Pubs in London are like the pottikadais in Chennai — they’re everywhere, there’s plenty of them sometimes one right next to another, they all sell nearly the same things but remain buzzing with customers all day/night long. In the seven days I’ve spent in London, I must have been to twice as many pubs if not more and saw in most of their ladies washrooms a poster that I had only heard of till now.
In 2016 the ‘Ask for Angela’ poster was put up in a few bars around Lincolnshire as part of the county council’s ‘No more’ campaign to tackle sexual violence and abuse. Playing on the word ‘Angel’ or guardian, the Ask for Angela poster encourages women feeling unsafe in a pub to go to the bar and ask for ‘Angela’ — this code would alert the staff who would then help the person discretely get out of the situation.
The poster gained global attention when it found itself on Twitter and has been rolled out in several cities, and festivals where the rates of harassment remain high. Going by newspaper reports it is evident that asking for Angela has helped a number of women get out of sticky situations, trained waiters and bar staff to think on their feet and watch out for vulnerable persons at the pub. What seeing a poster like Ask for Angela does to just another pub-hopper is that it makes one want to keep an eye out for someone who may need help too.
Chennai’s club scene is no small thing, even as invisible as it may seem. Ladies nights are a large draw, bringing in herds of women across ages for a free drink after another. I found out many years after I was initiated into the ‘Ladies nights’ that it was in fact only a lure to bring in men with the money into the clubs — they come because the women are there, and when entitled men are in the same space as drinking women (in a culture that sees them as ‘loose’ and ‘easy’) it sows the seed for sexual violence and abuse. Women know this, which is why they are always arriving and moving in groups making it nearly impossible for a woman to want to get a drink by herself. And some bars know this too, which is why they have an unmissable ‘Ladies strictly not allowed’ sign on the front door.
But in case that a woman does go out to drink in. A place that lets her, ends up alone — feeling vulnerable or needing help - and there is no one in the washroom to ask her if she’s alright (which has touched a million lives I know), sensitive staff will make a world of difference. And when we already have a ‘call a driver’ service at some bars (remembering Sera’s Yamaraj — Drink and get driven initiative), a borrowed (and slightly unimaginative) Ask for Amman (god of protection) shouldn’t be too far behind.
Disclaimer: Wanting safe ‘drinking’ spaces for women when so many of our sisters aren’t safe in their own homes or don’t have water to drink does not make this a first world/frivolous/elitist/insensitive/unrooted/whatever-else-one-may-want-to-use-to-dismiss-it demand because womens’ right to relax and recreate in a safe space is important and because there are as many kinds of spaces as there are women, all fights are important and have to be fought besides one another, even this.
The writer is a city-based activist, in-your-face feminist and a media glutton