The discourse of urban planning often assume that the user of public space to be the neutral de-contextualized citizen. This blog seeks to reinsert the subject ‘woman’ back into our understanding of public space in the specific context of a slum in the city of Visakhapatnam, the Pedda Jalaripeta Slum.
Shilpa Phakde, Ayonna Datta and other feminist scholars from India who have conducted research in Indian slums describe a typical public space in India as gendered by the simple fact that it does not support gender equality. Where one gender can feel very much at home and be relaxed in a public space at any time the other feels out of place and is required to control its presence. Women get a feeling of alienation and being out of place, and that the public realm never actually belongs to them.
In her well acclaimed book, Fear that Stalks (2012) Phadke observes that women, particularly those walking on their own are usually doing something- shopping, heading towards bus stops and railway stations, but rarely if ever loitering around, sitting in a park or maidan or standing at a street corner smoking or simply watching the world go by as one often sees men doing. Women themselves feel a sense of unease and prefer not to loiter. The underlying assumption that if women have no work to be accomplished that necessitates their presence in the public space they should return to the spaces, where they really belong, like the domestic space. In many ways women’s entry and acceptance into the public space is often conditional upon them appearing to have a specific task.
Female Public Space-Streets of Pedda Jalaripeta
In the case of the Pedda Jalaripeta Slum, the public and private space in the slum overlap and merge. In a typical western context streets are not considered public spaces but are rather used for transportation. However, the houses in the Pedda Jalaripeta slum are only 640 sq ft, which are pretty tight quarters. The streets are therefore used to store water, prepare food or hang out. The streets today have emerged as an exclusive female dominant spaces. Through expanding their house duties into the street, the women have socialized the streets and they look busy or purposeful in their use of this space.
Image 1: Woman’s Domain: Streets of the Pedda Jalaripeta Slum
In addition to being an extension to their homes, the streets in the Pedda Jalaripeta slum have emerged as social spaces for women, where they can communicate and extend their social exchange. The women in the Pedda Jalaripeta slum are comfortable in the public spaces and feel free to loiter. One of the reasons for the women’s freedom on the streets is the absence on the men in this space. The Pedda Jalaripeta slum has a second public space, the beach which is dominated by men.
Male Public Space- the Beach
The beach is predominantly a male public space, this is where the men rest and relax after fishing, this where they socialize, consume alcohol or work on their nets. The two public spaces in the slum have over the years emerged as two distinct gendered spaces.
Image 2: Male Public Space
In an Indian context, gender based segregation exists both in traditional house form and in the public sphere. Gender demarcation of the public realm appears mostly thorough an underlying code of conduct and as in the case of the Pedda Jalaripeta slum even through spatial segregation. The Pedda Jalaripeta case study points that clear cultural demarcation of public spaces might have provided more freedom of movement to the women in the community.