“The lack of safety has a very important impact on women’s lives. If we think a place is unsafe, we don’t go out. We don’t go out at night. We don’t let our daughters go out. We decide not to take up jobs when we might have to come back late,” Dr. Kalpana Viswanath co-Founder and Director of the Delhi-based app, Safetipin, told ITU News.
Violence against women is a problem worldwide and is a serious issue in India, with over 34,000 cases of rape reported in 2015 according to the country’s National Crime Record Bureau.
A 2012 study by UN Women conducted in New Delhi found that 92% of women reported having experienced some form of sexual violence in public spaces in their lifetime. The same study found that 88% of women reported experiencing some form of verbal sexual harassment (including unwelcome comments of a sexual nature, whistling, leering or making obscene gestures) in their lifetime.
Responses to this sexual harassment include curfews for female university residents set as early as 7 pm. “Roaming around is not safe for girls,” Jigyasa Grover, an engineering student from Delhi, said.
However, Dr Viswanath’s app hopes to change that.
How Safetipin is breaking the constraints of fear
“An ideal world to me is really where girls and women are not bound by the constraints of fear in the city, and I believe that Safetipin plays a role because it allows you to make safer decisions,” she said. “It allows you to provide information to stakeholders about what you feel in the city and, thereby, we are working towards a world where girls and women don’t feel scared and are able to use the city equally.”
Safetipin has two main features: a ‘Safety Score’ map and a ‘Track Me’ GPS-enabled feature.
People can use the app to track and monitor the safety of their city, akin to a crowd-sourced audit. Users are asked to rate 9 parameters linked to safety including an area’s lighting, people density, transportation, gender diversity, and just as importantly, the feeling that they get when walking around the location. Then information is then used to generate a safety score out of five, information which can help people who are looking at renting a house or going to meet friends in the area.
Additionally, the data is used to produce safety maps. Similar to Google Maps, users input their destination and the app suggests the safest route.
The ‘Track Me’ feature uses location data to enable users to select a trusted person to monitor their route on a map and find their exact GPS coordinates in case of an emergency.
“If you make a city safe for women, you are actually making it safe for everyone. And we do want to address the needs of other vulnerable groups … using women as the entry point, we are actually addressing safety for all in the city,” Dr. Kalpana Viswanath said. “Safetipin directly contributes to [making cities and public spaces more available] by putting a tool in the hands of women to do something about their own safety, and to be able to share data, and to use this data to make more informed and safer decisions about their lives.”
The information gathered through the app is also provided to relevant government authorities to help them improve the safety of an area, which can be as simple as fixing a broken streetlight.
Increasing women’s safety worldwide
“Though we began and developed it in India, it is actually being used in many countries around the world,” Dr Viswanath said.
The app is available worldwide, and can be downloaded for free from the Google Play store and Apple store in three languages including English, Hindi and Spanish.
Lucy Spencer (@L_M_Spencer)