India fights subconscious exclusion of women with female traffic figures

Mumbai becomes latest city to help fight exclusion by changing their traffic figures


India’s largest city Mumbai will now feature pedestrian traffic lights in the shape of a female figure, with the city of more than 20 million aiming to challenge unconscious bias of what is considered ‘the norm’ (historically, the male figure).

The new installation is part of a broader campaign headed by 30-year old Cabinet Minister of Tourism and Environment Aaditya Thackeray, who announced on Twitter that he is proud of the this new city-scape design.

“If you’ve passed by Dadar, you’d see something that will make you feel proud,” Thackeray tweeted last week. “(The local administration is) ensuring gender equality with a simple idea — the signals now have women too!”

Thackeray’s campaign, called “Culture Spine” aims to end subconscious exclusions of the female personhood from how their cities are designed, and challenge gender norms by demanding representation for women in public spheres.

Sada Sarvankar, a local leader of Thackeray’s political party described the move on Twitter as a “significant step towards #WomenEmpowerment”.

Mumbai’ is not the first city to use traffic lights to call out gender inequality in our public spaces.

In 2014, in the German city of Dortmund, politicians introduced a 50 percent gender quota for traffic-light icons to include both female and male figures. 

A year later, Vienna reprogrammed almost 50 of its pedestrian traffic lights with red and green male and female same-sex couples in anticipation of the Eurovision Song Contest, a competition popular among gay communities across the globe.

 In February last year, Geneva announced similar plans to change the generic male stick figure with female figures on 50 percent of its signs.

Closer to home, in Melbourne, ten lights were fitted out with female figures in a 12-month trial in 2017. The campaign was headed by Committee of Melbourne, a not-for-profit organisation comprising more than 120 community groups and businesses that aims to push for equal representation of men and women.

Though many have argued such moves may seem tokenistic, the move may be received differently in India, which is ranked 112th out of 153 countries in the World Economic Forum’s gender equality index.

Stay Smart! Get Savvy!

Get Women's Agenda in your inbox