Need of Safe Public Spaces to Give Women Freedom of Movement What is the relation between safe public spaces and a woman’s freedom of movement? Let’s explore! All forms of sexual violence in public spaces, like sexual harassment etc., are everyday occurrence for women and girls around the world. This is true for both developed and developing countries. Women and girls actually experience as well as fear various types of sexual violence in public spaces. Sexual violence can be anything from sexual harassment to sexual assault including rape and femicide. All this happens on your city streets, public transport and parks, or in your own neighborhoods. These occurrences and fears reduce women’s freedom of movement in public spaces. The everyday nature of such violence against women almost normalizes it, and women learn early how to deal with such harassment. It reduces their ability to participate in usual day-to-day work and in public life. It also negatively impacts women’s physical and psychological well-being. Although, we hear a lot on this topic i.e., violence against women, especially sexual harassment in public spaces, it remains a fairly unattended issue. As such, it becomes crucial to prevent harassments of all type. We must work to develop safe public spaces for women. How do we do that? First and foremost, we have to change our mindset and understand that women too have the right to use public spaces without any fear. Secondly, cities must be planned in such a way, that these are accessible and inclusive for even the most vulnerable groups like women etc. And finally, we need to work on infrastructure like lighting and streets etc. Safer public spaces make women and girls feel assured while moving around a city. We must provide them with their right of safe public spaces. Infact, the right to safety must be a goal at city level.
Are Indian cities any safer today for women than they were before the infamous 16th December incident in Delhi? How safe or unsafe Delhi's women and girls feel in the city's public spaces today? With SafetiPin safety audit data, if we go back to see what, if anything, has changed or improved in women's feeling about safety in public spaces, we find that things haven’t changed much. What SafetiPin audit data reveals is really eye opening. These safety audits include feelings reported by men and women to share their personal safety experience. From the city streets to the city bus stops, to crowded local market places, women reported that they don't feel safe in public. It restricts the lifestyle of a woman to be in constant fear of some kind of personal safety hazard. It cannot be neglected as it has profound impact on a woman’s lifestyle. This includes daily routines and their emotional and physical health. The new government has taken some important steps to deal with this problem of violence against women. But a lot is yet to be done to tackle this serious problem, affecting lifestyle of women in Indian cities. But every cloud has a silver lining. SafetiPin is being used as an important tool for change. SafetiPin safety information is used by NGOs as a tool for advocacy. Public service providers (such as the PWDs) use the information to improve their level of service. SafetiPin ensures that the streets, bus stops and any other public spaces are safe and free from violence for all.
There are some restaurants / pubs in a mall in Gurgaon, India which have been in the news for violence and harassment of women. Police have to visit due to complaints and occasionally fights have broken out outside (or even inside) these places. This mall is on a road which is a main hub of the city and there is always traffic on the road. It is brightly lit, and the metro runs over it. . There are wide pavements (not all in good condition) and there are a lot of people present, of all genders and ages. In sharp contrast, there is a neighbourhood leading off from this road. After the first 100 metres, lighting is feeble, and houses have high walls and gates. After dark, there are very few people there, and there are hedges which throw long shadows at night. There is very little reported crime in the area. The SafetiPin audits showed the first area as being among the safest places anywhere, which the housing colony was in the lower half. This was initially difficult to understand, till we supplemented our findings with interviews with a few people. The result of the survey was actually quite intuitive. The best articulation came up in one of our interviews. The person interviewed said ‘If I was waiting for a friend, I would feel safer waiting in the road with the malls, than inside the housing colony’. And that made sense. So in effect, the perception of safety may not be the same as the likelihood of violence / harassment. A deserted, dark road may feel unsafe, but since it is deserted, there is no-one there to commit a crime. If a cat were to jump out in such a street, we may lose some teeth (from the impact of our heart jumping into our mouth), but would reach home safely! In summary, we need to improve both the reality and perception of safety. To know more about SafetiPin, do visit our website, and download the app.
The SafetiPin team hosted a Tweetathon on Building Gender Inclusive Cities. The session was held on the 9th of September, 2014 at 16:00 IST. The session saw tweets from organisations, activists, news and media outlets, academicians and netizens from across the cyber world. Safetipin used its Twitter handle to moderate the discussion that sought the views and suggestions on questions like what is your idea of a gender inclusive city? Why is your city not gender inclusive? Who is accountable for gender inclusive cities? What can we do to make our cities safer for women? And finally we sought creative ideas to educate and promote gender inclusive cities? All tweets carried the hash tag CitiesForWomen. By the end of the hour long session our # was trending on Twitter indicating high usage and conversation on the subject. A few snapshots from the Tweetathon are captured below - The convergence of ideas on building safer cities on social media created a space for people from diverse backgrounds to share their opinions and be heard. Our Co-Founders Dr. Kalpana Viswanath and Ashish Basu shared their views on how to enhance women’s safety in the city, our friends from Jagori tweeted suggestions on reclaiming spaces that are scary by painting them. Our partners SafeCity talked about mobility without fear. Sanya Seth gave suggestions to restaurants, asking them to audit their area so that their customers can enjoy a safe environment. Overall the discussions were lively and enriching and we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. We would like to thank the participating organisations – Safecity, Jagori, Breakthrough, Youth Ki Awaaz, FAT, Hero Project and Stop Street Harassment. We are looking forward to our Blogathon next month. For more exciting conversations on safety in your city follow us on – Twitter – @safetipinDOTcom Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/safetipin
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.