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Pocket aids keep you safe in dark alleys, at late hours

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Last May, activist and lawyer Kirthi Jayakumar, woke up in the morning to 31 missed calls and 16 text messages on her cell phone. "After a year-and-a-half of being trapped in an abusive marriage, my friend in London had escaped her home, and was trying to reach everyone she knew in India, all night," says Jayakumar, who runs civilian peace-building and gender sensitisation NGO, The Red Elephant Foundation.


The incident immediately brought to the activist's notice the absence of effective tools to help a person in danger in ways that were quick, efficient and self-reliant. Thus was born the idea for an app that could systematically deliver various kinds of assistance to a survivor of gender-based violence. The app 'Saahas' was launched in June this year.


Cashing in on the versatility of smart phone applications, app makers have for a while now, exploited the freedom to transmit GPS-identified locations to offer wide-ranging SOS and emergency contact services for women. But now, the time is to fine-tune these services, believe activists.

"I wanted to create an app that could tell where to get help when in danger, and also enable bystander intervention," says Jayakumar. "We work on educating bystanders, so that they can identify signs in an individual to know when they are facing violence. For a survivor to speak up is an act of courage. But for a bystander, to intervene is both an act of courage and knowledge," she adds.


Saahas has had 719 downloads so far, of which 62% have been in India. It has nine verticals, including police and ambulance helplines, consulates and embassies helplines, medical and legal help, and child and refugee-specific support.


While new ways of addressing old challenges is the key, equally essential is to operate existing mechanisms with better efficiency, believes city-based women's rights NGO Aware, which has partnered with popular safety audit and tracking app, Safetipin, in a new campaign. Aware's collaboration with Safetipin is part of its campaign 'Safe Cities', which in turn is a spillover of its 'nomorenirbhaya' campaign.


While Safetipin was launched in 2013, Aware found that the app's reach in Chennai was still limited to a few users.
"We had already planned to conduct safety audits in the city, but realised that the app would make it easier to record the data and generate a comprehensive report," says Sandhiyan Thilagavathy, founder, Aware.

Safetipin allows the user to measure and record the safety standard of a location, by conducting a safety audit of the area, based on nine parameters that the app enlists — from lighting in the area and visibility, to walk paths, security and gender diversity. It also has a personal safety tracker feature.


"Based on the reports generated from our audits, we will be able to follow up with the respective authorities to introduce changes; for instance, if an area doesn't have sufficient lighting, we will submit a petition to the municipal corporation, or in case of inadequate security, we will touch base with the concerned police station and ask officials to conduct regular patrolling during late hours. In order to get a clear picture of the situation, we conduct the audits only post 6pm," says Thilagavathy.

 

She acknowledges that mobilising the public to consistently use the app and conduct safety audits in their neighbourhoods, schools and colleges isn't easy. "We are working towards building the strength of our volunteers, who will reach out to their respective communities to educate people on the app," says Thilagavathy.


Aware plans to connect with residential associations and the Shrimathi Devkunvar Nanalal Bhatt Vaishnav College for Women in Chromepet to educate residents and students about the app and mobilise volunteers.

Article Source.... Times of India