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.