Exclusive Interview with Priyanka Kumar on International Women's Day

Vinod Shah Posted on: 2021-03-09 10:25:00 Viewer: 4,354 Comments: 0 Country: India City: Lucknow

Exclusive Interview with Priyanka Kumar on International Women's Day

Ar. Priyanka Kumar is Urban Planner in the Regional Centre for Urban and Environmental Studies (RCUES) Lucknow, under the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, Govt. of India. Currently, she is working for central government schemes such as Smart City Mission, Swachh Bharat Mission, AMRUT, and Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojna.
On this Women's day, she frankly talks about gender equality and the situations of women in the urban transportation industry.

First, we would like to thank you for being onboard on our Editorial Board. Please tell our readers about your professional background?

It is my pleasure that I am on the editorial board. Well, I am an Architect – Urban Planner. I have done B. Arch (Bachelor of Architecture) from Kurukshetra University and M.Plan (Master in Planning) specialization in Urban Planning from School of Planning and Architecture New Delhi.

What things inspired you to choose your career in the architecture and urban planning area?

Frankly speaking, since my childhood I always had one question in my mind “When Sky has no limit ...then why a building has?” The thought inspired me to choose Architecture as a career in my graduation. 

Well, the five years of architecture were not sufficient to wholly understand the real meaning of architecture and planning, I was curious to know that how my design, how my planning will lead to inclusive and sustainable development, how may I contribute to society, community, how I may control the problem of slums, housing, solid waste management, how may I contribute a bit towards Nature as I believe that nature is the Chief Planner of any city or town. It is the climate, weather, topography, of that particular region that tells us what to design, how to design. So, all these curiosities inspired me.

On this Women’s Day, firstly tell us that do you think that there is a lack of gender equality in your profession?

While times are slowly changing, but still it has long been a male-dominated field, and yes, in this profession, as in other professions, strong female leadership is sometimes perceived negatively. Women leaders must be considered as “decisive” or “visionary” rather than as “bossy” or “shrill”.

Do you think we need more women in the transport industry?

Women are already making a mark in male-dominated sectors such as the logistics sector but Yes definitely, we need more women in the transport industry. Instead of providing free movement of buses to women, we may provide them a platform for interaction, engage them in the planning process. Community Participation is merely a formality in our country. Better training modules, Capacity building programs, IEC activities for females are need of the era.

Did you ever notice gender inequality in Public transportation?

Transport is not gender-neutral. Women’s travel pattern is different from the travel pattern of men. Women usually travel from home to work-place such as office, school etc. but try to combine various activities simultaneously to complete domestic works in the same day, for example going to vegetable market after office and then home with bags of vegetables. Women which are an important part of society but known as the dependent part of the society travel more on public transport as compared to men. As the fact, in joint family’s personal automobile/vehicle is offered only to men. So, in urban areas, women may require the use of multiple modes of transportation, for the multiple shorter trips. Women face a high level of assault and verbal harassment, almost in every mode of transportation. Either in auto rickshaws, public buses or in the metro, women do not feel safe. Traveling via public transport is becoming dangerous for females irrespective of their age and caste.

Women do not find personal security in the public transport, transit stop, bus stop, station platform, which may gradually decrease the use of public transportation. Women do not prefer to travel in the dark. Women face insecurity especially at the night either in public transportation or even on the pedestrian paths. Bad designs of footpaths, lack of street lights and lack of CCTV cameras increase crime such as chain/purse/mobile snatching, rapes, etc. In the Reuters survey, it was found that Bogota, the capital of Colombia, was the most dangerous city, as per the statement that women were scared to use transport after dark.

What are the current and future transport solutions, technologies and policy measures that will help to overcome these gender inequality issues according to you?

Current solutions such as “Women only car/coach” or “women only transport” are being considered as the permanent solution to ensure that women are safe. Is that so?  We find every bus has some reserved seats for women, each metro train has a segregated car that is allotted for females and preventing them from being groped or touched by male strangers. Is this the only way to provide equal rights to women? Prevention from sexual harassment is conflicting with the fact that women have equal rights as men. In this contemporary scenario, it’s a matter of shame that we need “women-only transport”.

In South Korea, the central government has established some guidelines for women-friendly cities. There are women-related policies in Seoul, which aim to improve females’ accessibility to the public spaces and mobility by public transportation. CCTV cameras have been installed in public parking zones. The height of the sidewalk ledge was lowered for safe pedestrian movement. The government lowered the handles in buses, in subways and installed more transportation facilities such as CCTV cameras, signage, for more convenient use of public transportation. The initiatives such as “women safety brand call taxi projects” allowed more and more women to access a taxi with safety in dark. A phone service that sends the plate number, departure time, and location via a text message to the family members of women who is using the taxi at night. To encourage women’s participation in policy-making, the city planning committee added more women as committee members.

Involvement of women at every step may also help to resolve this issue such as Greater Dhaka Sustainable Urban Transport Project in Bangladesh prepared a gender action plan, which includes 30 % participation of women in the improvement of local markets and feeder roads for non-motorized transport, 20 % women in BRT construction and maintenance, 70 % of women for garment workers eligible for subsidized passes, 20% reserved seats for women and 15 % vending area for women vendors.

It is required today to have “women-friendly cities” in India. Decision-makers must focus on the aspect that how a smart city would be a women-friendly city? Or women-friendly city would be a smart city itself. For women-friendly cities, community participation is a must, for example, the city of Vienna, Austria (whose population is 52% women) aims to serve the needs of women in a better way and is focusing on designing different parts of their city. City Planners over there, did a survey, asked questions, listened, and took action based on feedback from the community. Based on the suggestions and feedback, they designed wide sidewalks with more lighting, ramps for crossing busy streets with buggies & walkers. They also designed an apartment complex for women, which is close to public transport, providing pharmacy, childcare facilities, changing rooms, courtyards within the complex.

As you are an Inspiration for Women. Any message you would like to deliver to the women of the society?

We are not supposed to stand equal to men, as we are already. We already have our own identity, our own individuality. Women should respect their selves, stand for their selves, voice out for their selves. It is also essential that women should report the cases of sexual harassment without fear, the issue should be taken seriously in the vision of the law as well as the public. Women who have fear of being sexually or verbally harassed in public transportation shouldn't have to sacrifice their daily routine. Sexual harassment should not be ignored anywhere.

Last year, you won the "Urban Infra Architect of the Year Award" in the female category at Rail Infra and Mobility Business Awards 2020. What did you felt when your work was recognized on the global platform?

I can’t really express how much this award means to me. This acknowledgment is something that I will cherish throughout my life. It brings more self-belief and dedication to my work. I would really thank the team and judges of the Rail Infra and Mobility Business Awards 2020 (RIMBDA 2020) who have considered me to be worthy of this acknowledgment.

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