Women in Public Spaces: Safety and Respectability

Naureen Bhullar

- December 7, 2022

Feminist photographer and PhD Scholar Sanjukta Basu conducted a Gender and Public Space project in 2017 by traveling to five Indian cities to document how Indian women access these public spaces. Public parks were rarely visited by women in Delhi and Hyderabad, with women accessing these spaces in Hyderabad if they were smaller and all parts of the park were visible. Basu noted that class, caste, and socio-economic backgrounds influenced women’s use of public spaces. Only women from higher income families in Hyderabad supported the idea of parks with ticket prices to ensure better security and maintenance. 

Councillor introduces motion for Glasgow to be first city in UK with feminist town planning approach.” – The Scotsman, October 21, 2022

This recent headline caught attention of many people. The motion stated that it is ““fundamental that women are central to all aspects of planning, public realm design, policy development and budgets” to ensure public spaces are safe and inclusive for women.”

Kristen Day, an architecture researcher from New York University, has investigated the feminist approach to urban design, where women’s experiences in public spaces are heavily shaped by their gender. Her chapter on feminism and urban design describes the following findings:

  • Women’s personal spaces are more likely to be invaded than men, with people standing closer to them and women are more likely to make way for others than men.
  • Women are more likely to be touched in public than men. 
  • Women find crowding less stressful than men, especially if there is no groping or sexual harassment 
  • Women do have constraints in the public sphere, but they also enjoy and move freely in many cases

The goal of inclusive urban design is to create accessible, diverse, and open public places. For women, such spaces should provide “perceived and actual safety” and “facilitate their multiple roles of completing work tasks, household responsibilities and entertaining or caregiving for children”. 

Transportation for women is also a challenge, especially if the public transportation is not reliable. Women’s commute is described as more complex than men due to their paid and unpaid work, involving commute to work plus other caregiving work, including dropping children to their school. Kern describes multiple challenges of moving around in a western and developed world capital, London as a pregnant woman and the hurdles women in general face during their commutes even with a well-connected public transport system. There are also major socio-economic differences between women that impacts their experiences in the public sphere, with women of higher socio-economic status able to bypass the unsafe environments.

Indian context

India has its own unique challenges in terms of women in the public spaces. Almost every woman who has grown up in India is warned of not staying out for long and especially not after dark. Sometimes women pretend to be engaged in a phone call for safety reasons or avoid the “judgmental gaze”. You go out only if there is a purpose or work. Even after more than 10 years of the Nirbhaya case, Delhi continues to be unsafe for women. 

To improve the poor India’s women labour force participation rate (LFP), World Resource India’s (WRI) Connect Karo 2021 conference emphasized the need to keep women at the centre of urban planning and policy decisions. Unsafe public spaces, lack of efficient public transport, access to jobs, availability of facilities such as toilets are the major concerns for women workers, especially in urban areas.

Girija Borker carried out a study in 2018 on the impact of perceived risk of street harassment on educational choices of women college students in Delhi using a random utility framework. Women were more willing to go to a lower quality college and spend more money in annual college tuition than men in order to commute to college by a safer route. This is believed to further impact their labour force participation rate after graduation. 

Nithya V. Raman, an urban planner in Chennai, believes that two major biases of urban planners makes cities unsafe for women: 1. City streets planned and built for cars rather than people; and 2. Bias against street vendors. Creation of wider roads without pedestrians and street vendors makes streets unsafe for women. UN’s Sustainable Goals 5 and 11 emphasize gender equity and empowerment of women and girls and making cities and human settlements inclusive and safe by 2030. Mahadevia and Lathia describe the safe cities ideas for women to include their right to the city and public spaces within it, their right to mobility at any time of the day, to loiter without any threats of harassment or sexual violence. 

Mahadevia and Lathia’s (2019) interviewed 100 women in Ahmedabad at the famous Sabarmati Waterfront and 52 of them reported experiencing harassment at least 3 to 4 times, even though they were always accompanied by family or friends. The main causes of harassment were identified as male-dominated spaces or fewer people or vendors around. The place, where the maximum amount of harassment occurred had poorer maintenance and reduced visibility.

