Technology has been known to facilitate anonymous harassment online, but in India a non-profit organization is using mobile apps to fight harassment on the streets. I came across Safecity in my Mobile Phones for International Development course, and since I plan to return to India and pursue my career in promoting gender equality, the case study of Safecity reducing gender-based violence (GBV) caught my attention.
How Safecity Works
Safecity is a non-profit organization in India that offers a platform for individuals to anonymously share their stories of sexual violence or abuse. This crowdsourced self-reported data is then displayed on a map of India to show hot spots and patterns of violence in various parts of the country. Safecity collects this data through its website, social media platforms, and via email, text or phone to increases awareness of the various kinds of GBV, ranging from catcalling to groping to rape. It also allows Indian individuals, law enforcement agencies, neighborhoods, businesses, and the society at large to access this data and to use it to take precautions and devise solutions.
Why Safecity Works
As one of the founders of Safecity put it, the three main reasons that rape and other sexual harassments are underreported in India is because people are afraid to report it, the police manipulate the data, or because victims are deterred by the delayed justice system. This, along with the cultural stigma attached to talking about sexual harassments, makes anonymity for victims very important. Allowing for anonymous reporting, Safecity has collected over 4000 stories from over 50 cities in India and Nepal since it launched in December 2012.
How Safecity is Using Mobile Apps
Along with collecting and visualizing data, Safecity promotes a variety of phone applications to help sexual minorities feel safe in public spaces:
GeoSure (provides personalized travel safety content via mobile)
Nirbhaya: Be Fearless (emergency app that sends a distress call or emergency message to a specified contact or group)
SafeTrac (allows automatic monitoring and tracking of your journey)
Safecity also promotes services like Taxshe, a safe all-female driver service, and KravMaga Chennai, a self-defense teaching service.
Challenges and Looking Ahead
As with many ICT4D solutions, access to the technology remains an important barrier. Safecity and its advertised applications, products and services seem to only reach a very specific target audience (urban populations with access to modern technology), leaving behind illiterate populations from rural areas with no access to technology. With their missed dial facility, Safecity is hoping to reach out to women with limited access to technology by recording their reports of abuse and harassment over the phone and suggesting appropriate interventions.
I look forward to seeing how Safecity uses this form of community engagement and crowdsourced data to not just report, but reduce GBV in India. This course introduced me to a new and unique way to address the pervasive issue of GBV in India and I look forward to utilizing the tools and lessons learned in making India a gender equitable country one step at a time.
Interested in learning about other ways mobile tools are helping communities address different problems? Join us in our upcoming Mobiles for International Development online course that begins on May 11.
Nikita Setia is a M.A. candidate at the Elliott School of International Affairs in the International Affairs Program, concentrating in development. She previously earned her B.B.A in Economics, International Business, and Management at Northwood University in Midland, Michigan.