A unique initiative that leverages the strength of personal narratives to make our cities safer for women
If you’re a woman and have lived in India for a while – you’ve been there. The tiny frisson of fear that you feel when driving back home after a late night movie. The hastening of your heartbeats as the shadows elongate and you walk back the last 500 yards from the bus stop to home. The concealing of a safety pin in your palms in a crowded place so that you can poke the strangers who come a little too close for comfort.
We’ve all felt a sense of helplessness when newspapers report incidents of assault against women, and when politicians use their rhetoric to blame the victim instead of the perpetrator. But once we are done with the Facebook status messages, and the dharnas and the marches and the blog posts, what can we- as individuals-do to make things better? These were some of the questions Elsa DSilva, Surya Velamuri ,and Saloni Malhotra found themselves asking each other when they met at a management program in Sweden in 2012. The three planned to collaborate together to set up a project around the theme of Women’s Empowerment, but the Delhi rape case in December that year angered them and spurred them on to action in a slightly different sphere. The team – along with Aditya Kapoor, their technical mastermind- used the shame and despair they felt over the incident to set up Safecity.
An online platform that ‘crowdsources’ information about any kind of transgression towards women, Safecity provides an open space for women to share the stories of every instance of harassment meted out to them. These personal histories go a long way towards enabling these women to get over the fear of talking about what’s being done to them, and empowers them to leverage their experience and hopefully make their cities a little bit safer. Also over time, they help lawmakers identify the hotspots of such activity within urban spaces, and to use that information to better plan their cities and services.
Today Safecity and its army of volunteers are involved in a grounds level project to map the 100 unsafest areas of Delhi. They’ve also succeeded in establishing a hotline with the Goa Police so that citizens can report crimes conducted in the State of Goa directly to the police by narrating them on SafeCity’s platform. We spoke to Surya- one of the co-founders of the initiative- to find out more.
Note: A key component of Safecity’s success is on-ground support in the form of volunteers. So if you have a few minutes each day that you’d like to spend to make your city safer, do contact them!
1. Thanks for talking to us Surya, From a policy perspective, what are the kind of changes you are hope that Safe City will will bring about?
Sexual abuse is a global issue. But everywhere- including in India- there is a taboo around talking about it. Women are afraid to share in public the different ways they’ve been violated- be it with a catcall, unnecessary groping or close contact ; or worse- a rape.
- As a platform, the first change we want to bring about is in enabling women to share what has happened to them. We would like them to use Safecity to talk about their experiences, and hence help others to speak up too! Over time, this will help us map how unsafe a city truly is.
- As a second step, we want to engage local citizens to address these issues through our volunteer network; to understand the causes for abuse, and to work on building solution-to whatever extent they can- as a citizen group. Towards this aim, we have also planned an initiative called Safecity Sundays to bring together people to talk and address issues together as a group .
- The third step would be to take this information to law enforcement and public administration so that it may help in policy building.
In the long run we also want to become a “one-stop” place for information on abuse- whether it is sharing your story, getting legal recourse, finding support groups and mentors to deal with the trauma and any other support that’s needed.
2.Which are some of the current projects within the purview of Safecity you are working on that our readers can help you with?
We are running 2 campaigns:
- Map 100 unsafe places in Delhi with WhyPoll.
- A nation wide campaign – How Safe is Your city? with DNA/Zee News.
We also want to initiate similar campaigns in other cities. But for that we need a strong volunteer base in each of these places. Again, to reiterate- our strength is the volunteer support. The more people we have reporting, the easier it is for us to map how safe a city is and then work towards solutions along with the citizens and the administration. I also strongly encourage people to come forward and tell us what has happened to them. One needs to realise that the first step in preventing these incidents from happening to others is to talk about them.
In the future, we also aim to conduct outreach programmes in schools, colleges and corporates to sensitise people about the need to share their experiences, and to introduce them to the various resources available to them.
3. What is your long term vision and wishlist for Safe City?
Our vision is to enable people to talk freely about what has happened, and, to sensitise both men and women that abuse is Not Okay and that each one of us need to take action to get rid of this menace that has almost become a part of our life.
Our wishlist includes knowing that each one of our cities are safe, bringing about a cultural change on how sexual abuse is viewed today and overall, empowering citizens into taking collective action to combat this issue.
4. Has there been any particular story of the thousands shared that has in particular stayed with you?
A lot of stories have moved us. It is humbling to see people come up to Safecity and talk of abuse that has happened 10 years ago, not only to tell us what has happened, but, also as a means to unburden themselves of the weight they’ve been bearing all these years.
I know we encourage people to talk about their experiences, and that it is not easy to do so. We thank each one who has been able to come and use this platform and I hope this gives others the strength to talk about what they have faced as well.
At My Big Red Bag, we’ve also been guilty in the past of accepting certain aspects of public safety as just a fact of life- of telling ourselves to stay indoors once it is dark, or of not using a DTC bus during peak traffic hours just because it is easier to submit to the problem than to act. Initiatives like Safecity put the onus back on us to not quietly accept but to report and recognise every violation to our beings. Our cities- the way they are built right now unfortunately- are male spaces, and we hope that such initiatives coupled with better planning and design by the policymakers- will enable women to stake claim on their part of the urban landscape.