They also concluded the following aspects about built environment and women safety in public spaces:

  • Properly lit spaces are essential for women safety with most women using well-lit spaces and routes while commuting for work or otherwise.
  • Quality of public spaces matters as poorly maintained spaces like broken sidewalks, streetlights blocked by trees generate fear of violence or accidents.
  • Three major concerns for women in public spaces are: to see and to be seen, to hear and be heard, and to get away and get help. 
  • Groups like “middle-aged people”, “older adults”, “women and families”, “familiar vendors and shopkeepers” make women feel more secure according to Jagori (2010)’s research
  • Spaces that are well-patrolled, with formal or informal surveillance, and close to police stations make women feel safer.
  • Male-dominated spaces in India include cigarette shops, dhabas (roadside or highway food or tea stalls), liquor shops and deserted parks are perceived to be unsafe for women

Safetipin, an organisation that began in Delhi, uses crowdsourced data from women to develop maps of unsafe areas in cities like Delhi and Bhopal, and has expanded to 65 cities around the world, works with government and non-governmental partners to create safe and inclusive public spaces for women, even at night. 

Movements like Why Loiter from women activists in Mumbai have thrown light on women’s right to public spaces. Girls at Dhaba is a feminist initiative that was started in multiple cities in Pakistan to highlight women’s access to public spaces. One of their narratives refers to not just safety but also a loss of respectability in the eyes of the society, family, and relatives for women who choose to move around freely in public spaces like men. Sadia Khateeb, one of founders of this initiative gives a detailed look in this piece of her experiences navigating public spaces since childhood.

The outsourced call centre industry in India disproportionately hires women in the information technology sector with night shifts that needed commuting at a time not common for them. Aparna Parikh interviewed women in call centers in Mumbai to examine how they navigated the nightscape and found that company transportation was a way to legitimize their presence in public spaces at night and give them respectability against the “bad women” narrative associated with women being outside at that time. They would leave right after their work and not socialize with their colleagues to avoid being labelled frivolous. 

Women’s presence in public spaces are hampered by safety concerns as well as the society and families’ views of respectability and reputation. Shilpa Phadke emphasizes the point that there is a risk of violence and safety concerns for women as they can face domestic violence in their own homes. In an earlier study, Phadke found that women are more likely to be policed in homogenous neighbourhoods (same religious or caste communities) where their neighbours can see their departures and arrivals easily in both lower middle-income Mumbai chawls as well as upper-class South Mumbai neighbourhoods. This policing is related to future marital prospects of the women with the prevalent caste and community endogamy practice. .Phadke believes that the greater emphasis on women safety in public spaces is centred more around their honour and respectability, even though men face far more physical violence in public space but this non-sexual violence is deemed as more acceptable. According to this perspective, women should claim a right to this safety risk (which is prevalent in private sphere as well) along with other marginalized communities, while accessing public space rather than petition for safety alone. 

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Elina Tiliba

Workshops Facilitator

Elina is a certified coach who works with leaders, entrepreneurs and business teams from over 30 countries. At Serein, she facilitates sensitisation sessions for clients across the globe.

Her passion lies in empowering individuals to maximise their personal and professional potential, enabling them to achieve both success and fulfilment.

With a commitment to the International Coaching Federation’s (ICF) Coaching Core Competencies and Code of Ethics, Elina brings over 1000 hours of individual coaching and 400 hours of team facilitation, workshops, and coaching groups to her coaching practice. 

Rishab Prasad

DEI Specialist

Rishab is passionate about creating long-term partnerships with Serein’s customers. He is responsible for marketing, operations, customer onboarding, contract writing, and relationship building. Rishab uses his directing and filmmaking skills to design engaging content for Serein’s social media platforms.

Rishab holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics with Honours from CHRIST University, Bangalore. He has directed more than nine short films on topics like stigmas of menstruation, widowhood, and adoption.

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Founder and CEO

Ishani founded Serein to provide a data and research-based approach to solving DEI challenges at the workplace. She advises company leaders, startup founders, and venture capital firms on industry best practices to increase diversity and design a DEI roadmap.

Ishani is a recipient of the Cartier Women’s Initiative Award 2023 for the global impact of her work in the DEI space.

Before founding Serein, Ishani was a scientist at GE Research working in the Aerospace Lab. She holds a Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics from Brown University on developing mathematical models to solve Astrophysics problems. She did her Post-doctoral studies at the University of Oxford and St. Thomas Hospital in Biomathematics.

Chryslynn D’Costa

Co-founder and CPO |

Chryslynn leads the product development of Serein’s DEI SaaS tool. She designs learning content and strategic insights for companies to measure their DEI growth, and achieve bias-free recruitment and psychological safety.

Chryslynn is a regular columnist with publications like ‘LiveMint’ and ‘The Hindu’ where she writes about unconscious bias, prevention of sexual harassment, and company culture.

Before Serein, she was a Gandhi Fellow working in rural Rajasthan to address educational leadership and gender equity in government schools. She graduated from Azim Premji University in Bangalore with a Master’s in Education where she specialised in gender and sexuality education.

