Advocating for equal access: A decade in making Bengaluru a safe and empowered space for women

ByDeeksha Devadiga

Published Jan 23, 2024 | 9:00 AMUpdated Jan 23, 2024 | 3:44 PM

Advocating for equal access: A decade in making Bengaluru a safe and empowered space for women

The B.SAFE program, an initiative by the Bangalore Political Action Committee (B.PAC), has been making significant strides in enhancing women’s safety and empowerment for the past decade.

Started almost ten years ago, the program initially concentrated on creating awareness about sexual harassment, especially targeting children.

In its initial phase, the B.SAFE program took a multi-faceted approach. It conducted awareness campaigns in schools, both private and government, and organised a conclave, Billion Eyes, engaging over 700 working women.

The focus was on workplace safety, and this laid the foundation for the program’s vertical, B.SAFE.

As the program evolved, it expanded its focus beyond schools. The team identified concerns about women’s safety in public spaces, leading to the inception of a broader vision for B.SAFE .

Chitra Talwar, Program Mentor, B.SAFE highlighted that women’s safety is specifically a matter of concern during the annual New Year celebrations in public spaces.

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BPAC Constituency program

Speaking to South First, Talwar discussed the program’s evolution through different phases, emphasising a shift toward greater community engagement.

The programs include in-depth safety audits, involving a meticulous process of onboarding volunteers, capacity building, physical audits, and community awareness campaigns.

B.SAFE Constituency Ambassadors of Mahadevapura Constituency. (Supplied)

“Initially two specific constituencies, Mahadevapura and Malleswaram, were chosen in 2021-22. The positive response inspired us to extend the program to Dasarahalli and Hebbal Assembly Constituencies,” she said.

Highlighting the role of CSR partners, particularly CGI, Talwar emphasised the need for continued support from CSR partners, MLAs, and stakeholders.

“Sustained collaboration is crucial for implementing the action plan and ensuring B.SAFE’s enduring success. We also request the community to take ownership of the initiatives. It helps foster a sense of responsibility and solidarity,” Talwar urged.

On 28 October, 2023, a Public Place Safety Audit Report of Dasarahalli and Hebbal Assembly Constituencies (AC) was released.

The audit was held at 298 public places and 29 streets in 12 BBMP wards in Dasarahalli, and 8 in Hebbal.

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All about the program

The B.SAFE Constituency Ambassadors program provides a platform for women and gender-binary individuals, who have a passion for helping empower women and weaker sections of society.

Ambassadors are trained to build confidence which helps them gain access to all required resources including police officials, counselling centres, legal support, schemes, loans, etc.

The Ambassadors are selected only after a rigorous background check which is followed by an| interview round.

Indira Belde, B.SAFE Ambassador from Mahadevapura recalls being surprised when she was first introduced to the program.

B.SAFE Ambassadors of Malleshwaram Assembly Constituency. (Supplied)

“I was recommended by a B.Clip member to join the ambassador program. And I was left quite impressed by the programme they had designed and the articulation with which they followed the interview process,” she shared.

Smitha Ramgopal, B.SAFE Ambassador from Malleshwaram remembers what it meant to attend an official job interview. Having grabbed the role, what stood out for her was the initial orientation.

“There were 40 ambassadors on the day of orientation. Many of them were from Malleshwaram. It was the first day when we learned a lot about our constituencies,” Ramgopal told South First.

The B.SAFE Constituency Ambassadors’ program primarily focuses on understanding the gaps in the safety of women in public spaces.

They work with the government and key stakeholders to bridge this gap in the constituency through a definite action plan.

Besides, they engage with the community to create awareness and enable access to resources empowering women.

Ambassadors also have to strengthen mechanisms to drive safety and empowerment in their respective constituencies.

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Empowering Women Beyond Safety

Not just safety, but adopting a holistic approach to women’s empowerment is important, emphasised Talwar.

