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Towards creating safer cities

Jayashree Narayanan, Nov 10, 2015, DHNS: 4:20 IST

December 16, 2012 was a turning point for many women and their understanding of sexual violence in the country, owing to the wide reportage in the aftermath of the Nirbhaya rape case.

One of them was Elsa D’ Silva who was aghast with stories of women who go through such ordeals on an everyday basis. “Disturbed with the conversations” and understanding the need to do more than voicing her concerns on a blog, she decided to launch safecity.in.

Crowdsourcing stories of sexual violence faced by women, and compiling them as a valid documentation, the three-year-old campaign focuses on making public places safer for women.

“Safecity began as a way to engage with each other on a long-term basis. It began because we saw that many of us had the same experiences but were choosing not to talk about it. It encourages women and girls to talk about these instances because it is critical to break the silence around sexual harassment — and document it. Official statistics do not reflect the true nature and size of the problem partly because of under-reporting,” says co-founder and managing director D’Silva, a former aviation professional who made a career switch to the developmental sector only few years ago.

Working with the open source software Ushahidi for information collection, visualisation and interactive crowdmapping, the campaign has a large database of incidents, which are geo-tagged and show up as
location-based trends.

Though initially conceived as an online-only platform, they partner with other NGOs, citizen and student groups to mobilise the community around the issue using the data. “We use the data to identify factors that lead to behaviour causing sexual violence and help us think through approaches for solutions like changing patrol timings, installing streetlights at hotspots,” points out D’Silva.

Now with a benchmark of over 6,000 stories from over 50 cities in India, Kenya and Nepal, it has recently collaborated with Twitter India to aid women in Delhi, Mumbai and Goa with support from the police forces in these regions initially and “gradually pan across India”.
“Twitter is the new-age tool for activism that reaches scores of people in real-time. Our movement will gain further momentum with a live public platform. We are confident that we will be able to encourage more women to come forward and break their silence, share their stories and inspire others to take action,” D’Silva tells Metrolife.

Twitterati can tweet to @SafecityIndia or use the #SafecityIndia hashtag or submit stories via the Twitter Direct Message feature instead of public tweets. Online crowdsourced maps, a customised dashboard, and automated responses will be provided for each city through this collaboration.

Elaborating on the partnership, Pratiksha Rao, partnerships manager, Twitter India says, “The power of a mobile public is what makes real-time solutions possible. For incidents including groping on a train or eve-teasing, First Information Reports (FIRs) may not always be within limits or women may be advised to drop the lengthy process of registering complaints. In those cases, tweets can act as a tool to voice their discomfort which will enable safecity to identify a trend.”

While the safecity portal has an access to a “customised in-house back-end” for tracking reports on Twitter, emergency reports will be sent to authorities including the police and Municipal Corporations of the three cities for quick action. “Though it is too soon to mention results, it will be very revealing to exactly know how data from Twitter and data already collected by the campaign can encircle prolonging issues and hotspot areas that need immediate attention,” says Rao.

Considering that the internet penetration is still restricted to urban areas, Rao mentions that they are not doing any big-budget marketing campaign. and are focussing on “locally talking to people and reaching out to them” through the already established networks of the campaign and make them aware of the current development.

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