Bianca D’Costa

Head of PoSH: India, Global

Bianca leads the compliance partnerships and workshops on anti-sexual harassment, anti-harassment and anti-discrimination laws in India, South East Asia, Europe, and the USA. She has 100+ hours of experience consulting on sexual harassment investigations in the workplace.

Bianca designs gamified learning modules for a unique and impactful learner experience on topics like gender inclusion, PwD inclusion, LGBTQIA+ inclusion, and regional inclusion among others. 

Before Serein, Bianca worked in hospitality for 5 years with Emirates Airlines. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from St. Xavier’s University, Mumbai. She is presently pursuing a Master’s degree in Gender and Sexuality in Global Politics from SOAS University of London.

Aparna Pandurangan

Head of Operations

Aparna is leading the finance and operations at Serein. She has also been responsible for Serein’s online platform, customer management, and marketing.

She works closely with Serein’s 500+ long-term partners to ensure they are compliant with the Prevention of Sexual Harassment (PoSH) law. Aparna is a workshop facilitator on topics like the prevention of sexual harassment at the workplace in languages like Tamil, Telugu, and Kannada.

Aparna Pandurangan holds a degree in Electronics and Communication Engineering from Anna University, Chennai. 

Faakirah Irfan

Head of Legal

Faakirah is a legal professional and expert facilitator on topics like anti-sexual harassment, anti-harassment and anti-discrimination laws in India, South East Asia, Europe, and the USA. Faakirah has conducted 100+ training sessions on the prevention of sexual harassment for employees and internal committee members.

She has 150+ hours of experience consulting on sexual harassment investigations in the workplace. Her legal research at Serein includes policy analysis, human rights, women’s rights, and document drafting.

Faakirah is an experienced legal professional. She completed her Bachelor’s degree in law with a focus on women’s rights and policy analysis from the University of Kashmir. She holds a Master of Law degree specializing in alternative dispute resolution from O.P Jindal School of Law.

Dr. Ruchika Sharma

Guest Consultant: Gender

Ruchika assists with research and facilitation of sessions on domestic violence, sexual harassment, employee well-being, and women’s leadership. She is a feature writer for Serein’s blogs where she writes about gender, women’s history, domestic violence, and sexual harassment awareness in the workplace.

Ruchika is a published author with books like ‘Concubinage, Race and Law in Early Colonial Bengal: Bequeathing Intimacy, Servicing the Empire’ published by Routledge, Taylor, and Francis publications. She has been teaching History at the University of Delhi for over a decade. She has a Ph.D. in History from the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Arathi Kannan

Head of DEI: India, Global

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Arathi is a published researcher with Master’s degrees in Applied Psychology and Criminology from Bond University, Australia. Her experience includes working with people from different backgrounds, including refugee groups.

Thejaswini CA

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Thejaswini is also engaged with finance and other operations to ensure Serein’s 500+ long-term partners are compliant with the Prevention of Sexual Harassment (PoSH) law.

Thejaswini holds a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Application from Field Marshal KM Cariappa College, Kodagu.

Rhea D’Silva


Rhea is the aesthetic and creative eye behind Serein’s marketing and sales collateral. She manages website content and social media content calendar. She works closely with Serein’s content experts to design catchy invites, toolkits, and company culture reports.

Rhea creates animated content for Serein’s learning platform. She is focused on understanding the user’s need for engagement and learning to create impactful content. 

Rhea holds a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Media from St. Xavier’s University, Mumbai where she majored in advertising.

Bhavini Pant

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Before Serein, Bhavini worked as an archivist at Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, and as an editorial assistant for IIT Bombay’s PR and Alumni Associations department.

She has a Master’s degree in Education from Azim Premji University where she worked extensively with the management on anti-sexual harassment legal implementation. Her work involved the interpretation of the law in a university as a workplace and an educational institution for adults. 

Kirtika N

Safety and PoSH expert

Kirtika is a Senior Gender and Safety Specialist. At Serein, she leverages her expertise to design engaging and informative content for multiple services including our flagship workshops. Kirtika also facilitates workshop on topics like sexual harassment awareness, psychological safety, workplace inclusion, mcroaggressions, allyship, and more. 

Kirtika also serves as a PoSH external member and has 50+ hours of experience consulting on sexual harassment investigations at the workplace and supporting partner organisations on legal procedures and best practices.

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Creative Designer Consultant

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Narayanan’s focus lies in creating content that is subtle yet impactful. He sometimes doesn’t mind being in the middle of a storm but does love a good brainstorm. 

