The streets belong to us, when we are together
A few months ago, I was mugged while running on a Sunday morning in Cape Town. It happened in a place not considered as ‘dangerous’; but I was simply alone at 7am when it was still dark. As a woman, I made the perfect target in that situation; and for days I beat myself up for ‘doing it to myself.’
Luckily, I only lost material possessions and managed to get away safely, but the unsettling feeling remains. When walking down the street, I flinch when I hear someone walking too close behind.
Last night, that feeling left me completely for a few hours. I joined a group of 20 others in a “women walk at midnight”. As the organisers Amrita and Malika, who have been doing this all over India explained in advance, the walk had “no big ideas or agenda. Just women walking in public spaces, in big enough groups to feel safe” and it was not only safe, it was magical.
We met at 9pm in Observatory and started by walking down Liesbeek Parkway, a beautiful green space which had a different but equally picturesque look at night. I have only walked along that path a few times and have always wondered why I don’t go more often but then I recall that when I cycle past it on my way to work, it doesn’t feel welcoming because it is so quiet.
Last night was different. Walking along in the company of others was not only safer; it was fun! Indeed, at that point of the walk I felt like a child on a field trip. It helped that everyone was in a similarly joyous mood. Even loadshedding added some mystery to the experience.
The rest of the walk was just as interesting; partly because we walked through such different and often intimidating places, a transport hub, a quiet underpass, a bridge over a highway, a bar full of men drinking. For a change, there was nothing to fear.
The only downside was how quiet it all was; but also, a sign of how much we need more people and activity in public spaces. In the entire journey we only came across a handful of people and a police officer in a vehicle who seemed genuinely puzzled to see a group of women walking, talking and laughing in the middle of the night.
As we completed the walk, one of my companions commented how safe she felt. That had not even crossed my mind; because it was a non-issue. I felt completely safe. It may not have been the cure to my feeling of always being on edge but for a few hours that feeling was gone and I want to have it gone forever.
There is already talk of another walk and hopefully, it will lead to more women on the street together (I would love to do it in my hood (in the CBD)). That will likely be the only way to create the safety that nobody else is able to provide.