. The aim includes improving the perception of safety amongst women in public spaces and the reduction in number of instances of sexual harassement and gender-based violence.

The work of the lab would be supported by an Apex Committee that would comprise officials from various agencies including Greater Chennai Corporation, Municipal Administration and Water Supply Department, Transport Department, Social Welfare and Women Empowerment Department and Greater Chennai Police. The Lab would also create a Voluntary Advisory Forum that draws on experts from various fields such as education, transport, social work, mental health and law. 

gender lab event photo
A first-of-its-kind gender and policy lab was inaugurated by the Chennai Corporation. Pic: Greater Chennai Corporation/Twitter

The work of the Lab would support the Apex Committee in improving gender-inclusion in various aspects of life in Chennai. The Lab will help create frameworks for planning and monitoring and evaluation of various projects and provide guidance to various implementing agencies during the roll out of the projects. 

The current term of the Lab is three years. In its first year the Lab would undertake projects on public spaces in Zones 4 and 5 of the Greater Chennai Corporation. The year would see assessments carried out at the ground level to look into issues of accessibility and safety for women across civic infrastructure such as subways, parks, playgrounds, bus stands, bridges and public toilets. The Lab would also spend time on capacity building and spreading awareness among various stakeholders on the needs of women. The subsequent years in the term of the Lab would aim to share the interventions and pilots carried out in zones 4 and 5 across other departments. 

Also read: Will GCC’s Gender Lab project make Chennai safer for women and trans persons?

Studies to inform policy

The Gender and Policy Lab is set to conduct various studies to help inform policy prescriptions. A taste of this was provided during an interactive session that was part of the schedule on the day of the inauguration of the Lab.

Kalpana Viswanath, Founder and CEO of Safetipin, a social organisation that aims to make public spaces safer and more inclusive, presented findings from a Women’s Safety Audit carried out in Tondiarpet. The audit spanned an area of 19.3 sq. km and covered a total of 1108 points. 

Various aspects of safety were analysed as part of the study such as presence of adequate street lighting, footpaths, natural surveillance and availability of public transport within a 5-10 minute walk. The audit found that 9% of the total area covered had poor lighting. Footpaths were absent or in poor shape for 65% of the area covered. The availability of public transport was also not uniform across the area surveyed, with 15% of the study area not having accessible public transport within a 5-10 minute walk. Natural surveillance such as presence of shops or other human activity was absent in 35% of the area covered under the audit. 

Based on analysis of many parameters in addition to the ones outlined above, the Gender and Policy Lab would be equipped to make recommendations that improve the safety and accessibility of the area for women. 

The presentation by Sonal Shah, Founder of The Urban Catalysts, covered the aspect of public transport. The inputs from various stakeholders and statistics such as the % of women using various modes such as public transport or walking and the hours during which women use their services (usually at non-peak hours) were outlined as some of the key aspects that must be considered while planning for inclusive public transportation in the city.

Akshat Singhal, Co-Founder of The Gender Lab, Mumbai, stressed on the importance of the need to bring about changes in attitudes towards safety and sensitivity among right-holders and duty-bearers. Duty-bearers include front-line staff at various public-facing positions who interact with women on a daily basis. By adequate sensitisation and awareness among both categories of individuals, public spaces can be made safer and more inclusive for all.

Read more: Tips for women in Chennai to fight the stalking menace

Participatory planning a key element

The final session on the inaugural day highlighted the path forward for the Gender and Policy Lab which aims to bring the perspective of various stakeholders to tackle any issue. The session saw various attendees participate in a brainstorming session on three core areas of life for women in the city – mobility, access to public spaces and bystander engagement. The attendees, which included representatives from non-profit organisations, members of the civil society, activists, academics and urban planners, including those from various government departments, engaged in an exercise of outlining the challenges and solutions for the three core issues.

The exercise brought forth various opinions and suggestions from all quarters.

On mobility, the group demanded better access to transport services and consideration for women with disabilities and those residing in resettlement colonies. Suggestions were put forward on ways to improve bus services including increasing frequency and making information accessible to the public. 

On access to public spaces, the group suggested making more safe spaces for women by encouraging activities in parks and playgrounds. Better safety measures and targeted interventions to increase the scope of access and the time of access for women was recommended. 

On bystander engagement, the suggestions included finding innovative ways to incentivize intervention during crisis and setting up of specific frameworks for intervention and spreading awareness on the same. The group suggested a framing similar to that of bystanders who are encouraged to intervene in the golden-hour period in case of road accidents.

Interactions after the group sessions saw attendees call for greater engagement with the women of Chennai and consideration for their inputs in all future interventions through the Lab.

To send in your ideas and suggestions to the Gender and Policy Lab, you can write to

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