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Safety and PoSH expert

Sharanya serves as a PoSH external member for 15+ companies in e-commerce, fintech, healthcare, SaaS, and more. She supports partner organisations on legal procedures and best practices to build safe work cultures.

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Nandini is passionate about creating engaging and impactful reports, toolkits, and playbooks for Serein’s customers.

Nandini holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics, Mathematics & Statistics from St. Joseph’s College, Bangalore.

Nithya R

HR and Compliance Lead

Nithya drives operational excellence within the HR function. She ensures that Serein maintains the highest standards of HR practices and ethical conduct. Her role extends beyond traditional HR responsibilities as she also serves as an External Member of the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) for Serein’s clients, specialising in preventing workplace harassment through the PoSH vertical.

Nithya has graduated in Commerce from the University of Lucknow and has rich experience in hiring and retaining the best talents in the industry with companies like BukuWarung and

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Finance Consultant


Sri Padmavathi C specialises in providing accounting consulting services to companies. She helps in assisting & maintaining Serein’s Books of Accounts, GST, TDS, PT filing, financial statements preparation & audit review.
She holds an MBA with Finance Specialisation from Annamalai University, and has also has done CA articleship under CA Tom Joseph’s guidance.

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Anisha has a background in History, especially in the history of gender and early feminism in colonial South Asia. 

Anisha has a Bachelor’s degree in History (Hons.) from Gargi College, University of Delhi. She has also studied for an MPhil in World History from the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom.

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Aseem is an Inclusive Workspace Architect dedicated to reshaping workplace diversity and accessibility. He is skilled in conducting comprehensive accessibility audits and implementing inclusive design solutions.

Aseem is passionate about creating environments that foster equal opportunities

He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Architecture and a Master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning.


Siri Prasad

Safety and PoSH Expert

Siri Prasad is a Safety and PoSH Expert at Serein and serves as an External Member of the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) for Serein’s clients. Her work is not limited to, but includes advising in legal procedures, best practices for safe work cultures, and reviewing of PoSH policies and labor law compliance.

Siri is a Gold Medallist and holds a BBA, LLB (Hons.) from Christ University and a Masters in Science (International Employment Relations) from the London School of Economics and Political Science, where she also served as the EDI Officer.

Abhishek Ghattamaneni

Head of Financial Strategies

Abhishek heads Financial Strategies at Serein. He is responsible for overseeing finance, Corporate Secretarial (CS) related work, and compliance among other things. He is a seasoned professional with a wealth of experience in finance and corporate governance. With over 15 years of expertise as a qualified Company Secretary, he has made significant contributions to the finance departments of companies within the real estate and startup sectors.

Having worked with organisations operating across multiple countries, Abhishek brings a deep understanding of international taxation to the table. Notably, he achieved an impressive 42nd rank in 12th grade under the AP Education Board, demonstrating a strong academic foundation to complement his professional achievements.

Kaushik Mazumdar

Engineering and Platform Consultant

Kaushik has 14+ years of experience across IoT, Systems, Gaming, and Telecom, building high volume production applications and products with worldwide presence.

He looks after the technology and education segment of Krishworks, and has built Ed-Tech products to improve English Literacy in rural areas of India with QR coded books, Smart Classrooms, Teacher Trainings and increased involvement of parents.

Kaushik holds a Bachelor’s degree in Information Technology. He mentors a young and dynamic team aligned to the vision of Krishworks. Outside of work, he is a fitness and technology enthusiast, and loves running and swimming.

Balaji P

Design Consultant

Balaji has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from PSV Engineering College and has practised UX design at Growth School in Bangalore.

As an associate UX/UI designer at Krishworks, Balaji is responsible for collecting client requirements and converting them into usable digital products using UX principles. He also helps in maintaining brand identity and aesthetics in the products by creating UI design systems and high-fidelity screens. For Serein, Balaji has designed the PoSH LMS Product and the website.

Subhajit Roy

Engineering and Platform Consultant

Subhajit is the Co-Founder of Krishworks Technology and Research Labs Pvt Ltd. He is a social entrepreneur who uses technology to promote rural literacy and upskill rural teachers. 

At Serein, Subhajit and his team has helped develop the e-learning platform and DEI SaaS Tool. He also oversees its maintenance and development.  

He is an incubatee at IIM Calcutta Innovation Park and an alumni of ISB Dlabs. Along with his co-founders, he is recognised with the Leaders of Tomorrow Award by Times Now. During the early days of his career, he worked as an Embedded System Designer, and was involved in various projects related to National Defence (DRDO) and health care research. Some of the products designed by him have been used by Apollo Hospitals, Govt of India, got patented and also received FDA approval.

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