Yes is the answer. Women and men do perceive safety differently. Based on over 1500 audits conducted by 120 people, we can conclude that women do perceive spaces differently. This probably comes as no surprise to anyone. What is surprising however, is that the difference while significant is consistent across all factors, well all factors but one, but more on that later. This provides evidence of what women's safety experts have been saying all the time –that if a city (or space) is safe for women, it is safe for men too. Women as well as men feel less safe on a dark road, women would feel more unsafe Similarly a closed space feels unsafe to women and to men alike. There is one exception however. And that exception is Crowd. Our data analysis showed that men and women experience different feeling of safety in the presence of others. This was initially surprising, till further analysis showed an interesting twist. If we excluded highly crowded spaces from consideration, men and women felt the same way. But in a highly crowded space, for example a crowded bus or a crowded shopping mall, women feel unsafe while men do not. . And again, this is logical. A crowded space allows for more harassment, with less opportunity to get away or even catch the culprit. A busy (but not crowded) space feels safe for women. To know more about SafetiPin, do visit our website, and download the app.
The Safetipin audit system records 8 independent factors of safety, and one – ‘Feeling’ which captures the feeling of safety. The audits are typically done after dark, since safety concerns are the most at that time. Since audits take about a minute to complete, anyone doing an audit is experiencing the area as a person on foot would. We considered more than 1500 audits done by a diverse group of people. The results indicated a very high level of correlation between feelings and factors, and also highlighted some factors as those which contribute most to our feeling of safety. Before we come to the most important factor, lets look at the three other elements that also contribute to the perception of safety. These three elements together explains nearly 40% of what we feel. Lighting. How well lit is the area. Nearness to public transport. Could be buses, taxis, the metro or local transport such as autos. Good walking paths. The quality of the road or pavement that we are walking on. There are also a few factors which do not seem to matter as much. One of them is Security. The data indicates that the presence or absence of police or private security, does not appear to impact how safe we do or do not feel. And the biggest single contributor, contributing to more than 33% to perception is ‘Diversity’. What makes us feel the safest is the presence of women and children nearby. Not really surprising if you stop to think about it. Even a bar with both men and women have a different feel from one with only men. To know more about SafetiPin, do visit our website, and download the app.
What do you think about the practicality of the idea of crowdsourcing our safety? Can the information thus retrieved be sufficiently authentic? Can we come up with a scientific enough way to quantify safety? And finally, can we leverage our contemporary mass adoption of technology and smartphones for this purpose? More often than not, we hear of safety related tragedies that shake our communities to the core. These may include rape, street harassment, bullying and accidents because of damaged infrastructure etc. Fortunately, the innovative human spirit is as strong as ever, and technology has overtaken legislation with creative innovations to provide society with a little more control over its safety. Let’s check one example which strengthens our belief in free crowdsourcing public safety. In April we heard about the twin explosions that rocked Boston. Immediately after the twin explosions burned downtown Boston, thousands of spectators along with marathon participants took hold of their mobile phones to call their loved ones to inform them about the situation. Later, the Boston Police Commissioner called a press conference to request the general public to submit the photographs captured during those chaotic moments. One of the thus collected images helped identify one of the primary suspects, i.e., Dzhokar Tsarnaev, to eventually bring him to justice. Capitalizing on the mass adoption of smartphones in present times, many have turned to mobile technology to come up with emergency management utilities. Apps have been created to ping family and friends if you happen to get stuck in danger. Although useful, they are all reactive measures. They help you respond to an emergency, but do not help you avoid such incidents. So, do we have a complete solution to prevent such incidents from occurring? SafetiPin very well fills this gap and includes the preventive part also. SafetiPin is much more than just an emergency management app. Ashish Basu and Kalpana Viswanath came up with this app which “gives people a way to engage with their neighborhood and communities on issues of safety." Imagine taking a picture of an incident and uploading it with the help of SafetiPin app with precise GPS coordinates. Now imagine that this pin and picture showing up on the smartphones of others in your created circle. Wow, you’ve just empowered members of your circle to make safer decisions with this available information. Ashish is a strong believer of quantification of a problem and this reflects in SafetiPin. SafetiPin involves safety audits on nine parameters. These audits include augmentation of both the crowdsourced as well as professionally collected data. Thus collected and processed data can then be the basis of action that makes a neighborhood safer.The idea behind SafetiPin is materializing and the government and public services authorities have started using this data for action. Other users of this data include resident associations and other community based organizations Thus, crowdsourced information can be very authentic if processed properly. But, it is up to each of us to participate and stay engaged to contribute to the safety and well-being of our communities.
