IN DISCUSSION WITH ELSAMARIE D’SILVA


A Greek presidential guard stands as he seen through the remains of a European Union flag half-burnt by protesters in Athens, on Wednesday, May 1, 2013. About 8,000 people took part in subdued demonstrations in Athens as austerity-weary unions held a strike for May Day. The country’s main labor unions protested soaring unemployment, which is the highest in the 27-country European Union, and the austerity measures the conservative-led government is enacting in return for crucial bailout loans. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Perspective behind Safecity

Safecity was started immediately after the horrific rape of Nirbhaya in Delhi in Dec 2012. We found that though sexual violence was quite widespread, women and girls didn’t really talk about it for several reasons – fear of bringing shame to themselves and their families, fear of dealing with the police and the lengthy judicial process for justice. The official statistics do not reflect the true nature and size of the problem and this under reporting makes the issue in many ways “invisible”. We wanted to bring it out into the open and give women/girls an opportunity to anonymously share their experiences. In doing so they would know,  they were not alone and take the first step towards seeking help.

The aim is to use this crowd sourced data to find ways to make public spaces safer and equally accessible to all, especially women and children by identifying location based trends and implementing neighbourhood solutions.

We hope that individuals, communities and other NGO’s would use this data to make more informed choices about personal safety and use it for community based solutions.

 

How far can Apps promote women Safety

Our web application serves to collect and disseminate information based on personal experiences of sexual violence in public spaces. This evidence based data set is a new one that is being created and hopefully will give people an idea of what kind of harassment they are likely to expect in a particular neighbourhood. For e.g. our data for Delhi shows that in Connaught Place the dominant issue is touching and groping, but in Rohini it is chain snatching. The solutions for both are going to be different. Also if one were to use the metro line, instead of alighting at the Nehru Place metro station which is crowded and prone to sexual harassment like touching/groping, it might be a better idea to alight at Kailash Colony which is relatively incident free.

A demonstrator kicks a riot policeman during clashes in central Athens on Tuesday, June 29, 2010. Some 16,000 people took part in two separate demonstrations, the second of which turned violent as stone-throwing youths fought with riot police. Public services shut down across Greece Tuesday as workers walked off the job in a new nationwide general strike that disrupted public transport, left hospitals operating on emergency staff and pulled all news broadcasts off the air. (AP Photo)
A demonstrator kicks a riot policeman during clashes in central Athens on Tuesday, June 29, 2010. Some 16,000 people took part in two separate demonstrations, the second of which turned violent as stone-throwing youths fought with riot police. Public services shut down across Greece Tuesday as workers walked off the job in a new nationwide general strike that disrupted public transport, left hospitals operating on emergency staff and pulled all news broadcasts off the air. (AP Photo)

Therefore transparency in accessing data in my opinion is the first step towards being situationally aware regarding your own safety.

Apart from that you can use the data to hold institutions accountable. For eg. in Lal Kuan, Delhi, our data identified a hotspot where women were getting assaulted because of lack of access to toilets. But there were community toilets except they were under lock and key as someone didn’t want to clean and maintain them. However armed with the data and pressure from the media, the authorities could hardly ignore the issue and now they have opened up the toilets and maintain and clean them. In this manner, we have done safety sprawls in Mumbai and Delhi where we have pressured municipal authorities to fix street lighting. In Mumbai, we presented data to the police along with another NGO and citizen group and the police changed their beat patrol timings. In Kathmandu with a partner NGO they were able to prove that women needed better transportation options as they were being assaulted in crowded buses. They were able to obtain women only bus licences.

Data is powerful and cannot be ignored and it can be used successfully to hold institutional bodies accountable.

Who all are your Business partners in this venture

We were three women who cofounded Safecity though I have been full time on this effort. Our two other cofounders have full time jobs and provide support from outside. Our director, Supreet Singh and is very involved in our work.

Apart from that we work with several other NGOs, the police in Mumbai, Delhi and Goa, Mumbai University NSS division, student groups, volunteers and corporates.

 

WHERE do you see Safecity 5 years from now?

I would love to see us redundant, as our aim is to make public spaces safer for all. I would like to see this achieved. But realistically speaking, i would like more citizens to be actively involved in neighbourhood community action and more women reporting sexual violence without fear to their own safety. I would also like the police to be more sensitive, proactive and involved in women’s safety.

 

How much is Social Media sensitive towards women safety? How far it has contributed to the same.

Social media can be leveraged to create awareness and advocacy. We use it a lot on Facebook and twitter. However there are a lot of trolls who are very insensitive towards people often insulting and shaming them. But I like to look at the brighter side of it where social media gives us the platform to reach thousands of people we would not otherwise have been able to.

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