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Game on public space and women

Staff Reporter

Media game showcases how women handle obstacles in public places

PHOTO: K. RAMESH BABU

Understanding women: Shilpa Ranade (left) and Shilpa Phadke demonstrating video game ‘Gendered Strategies for Loitering’ at Goethe-Zentrum on Tuesday. —

HYDERABAD: Women are great at strategising and they do this on a daily basis. Whether it is manoeuvring their way to reach their destinations or the way they behave in public space. Take the example of Priya, a 25-year-old freelance journalist who takes the route which is probably not the shortest, but the safest, avoiding ‘obstacles’.

The obstacles in this case maybe, three men standing together, a lonely stretch of road or a man urinating on the road. Priya is, however, a character in a new media game ‘Gendered Strategies for Loitering’, that has been developed using research conducted by Shilpa Phadke, Shilpa Ranade and Sameera Khan. The game aims at questioning some of the underlying assumptions about public space and gender in both Singapore and Mumbai and gestures to the impossibility of loitering for women.

Three-year research

The game enables people to understand how women from various age groups handle such obstacles. A part of a three-year research carried out for Partners for Urban Knowledge Action and Research (PUKAR), it essentially looks at how women use their public space. The video game which is to be hosted on the web in a couple of months, was previewed at Goethe-Zentrum on Tuesday. The Goethe-Zentrum organised an interaction with the three researchers in Hyderabad as part of their month-long ‘Women’s March’ events.

The research by the trio also brings forth a different concept of ‘loitering’. “We look at loitering as an inclusive concept where everyone should be able to claim public space,” says Shilpa Phadke, who led the Gender and Space project for PUKAR.

Conditional access

Aimed at breaking the societal outlook towards loitering and women who loiter, they feel that one needs to reclaim public spaces. “There is still a very conditional access to public spaces for women in the society. A loitering woman is looked upon as one with loose morals unlike the ‘good private woman’ who is out in a public space with a ‘purpose,’ ” says Shilpa Ranade, an architect. “Only when men and women have the freedom to move about in public spaces without any purpose, can the boundaries and divisions within a society be removed,” she adds.

They believe that loitering would dissolve the structures of the society and renegotiate the boundaries that are laid between people from different backgrounds. “The general belief that low class men are a threat to women will dissolve only when public spaces are thrown open completely,” explains Ms. Phadke.

‘Private markers’

The research also throws up how women always carry ‘private markers’ in public space - whether it be a ‘mangalsutra’ or a baby. “Subconsciously women don’t get out into the public space without these ‘markers’ as that would mean that they are ‘loitering’ and hence ‘disrespectful’,” says Ms. Phadke.

Explaining further, Ms. Phadke says how during the infamous ‘Marine Drive rape’, the victim was inadvertently dragged into a blame game.

“From questioning her presence there to the dress she was wearing, the victim’s ‘loitering’ was discussed in detail,” she says. Ms. Ranade feels that loitering helps achieve a sense of belongingness of the city the same way a person who can vote truly feels part of a nation and would help bring about an inclusive city.

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