Get your own safety pin
- December 1, 2013
Last year has been a watershed in the attention that violence against women has drawn. While largely an urban phenomenon, the uproars have brought to the fore what many of us women have experienced first-hand. The threat we face is all too common-a perpetrator can be lurking anywhere, anytime. A scary thought for every woman, in any place, of any age. And, unfortunately, the burden of ensuring the safety continues to remain primarily on women. There is an alarming level of ‘normalisation’ of violence that threatens the public spaces. We often ensure our own safety by not visiting certain places, staying indoors after dark, wearing an ‘appropriate’ dress and by carrying defensive ‘weapons’ like pepper spray or safety pins.
According to a survey conducted in Delhi by the NGO Jagori, two out of every three women faced incidents of sexual harassment two to five times in the past year. But what has changed after December 16, 2012 is the 200 per cent rise in reporting cases of sexual harassment in the city. This is perhaps more reflective of breaking of the silence than an actual rise in crime. And for a change, the public outrage has not only been about convicting the culprits, but also been about preventing such incidents.
Cyber connectivity has helped in bringing together the many unprecedented protests, and the technology is also offering solutions. I was recently invited by Kalpana Viswanath, a researcher who has been working on making cities safer for women for over 20 years, and her husband, Ashish Basu, an entrepreneur with interests in education and mobile technologies, for the launch of an app called the Safetipin (www.safetipin.com). This free app was envisioned to build safer cities through neighbourhood and community involvement. It allows users to record, with just a click, whether they feel safe or unsafe in a public space and why. This then provides a map with user-generated data, which shows us how safe or unsafe a city is.
Users can also record instances of harassment and security hazards, like broken lights and open sewers, and useful information such as the closest 24-hour pharmacy or a police station.
Some might argue that such apps are for smartphones, owned by the privileged few. But I would contend that let this privilege be put to use and let those who have the button a click away, partake in making the city safer. Moreover, in a country with more than 600 million cellphones, such technologies are bound to become even more widely available. And, in any case, the answer lies in multiplicity of solutions.
Recent Delhi elections have made one thing clear: people’s participation cannot be undermined. So, all this app needs is that. The minute a woman clicks the button to do a safety audit, she will no longer feel alone in this fight for safer spaces, as she would have transitioned from me to we, to become part of a larger community.
She might even feel more empowered because she is consciously working towards prevention and turning into a potential activist from a potential victim. And, when a man stands on a street or a bylane, secluded or crowded, and decides to assess the safety quotient of that place, he, too, becomes part of the solution. He has marked his protest against violence and voted for a safer city for all, especially women.
Yet, even while we strive to achieve the basic safety of women, our sight should not be set so low. It is a matter of right to ask for a world free from violence and fear, and for places we inhabit to be more equitable, democratic, and inclusive.
And, for all the advantages technology offers, we cannot forget to address the patriarchal mindset, the root cause of many maladies. When Virginia Woolf said, The eyes of others our prisons; their thoughts our cages,” I wonder if she was thinking of Indian men and women! Either way, the fight for a safer city has to be fought together, by all.