It’s so true that supporting her family with her earnings can boost a woman’s confidence tenfold. At the Literacy India centre, tucked away in the interiors of Palam Vihar, women are trained in embroidery, tailoring, arts and craft, computer and driving. The centre aims to build confidence and awareness in young girls and economically empower women from rural, slum and underprivileged backgrounds. The centre is full of women who come on foot from far away to engage in the vocation of their choice which helps them become financially independent. This in turn boosts their moral and gives them a sense of security in the challenges that they face. Yet this feeling of empowerment is often limited to their home and the centre. The uneasy feeling of being unsafe outside the walls of home and workplace is unfortunately a reality for most women. Here is where SafetiPin safety mobile app was able to connect to these women’s lives. These women had been waiting for the opportunity to talk about their feelings of insecurity and report unsafe places and street harassment that they face on a daily basis. SafetiPin safety app can be a tool to address the fear of violence that the women face while commuting. Unfortunately not all the youth and women at the centre have access to smart phones and therefore SAFETIPIN came up with the idea of introducing SafetiPin on desktops for low income groups, so that they too can work as active participants in making their communities and thus the city safer. We have had training sessions with the youth and women groups in carrying out safety audits. In this way they have helped by pointing out safe and unsafe spots in their neighborhood. During one of our discussions we all agreed that once a month the community members from Bajghera, SafetiPin and We the People would sit together and discuss the issues that would be reported to the SafetiPin interface and plan how to work best to bring about change through engaging with local authorities .Thus emerged the idea of the Safety Chaupal – a physical and virtual space for women and girls to talk about where they feel unsafe and insecure in their daily lives. An asset to the Literacy India Manoj lost his father when he was very young and his mother has worked very hard to raise him. He has not forgotten his humble beginnings and has been educated, trained in computers and employed by Literacy India. Manoj worked with a corporate organization for a while but left as he felt that he wanted to do something to empower his own community. He is back at the centre as a teacher in the computer class .He wants the entire centre- teachers, young students, women and the communities to understand the advantages of the SafetiPin safety app by working together to create a safer environment.
A few weeks ago, we got a call from the Police saying that the DCP South-West, Suman Goyal, wanted to talk to us about SafetiPin mobile safety app and could we be there for a meeting. Given that we are always willing to talk to anyone who will listen, actually getting a cold call (because that is what it was) from the police was a novelty. One of the features of SafetiPin mobile safety app is the ability to do safety audits on a smartphone. The audits show up as pins on a map and have a score. The pins are colored to represent the extent of safety at that point – green is safe, amber less so, and red unsafe. Anyway, we landed up at the office of the DCP Police. We were told that madam was finishing off a meeting and would be ready in a while. We were ushered in after about 5 minutes. The room was full of police officials. We thought we would get a chance to speak after that meeting was over – but it turned out they were all there to discuss SafetiPin safety app. The DCP had read about SafetiPin in the paper, had downloaded it, used it, and fully understood how it worked. We did not have to give an overview to SafetiPin safety app – she did – explaining it to her colleagues. She just wanted to have a discussion on how we could collaborate. She was interested in much more than what the police could do; she was interested in what the police could facilitate. After months of listening to service providers explaining to us that their jurisdiction was limited, here was someone who wanted to see if she could do something beyond it. She had a very simple articulation of what she wanted to do. She wanted to convert red pins to green ones. I have been using that quote ever since – if we could all just convert red pins to green ones, safety in our city would improve immeasurably. We offered to do safety audits ourselves to move things along and did. Her idea was to have a full program to convert red to green pins. A few days later we get a call from her office saying that they would organize a presentation to the residents of Dwarka (which is in the jurisdiction of South-West Delhi, and we had done audits there), on a Sunday (which was two days away) and could we come and make a presentation. The venue was finalized on Saturday evening. When we landed up on Sunday, there was again the full contingent of police officials, a tent had been set up, and more than 100 resident association members were in attendance. And thus was born project SALAMAT – an initiative by the South-West Delhi police and SafetiPin, to improve safety in the area. The residents had many complaints – a lot of them being about lighting. But there was not a single voice raised in complaint about the police officials. Many of the residents knew their police officials by name and shared stories about how helpful they were. It was an amazing experience – the police get a lot of bad press, but not here. It’s been a week since the meeting. We are doing a few more safety audits as well to make sure the entire area is covered properly. And Dwarka is a newly developed area with many challenges. And there is the matter of jurisdiction. The police cannot improve lighting. But if one group decides to lead a change, it is very likely to happen. Watch this space for more updates as project SALAMAT develops.
