Lab | Log

Making a Safe (and Green) Space for Women in Mumbai

women's garden in Mumbai

Girls from the neighborhood join the SNEHA women and volunteers to build the garden. Photo: Nicola Antaki and Adrienne Thadani

women's garden in Mumbai

On the third Garden Day, the women take turns building the trellis. Photo: Nicola Antaki and Adrienne Thadani

women's garden in Mumbai

Plants to grow and climb on coconut ropes, providing shade and privacy. Photo: Nicola Antaki and Adrienne Thadani

There’s nothing quite like watching the seeds of a good idea grow and flourish before your eyes. These days you can do so quite literally in a leafy corner of Santa Cruz, Mumbai, where a green movement of a whole new kind is taking root, providing women in Mumbai desperately needed safe and quiet places of respite.

Known as pop-up gardens, the spaces were inspired by Your Place, My Place, or Our Public Space: Privacy and Spaces in Mumbai, a study conducted during the Lab’s run in Mumbai in cooperation with Mumbai-based independent research collective Partners for Urban Knowledge, Action and Research (PUKAR). The study, which investigated notions of privacy and personal refuge in the densely populated city, found that a whopping 87 percent of women in Mumbai said they could not access public spaces in the city because of issues around personal safety.

With this in mind, back in December, when the Lab’s mobile unit was situated in Priyadarshini Park, program consultant Pooja Warier led a workshop in partnership with the Mumbai initiative Fresh & Local, the NGO SNEHA (Society for Nutrition, Education and Health Action), and Nicola Antaki Designs. As part of this program, around 30 women from Santa Cruz designed garden models to provide much-needed privacy and safety for women in an outdoor space.

Now those models, which employed creative design and gardening techniques, are beginning to come to fruition in real life. Thanks to support from the Jesse and Julie Rasch Foundation, the first pilot of several women’s-only pop-up gardens has come into being outside SNEHA’s office and, while only a few meters in size, is providing space not only for gardening and relaxation, but also meetings, workshops, and exercise. Many of the women who helped build the garden have also begun growing vegetables in their own home, with some gardening for the first time since leaving their villages for the city.

Stay tuned with SNEHA and Fresh & Local to watch more gardens popping up throughout Mumbai. And if you have a favorite pop-up garden initiative in your own city, tell us about it in the comment section below!