The Free To Be project by Plan International Australia launched last month in collaboration with CrowdSpot and XYX Lab at Monash University in five cities (Sydney, Kampala, Madrid, Lima and Delhi) across the globe. There has been a huge response with the Sydney map gaining over one thousand spots dropped in its first week.
This is a significant data set that is well on the way to breaking a CrowdSpot project record for the most number of spots dropped.
So, what is it about Free To Be Sydney that is so powerful?
Free to Be is a digital crowdmapping project that allows women to map their experiences, both good and bad, in the city. It gives women a space to tell their stories of street harassment, to share where they feel safe, or to put forward ideas for change. I was involved in launching the Melbourne pilot project Melbourne in October 2016, which was a huge success, generating over 1300 spots dropped in the Melbourne CBD and surrounding suburbs.
Women’s storytelling is not a new idea. Women have been sharing stories of street harassment and other forms of gendered violence long before Free To Be.
The problem is, women’s stories are often seen as anecdotal evidence and not taken seriously. It’s easy to dismiss a story as a one-off; an exception to the norm when you only hear about it from time to time. Stories are traditionally not accepted as data, but there is a plethora of research that argues that stories are indeed a valuable form of data and should be accepted as such.
Something incredible happens when we overlay stories on a map. Suddenly, we can visualise the problem. Just like that, stories become data. And data informs change. This process is all the more valuable when we’re looking at an issue such as gender-based violence, a sphere in which women’s experiences are underrepresented in data by as much as 80% and where their stories are not taken seriously so much of the time.
It’s valuable for the women, who are finally able to see their story as one of many; a collective of voices coming together, finally able to link their own personal experience to a broader political narrative of change.
And it’s valuable for the people who shape and build our cities, who are no longer in the dark about the reality of the invisible layer of experience that half the population face.
I am proud to have been a part of getting this project off the ground, helping to put real women’s stories on the map so that finally, decision-makers have access to data that can help them make better decisions.
Free To Be Sydney is open until May 28th.
Zoe Condliffe was part of the Plan International Australia team involved in launching the Free to Be crowdmapping pilot project in 2016 and contributed to the development of the Sydney map this year. She is now working on an independent start-up called She’s A Crowd.