After the national workshop in February, in Delhi, The North East Network from Guwahati planned to adopt the SafetiPin model of accessing safety in public spaces. North East Network is a women’s rights organization that focuses on empowerment of women of northeast around issues of livelihood, health, conflict and governance through capacity building, awareness raising, research and advocacy. According to the survey conducted by NEN in 2012, 70 per cent women feel unsafe in Guwahati. To understand the factors that contribute to safety of women in public spaces and generate reports for advocacy, SafetiPin safety mobile app is now being used by the NEN team. On 28th April 2014, SafetiPin was invited to Guwahati to give an orientation and training on the use of the safety app for conducting safety audits. With about 17 volunteers, a group mix of school students, social workers and environmentalists, safety audit training was done for three days, followed by mock safety walk every evening. This enthusiastic lot of volunteers carried quite a few grudges against the police and civil authorities and wants to create a safer city for themselves and their families. Safety audits have started in the northeast and we will have more pins coming up from Shillong and Nagaland, alongside Guwahati.
Creating safety involves much more than just responding to violence. It is important to create the conditions by which women are able to move about safely and without fear of violence or assault. Fear often plays a key role in women’s experience and access to the city. Therefore in order to create greater levels of safety and comfort, both actual violence and the fear of violence need to be addressed. Women’s safety in the city tends to come to the forefront when there is a particularly horrific and extreme case such as the gang rape in Delhi in December 2012 or the case of molestation in Guwahati or the Shakti mills case. The media highlighting of these in the past few years has also played a role in this. Research has shown that many factors play a role in determining women’s access to the city including urban design and planning, community involvement, improved policing, usage of space etc. For example, use of spaces for a diversity of purposes is often more conducive to the production of safety. Planners and sociologists argue that this diversity ensures that different kinds of people use the space and that it is used through all times of the day. Jane Jacobs (1960) states that the problem of insecurity cannot be solved by getting people off the streets and instead we need to ensure “eyes on the street” as the solution to lack of safety. She advocates for diversity in the use of public spaces as a way to ensure that there are at all times different sets of users of a space thereby ensuring a level of safety and comfort. The data from the National Crime Records Bureau show that cities with a population of more than one million tend to have a higher rate of crime in general. There was a total of 33,789 cases of crime against women were reported from 53 mega cities out of 2,28,650 cases reported in the country during 2011. Among them, Delhi accounted for 13.3% (4,489) of total such crimes followed by Bengaluru 5.6% (1,890) and Hyderabad 5.5% (1,860). The proportion of IPC crimes committed against women towards total IPC crimes has increased during last 5 years from 8.8 % in the year 2007 to 9.4% during the year 2011. Thus clearly official data shows an increase in the reporting of crimes against women.  But we at SafetiPin recognize that reported crime is probably only the tip of the iceberg and violence against women and girls is a much more pervasive phenomenon than demonstrated by crime statistics. Several research studies have been conducted over the past few years to understand women’s experience of violence in public spaces in cities. In Delhi Jagori has conducted several research studies and safety audits to better understand women’s actual experience and response to urban situations.  In Delhi a 2010 study with over 5000 men and women showed that over 95% of the women had experienced some form of harassment in the past year while a similar percentage of men reported having been witness to sexual harassment. Almost 2 out of 3 women, including girls reported facing incidents of sexual harassment between 2-5 times in the past year. School and college students in the 15-19 age-group and women workers in the unorganized sectors are particularly vulnerable. It was reported that street harassment occurs during day and night and in all kinds of public spaces, both secluded and crowded. Further, the most common forms of harassment reported were verbal and visual and physical (bullying, staring, passing comments, catcalls and touching). Public transport, buses and roadsides were seen as most the vulnerable spaces, thus making the process of everyday life fraught with danger and the possibility of violence. Both witnesses and women respondents agreed that women face maximum harassment while using public transport, bus stops and on the road. Parks have also been identified as unsafe by women. The experience of women in cities is diverse and determined by the intersection of gender with other identities. It is important to recognize that cities are sites of production and consumption that are gendered in their very imagination. The gendered nature of cities and urbanization is visible in the exclusions, lack of opportunities, infrastructure and services which impact women’s every day experience of living and moving around in a city. In the face of growing urbanization our cities need to be designed, planned and governed in ways that are inclusive and safe for all. Through the process of conducting over a hundred safety audits over the past several years in Delhi, and then through partners in Kerala, Kolkata and Mumbai, some of the key elements to building cities that are inclusive, safer and accessible have been delineated including design of public space, social usage, nature