Curfew of a lifetime!
The pandemic pushed many governments to officially put curfews on their citizens for a specified amount of time. And this grew concerns about economy, trade, tourism and what not. But many of us live with curfews almost all the time. Especially young women are faced with taunts from warden, tons of calls from parents and a collective tension of almost the whole society when they are out late.
The fear of nighttime and the predators that lurk in the darkness is a widespread cultural preoccupation. In many societies, women were made to stay home at night, not only to protect themselves but also to ensure that they didn’t engage in morally suspect behavior. Many communities, including in India, adopted this notion that ‘respectable‘ women don’t go out at night.
This mindset isn’t a thing of the past though. Even today if a crime is committed against a women then many questions are raised against the character or the intent of the women herself. Sensationalized reporting of sexual violence against single, middle class women fuels the paranoia and thus becomes a justification for the authority figures to impose restrictions for the ‘good‘ girls.
Instead of taking up steps to make the society a safer place, families and educational institutions impose curfews and other restrictions on women under the guise of protecting them. These end up restricting women’s access to extracurricular activities, libraries and even canteens. Studies conducted across India’s top universities found that most parents would not send their daughters to study in other cities if girls’ hostels didn’t have curfews. But its not just educational institutions, even professional environments reflect this fear of letting women out at night. Although women do work night shifts in sectors like BPO and hospitality, in one study 53 per cent of them reported feeling unsafe working those shifts while 86 per cent of them complained about lack of adequate transport provided by their employers. In many cases, parents try to prevent their daughters from taking up jobs which require them to be out after sunset.
But the fact is that women aren’t unsafe only at night. Women are unsafe round the clock, at home or at school, office, markets, everywhere. If we’re concerned about their safety we need to work and tackle the conditions that make it unsafe for women. Indian movements like ‘Pinjra Tod‘ and ‘Why Loiter‘ have been fighting against the sexist curfews. They are also questioning the respectability that a woman must embody to be out after dark, such as ‘dressing modestly‘ or being escorted by a male relative or having a ‘good reason’ to be out at night.
We need to start taking women’s safety seriously in a way that doesn’t limit our individual freedom, but enables our mobility. Let’s try to make nighttime, public spaces and various modes of transport safe for everyone when we move out of our respective lockdowns.