Safecity; Using technology to make public spaces safer for women

Yesterday, Ushahidi launched our first grassroots fundraising campaign​, geared towards raising support to enable us to continue to support hundreds of grassroots organizations using our cutting-edge open source technology to make their work 10x more effective.Over the next couple of days, we’ll be featuring some of our grassroots partners, learning more about the projects and how they’re using Ushahidi.

First up, we have SafeCity, who have been using Ushahidi since 2012 to make cities safer by encouraging equal access to public spaces for everyone especially women.

Here’s some thoughts from Elsa D’Silva, founder of SafeCity.

Tell us a little about Safecity

Safecity is a platform that crowdsources personal stories of sexual harassment and abuse in public spaces. This data which maybe anonymous, gets aggregated as hot spots on a map indicating trends at a local level. The idea is to make this data useful for individuals, local communities and local administration to identify factors that causes behaviour that leads to violence and work on strategies for solutions.

Our Mission:

Safecity aims to make cities safer by encouraging equal access to public spaces for everyone especially women, through the use of crowdsourced data, community engagement and institutional accountability.

Since our launch on 26 Dec 2012 we have collected over 10,000 stories from over 50 cities in India, Kenya, Cameroon, Nepal, Nigeria and Trinidad & Tobago and directly reached over 500,000 people.

Why is it important to report cases of harassment and abuse?

UN Women states that 1 in 3 women face some kind of sexual assault at least once in their lifetime. But in our experience, these statistics are grossly under reported especially in India where a rape occurs every 15 mins in India (NCRB statistics).

Yet most women and girls do not talk about this abuse for a multiple of reasons — fear of society, culture, victim blaming, fear of police, tedious formal procedures etc. As a result women keep silent and this data is not captured anywhere but the perpetrator gets bolder over time and we accept it as part of our daily routine. This leads to under communication and under reporting of the issue. If there are poor official statistics, the problem is not visible and is not a true representation of the actual problem. Therefore we need to break our silence and document every instance of harassment and abuse in public spaces so that we can find the most effective solutions at the neighbourhood level.

Why did I start it?

In December 2012, a young woman Jyoti Singh was gang raped on a bus in Delhi. She subsequently died of her injuries. This brutal death sparked a nationwide discussion in India and for the first time in my memory brought into the public domain the topic of sexual violence. I was compelled to respond to this with an action which I felt would contribute towards the solution and launching Safecity was exactly that.

What made Ushahidi the right tool for your project?

A few weeks earlier to the incident of the gang rape, I was in Stockholm for a Swedish programme where I heard about HarassMap Egypt and crowdsourcing. At the time, I thought it was an innovative idea which could be implemented at some point in India but it didn’t feel urgent till the gangrape of Jyoti Singh. Since Ushahidi is open sourced and we were responding in the moment, it was easy to launch the platform and get down to crowdsourcing. It was low cost to get going and quite easy to set up.

How has the Ushahidi platform helped you realize your goals and impact?

Ushahidi has been by and large very helpful in achieving our mission given that none of the team are tech personnel. The technology has been simple and effective, thus allowing us to concentrate on creating awareness about sexual violence and advocating for the use of crowdsourced data. The data itself is a new dataset which is being generated and has been used by several authorities for decision making. For e.g. in Delhi and Mumbai, local police have increased beat patrol timings and increased vigilance whilst municipal authorities have been called upon to fix public toilets and street lighting. In Nepal, our partner organisation was able to convince transport officials to issue “women only” bus licences.

What impact has using the platform had on your initiative? Your team? Your beneficiaries?

Successes

We have had many successes. Several groups around the world have chosen to use Safecity as a reporting platform in their local work. Our partner in Kibera, Nairobi Kenya has used it very effectively to engage religious authorities to educate men and boys on appropriate behaviour as well as engage educational authorities to create safe schools. Six police forces use the data from our site. The Western Railways Mumbai has signed up to work on preventive measures based on the data from our site. Girija Borker, a World Bank economist used the Safecity data to estimate the cost of sexual harassment of women and girls in Delhi. We continue to engage communities and institutional stakeholders to highlight the issue as well as find local solutions.

Challenges

The work we do has a long term impact rather than a short term one. Though in the communities we have worked, we have proved that crowdsourced data that is disaggregated can be used to start a community dialogue and get the institutional providers’ attention. However, for grant makers and donors who fund very traditional approaches to solving sexual violence, it is a concept that is very new and untested. Therefore funding is hard to come by. In addition, I was an aviation professional who made a career switch to the development sector. I have worked really hard to build the credibility of the organisation and establish a model that works. During this time, the organisation has been largely bootstrapped through my finances and revenues earned through workshops conducted for corporates on sexual violence prevention strategies. Therefore cash flow is always an issue and to scale we need support in funding.

What opportunities exist in the future for the project, and how do you think Ushahidi can help you realise them.

We would like to upgrade the technology as the version of Ushahidi that we are on is a legacy version. But the upgrade and maintenance of the tech is a cost which we cannot accommodate at this point. We believe the technology Ushahidi is created is very valuable and is able to support groups around the world who don’t necessarily need to be tech people. This is the biggest value Ushahidi provides but to support their clients better they definitely need to have a fund that will enable this free service.

What would be your rallying cry to people for why they should donate to Ushahidi so we can keep supporting amazing grassroots organisations like yourselves using our software?

It is absolutely critical that a central team at Ushahidi can support small organisations as it is not possible for each organisation to have tech teams. It also allows us to depend on Ushahidi whilst concentrating on our mission without having the burden of worrying about the tech. Thus far the Ushahidi team have been extremely supportive and generous with their resources.

Visit https://ushahidi.com/donate to enable Ushahidi’s continued support for impactful grassroots organisations.