of policing and importance of community engagement. Therefore addressing violence against women cannot be seen only as the responsibility of the police or the women’s ministry only, but has to get onto the agenda of related stakeholders such as urban planning, transport, education, health among others. Responding to violence is one part of the strategy; equally important is the need to create conditions of safety and inclusion. In almost all the cities, it was found that public spaces are poorly planned and designed for the usage of the most vulnerable. Women and others in low income areas have the least access to institutional support and often are faced with bias and even violence. Recent studies have also shown the increased vulnerability of women in low income settlements to violence because of poor or nonexistent infrastructure and services. A study in two resettlement areas in Delhi demonstrated how the acute lack of essential services such as water and sanitation renders women more vulnerable to violence. Beyond this, for women living in poor neighborhoods, often productive and reproductive activities are carried out in the same spaces and cramped homes lead to the blurring of the distinction between private and public spaces, making it therefore important to speak of safety and urban space in a more nuanced manner. The discourse around safety must be located within a broader framework of rights. Lack of safety in fact prevents women from fully participating in the city. Thus addressing lack of safety or finding solutions also need to be posited within a framework of rights. Women cannot be told to find their own solutions for their insecurity. Solutions like carrying pepper sprays or learning self-defense are individualized solutions which are not based on the notion of safety as a right. For women, in fact the right to live, work, move around and participate in the city is premised on the right to safety. The overt and covert forms of violence inflicted on women in cities keep their mobility and freedom perennially curbed. The absence of women in the imagination of the city can only be challenged by their continuous presence in city life and pushing the boundaries that seek to control where and how they may be present. *** Kalpana Viswanath is a researcher who has been working on issues of violence against women and safer cities for women for over 20 years. Kalpana has been involved with UN Habitat, UN Women and Plan International in planning safe city programs in Cambodia, Pakistan, Kerala, Mumbai and Kolkata. She is the Chair of the International Advisory Committee of Women in Cities International and has published widely.  NCRB Delhi 2011.  Jagori 2010, Understanding Women’s Safety: Research Findings; Jagori & UN Women, 2010a, Safe City Free of Violence: Findings from Baseline Study.  Jagori & WICI, 2011. Gender and Essential Services in Low Income Communities. Delhi.
As you know by now, SafetiPin is a safety mobile app that aims to crowdsource information about safety and the lack of it in public spaces. Anyone can pin places where they feel safe or unsafe, report hazards or harassment, and conduct safety audits of public spaces. This data, we hope, will be used by municipal governments and other community stakeholders to identify which areas are unsafe, why, and how they can be made safer. Safety audits have had a long history of use around the world. The Safety Audit tool was first developed in Canada in 1989 by the Metropolitan Toronto Action Committee?on Violence against Women and Children (METRAC). Building on the policy processes, developed by other organizations using different kinds of audits, METRAC created the Women’s Safety Audit as a gender-specific response to growing concern about violence against women and women’s feelings of insecurity. Since 1989 the women’s safety audit has been used widely both nationally and internationally. It has been adapted by groups of women all over the globe. Today, this?tool exists in many different formats and is used in a range of environments. No longer is a singular creation of one organization, this women’s safety audit is now a dynamic participatory concept that exists in a constant state of modification and improvement. In India, specifically in Delhi, the women’s NGO Jagori has been conducting safety audits in different cities since 2005. Kalpana Viswanath, who is an Advisor to the Jagori’s Safe Delhi Programme led the initiative for many years. Over the ten years of working on this, it became clear that the safety audit is a simple tool which can be used by anyone to better understand their environment. And thus came about the idea of SafetiPin, a safety app that would allow anyone – men, women, and other genders – to conduct a safety audit of public spaces in which they live, work and travel through everyday. Put simply, safety audits are tools that people can use to evaluate the degree of safety (or lack thereof) of a public space. The audit takes several factors into account in order to determine why the space might be deemed unsafe. With the help of an international board of advisors, we identified eight main factors. These include lighting, the ability to walk with ease, how crowded or deserted a space is, the diversity of genders, how open or enclosed it is, how visible one is to either inhabitants or shopkeepers, whether or not security or police are nearby. Finally it is important to gauge how a person feels in a space. Thus the safety audit rubric has eight dependent variables which we feel contribute to safety and a ninth independent variable, which is the feeling. In this way, a safety audit assesses both the physical, almost objective, experience of a place, as well as the highly subjective emotional experience of different kinds of people. What is particularly noteworthy is that the audit encourages communities to work together and determine how to create safer spaces and neighborhoods. In this way it goes beyond only physical environmental changes, and actually engages.