This includes creating awareness about government schemes, financial inclusion, and skill development for women in the targeted communities, she added.

B.PAC has multiple major initiatives working towards civic development. (Deeksha Devadiga/South First)

Beyond ensuring physical safety, the program strives to empower women economically and socially.

Plans are underway to introduce vocational training programs, skill-building workshops, and mentorship initiatives to create a more inclusive and empowered community, informs Talwar.

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Challenges and successes

But Talwar and her team are not oblivious to the complexities of multi-departmental involvement in Bengaluru’s governance. Challenges in execution are plenty.

The team of B.PAC emancipates the movement to transform the city and its people. (Supplied)

Siri, the B.SAFE Constituency program lead, speaking about the challenges said, “Covid-19 came out of the blue and it changed the whole dynamics of what we were planning to do on the ground. But, we were able to complete the course online”.

What they set out to achieve during Phase 1 was achieved during Phase 2 in a much more qualitative way, she added.

Despite hurdles, phase 1 of the program successfully cultivated 50 engaged ambassadors dedicated to safety and empowerment in the selected constituencies.

A significant addition in the second phase was the development of a mobile application for safety audits.

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Phase 2 Execution

The B.SAFE Constituency Ambassadors Program phase 2 batch of Dasarahalli and Hebbal was held offline and had twelve in-class sessions.

The module for the program includes sessions on varied topics that cover women’s safety in both public and private sectors.

“We had police officers, IPS officers nominated from The Bangalore City Police team to conduct sessions to our ambassadors. This helped our ambassadors,” said Siri.

She further added that the curriculum included sessions from legal experts and trans persons to educate about sexual minorities.

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Impact on ambassadors

“Our lectures were empowering and activities engaging,” noted Ramgopal.

Despite having basic education, on the flip side, most ambassadors were unaware of the legal aspects and the schemes provided by the government.

One such scheme is the ‘One Stop Center’ for women. As a mandatory activity, all the ambassadors are asked to visit the nearest one-stop centre.

“A One Stop Center is a scheme provided by the government to support women who are affected by violence or assault or need shelter. Many of us were not aware of where such centres are,” shared Ramgopal.

Belde agrees with Ramgopal. “Until we visited police stations we were not aware of women’s help desks and some specific laws which are in place to help women.”

Throughout the program, these ambassadors have actively engaged in multifaceted programs addressing issues ranging from theft and snake chain menaces to domestic violence.

Mahadevapura MLA, Arvind Limbavali handing over the certificates to B.SAFE Ambassadors. (Supplied)

A notable achievement includes impactful gender sensitisation programs in local colleges, and sowing the seeds for a culture of equality and respect.

While their initiatives have touched the lives of many, the journey has not been without challenges.

For Belde, a delicate balance is required to address issues amidst external factors like elections and changing family dynamics.

She highlighted the continuous need for program reviews to prevent a gap in community engagement.

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CCTV cameras and streetlights

A significant hurdle faced by Belde was the revelation of non-functional and outdated CCTV cameras in her constituency. Despite allocated funds and efforts to bring this to the attention of local authorities, challenges in execution persisted.

“I wrote a letter to the Deputy Chief Minister Dk Shivakumar explaining the need for a functioning CCTV in the area, but all we received was assurance. The ward manager, police, and the MLA have only provided assurance but not fixed the issue,” she rued.

The wait is unpredictable, she shared. Functional street lights and cameras remain a pressing concern for the safety of the constituency.

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Blueprint for all

The B.SAFE Constituency program envisions a future where its success story resonates beyond Bangalore. B.PAC hopes to showcase the blueprint to other cities, fostering collective action and encouraging volunteers to take up similar initiatives.

The emphasis on grassroots implementation, gender sensitisation, and the integration of technology remains crucial in shaping the program’s future, the stakeholders shared.

Talwar hinted at the possibility of creating a comprehensive manual, detailing the program’s methodologies and best practices, to aid other communities in replicating its success.