Empowering Resettled Communities Through Women-Led Safety Audits in Chennai

Empowering Resettled Communities Through Women-Led Safety Audits in Chennai

Security is a fundamental need for all, especially women, children, youth, older people, persons with disabilities, gender diverse groups and other vulnerable groups in society. This basic need promotes a sense of inclusion and enables active participation in family, community and societal activities. Improved security promotes mobility, physical and mental well-being, employability and financial independence. It supports autonomy in decision-making, including decisions related to reproductive health.

It also encourages greater civic engagement and participation in governance. Improved safety in personal, professional and community spaces acts as a catalyst for empowerment and reduces systemic gender disparities.

In Part 1 In a two-part series on women-led security audits in resettlement sites, we examine the emergence of resettlement sites in Chennai and the importance of security audits in these areas.

Read more: How flawed evictions and resettlements are fueling child marriage in Chennai

While cities thrive and provide opportunities for many, women, girls and other vulnerable groups in urban areas often do not share in the benefits that cities provide to others. People living in informal and poor settlements face many vulnerabilities. This can be due to inadequate living conditions, lack of access to sustainable housing and basic services such as water, sanitation, health care and education. The lack of safe housing and land ownership increases their risk of arbitrary evictions.

Resettlement sites in Chennai

resettlement security auditresettlement security audit
One of the resettlement sites in Perumbakkam, where the safety audit was conducted. Photo: Vanessa Peter

In Chennai, over nine resettlement sites have come up in the last two decades (2000-2024) under the Tamil Nadu Urban Habitat Development Board (TNUHDB), known as Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board (TNSCB) by 2021. These resettlement sites comprise 78,945 housing units, which can accommodate over 3.15 lakh displaced informal and low-income housing residents. Currently, 63,000 of these housing units (2.52 lakh displaced residents) have been allotted and occupied.

S. No. Neighbourhood Name of the relocation scheme Total number of rental properties
built by TNUHDB
1 Chennai Kannagi Nagar-Okkiyum Thoraipakkam 23,704
2 Chennai Semmenchery 6,760
3 Chennai Ennor 6,877
4 Chengalpattu Perumba comb 29,404
5 Kancheepuram Navalur-Oragadam 2,048
6 Thiruvallur HLL Nagar-Tondiarpet 1260
7 Thiruvallur All India Radio Country 5,856
8 Thiruvallur Gudapakkam-Thirumazhisai 1,024
9 Thiruvallur Athipattu-ambattur 2,012
Total 78,945
Table 1: Resettlement sites constructed for resettlement families from Chennai (2024)

Challenges when moving

Resettlement programmes are supposed to provide adequate, affordable, disaster-resilient and safe housing. However, they have often failed to adequately address the needs of these populations. Women and other vulnerable groups are often excluded from decision-making processes during removals and resettlements, increasing their vulnerability.

Relocations also lead to job losses due to distance from previous homes, leaving many unemployed and deepening poverty. Furthermore, resettlement sites are often located in environmentally sensitive or hazardous areas, putting residents at further risk. In Chennai, large-scale resettlement efforts have displaced many from informal settlements, with women and children bearing the brunt of these poorly planned relocations.

Read more: Domestic violence in resettlement areas: community workers bear the burden

To address their concerns about safety and access to infrastructure, an audit process was facilitated by the Information and Resource Centre for the Deprived Urban Communities (IRCDUC), an NGO based in Chennai.

What are safety and infrastructure audits?

  • The process of safety and infrastructure mapping is a community initiative designed to identify, assess and mitigate potential safety risks in a neighborhood/settlement.
  • This is a systematic approach to ensure security within the settlement and improve access to basic infrastructure facilities such as roads, street lighting, waste management, transportation, education, health care and nutrition.
  • The exercise promotes the participation of women, children and vulnerable groups in the development of the district/settlement by recording their perception of safety and amenities, identifying unsafe areas, mapping existing infrastructure and proposing recommendations to the government.

How Safety and Infrastructure Audits Help Vulnerable Sections

In 2019, IRCDUC conducted a women-led safety mapping exercise in Perumbakkam, Chengalpattu District, to understand the community’s perceptions of safety. The results led to the installation of street lights and safety fences, as well as the initiation of NGO coordination meetings. The initiative was paused during the COVID-19 pandemic, but resumed in January 2023 in response to safety concerns raised by women leaders.

Later reports resulted in more street lighting, a functioning police post and improved school facilities. In May 2023, the Women and Children’s Centre was established, leading to a new security map. The organisation’s advocacy with media support has also resulted in the opening of schools and the appointment of teachers in Perumbakkam.

The latest report led to road repairs and the installation of CCTV at identified unsafe areas. The success of this initiative led to the extension of safety and infrastructure audits to Semmenchery and Kannagi Nagar in May and June 2024, with plans to include other resettlement sites.

In part 2 of the two-part series, the authors delve deeper into the findings of the latest safety audit and make key recommendations.

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