A Safe Haven for All

September 12, 2019 12:57 PM
SAH Interview of Safecity with Elsa Image

 

Safecity, the flagship programme of Red Dot Foundation, aims to make public places safer for women. ElsaMarie D'Silva, its founder speaks passionately about her venture

By Kavitha Srinivasa

As sexual violence is a global issue — since launching Safecity in 2012, Elsa has established two organizations under Red Dot Foundation — Red Dot Foundation Global (2017) is in the US, while Red Dot Foundation (2014) is registered as Not for Profit (NPO) Company in India (Mumbai). Safecity is the flagship programme of the Red Dot Foundation Group.

Safecity is a platform for data on sexual crime at a granular level, as it crowdsources personal stories of sexual harassment in public spaces. It’s a space for an outpouring of long-withheld emotion but the data of the victim and perpetrator remain anonymous. “Everyone has a story to tell and Safecity is a channel for just that. Gradually, it has built a community of solidarity,” she reasoned.

Anonymity allows the victim to go public online without fear of consequences.  Safecity’s USP is that it is location specific. The data gets aggregated on the map, giving an idea of what goes on at a local level.

The data is to help individuals and the local administration work out strategies to make public places safer by improving policing, lighting and infrastructure. “For instance, when you get off Mumbai’s local trains some stations connect to overhead bridges which are poorly lit. Women have had unsafe encounters here,” she added. Around 11 such areas have been identified. The patrol timings of the police have increased with more uniformed personnel. Within the railway station, Safecity has proposed better lighting, establishing helpdesks, phone helplines and the presence of security personnel at hotspots like the toilets.

Women are less inclined to talk about sexual abuse as they are weighed down by circumstances which include personal and professional commitments. “World over, there are platforms for women to speak about sexual abuse,” added Elsa, who had heard about HarassMap Egypt and crowdsourcing when she was invited to Stockholm for a Swedish programme during her aviation days. Sexual abuse happens globally. Safecity has a global app that evokes responses from places like Morocco.

Corridors of Work

Grants support Safecity. The NPO has worked with college teams in Mumbai, Delhi, Patna, Pune and Satara for building awareness. With grants from international body Amplify Change, Safectiy has worked with Pune’s local community such as Kaserwadi and Prem Nagar communities for safe public places. A group of youngsters have been trained as peer educators to talk about women’s safety.

In its effort to create a database which probably has never existed, Safecity has expanded its footprint into various parts of the country. In Satara and Pune the NPO has focused on making people aware of the law protecting child sexual abuse. “The existence of POCSO or Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act to protect the children against sexual abuse, sexual harassment and pornography is something which many didn’t know,” said Elsa.

In Mumbai-Pune-Satara, Safecity has partnered with the Canadian government to train the administrative staff of 20 colleges on sexual abuse. The effort is inclusive, and students do projects that are put up in public places. It’s an inclusive effort. “Safecity, in my opinion, did not just remain an organisation which offered me an internship. It became an experience for me; an amazing journey in which I learnt something new every day. Safecity helped me grow not only as an individual but as a responsible feminist. Safecity made me feel empowered and liberated. Thank you, Safecity! Each small step counts and together we can bring the change,” said Yashorma Sandal a student of Hansraj College, New Delhi.

All these interventions are designed to encourage reporting sexual harassment on the web and mobile apps. People can also reporton email and give a missed call. “Individuals write in asking for help. Our winning point is the data bank along with training programmes and workshops,” reasoned Elsa. But then, such positive outcomes wouldn’t have been possible without technology. Safecity can’t possibly be present at every location. “Technology facilitates people to find us. It provides the human connect,” she highlighted. Coupled with this is an integrated approach, where women are equipped with personal and legal rights. Safecity has a customized mobile app.

The conversation is peppered with interesting references. A case in point is the rural women of Patna and Satara. Many of them don’t have access to a mobile phone, but they’ve managed to identify one woman with a Smartphone, who then uploads their stories. “A volunteer who worked with us got assaulted on acollege campus. The exposure from our platform gave her strength to confront her assaulter and report the abuse in about 9 seconds,” recalled Elsa, with satisfaction. Safecity is meant for just that. It’s a platform for women to break their silence and share the instance of harassment and abuse in public spaces. This information is collated to showcase location based trends. It’s made available for individuals, local communities and local administration to solve problems at the local level.

Data generated offers insight into gender stereotypes and trends. The police force is receptive. They take meaningful steps and engage with the community using the data. “It’s found that young girls negotiate with parents to extend their education than access public spaces. Now we’ve encouraged youngsters to spread word to change mindsets,” she observed.

Corporate workshops supplement the revenue stream. Safecity has partnered with 25 corporates and intends to increase its corporate presence this year. Safecity has allocated Rs 50 lakh to make a systemic change through collaborations with the police, railways and local governance. “I felt I should use my position to change improve the lives of sexually abused women. It’s a matter of being able to create equal opportunities for women to move around safely in public places,” summed up Elsa, who has been featured on WomensWeb as one of the 12 Famous Feminists.

Life is, by design, a constant process of reinvention and ElsaMarie D'Silva exemplifies this.
 

Snapshots

  • Red Dot Foundation is a winner of the UN SDG Action Awards 2019 in the Visualiser Category
  • Safecity has collected over 12,000 stories from over 50 cities in India, Kenya, Cameroon and Nepal. Safecity creates a database for personal safety, probably has never existed before
  • Red Dot Foundation (Safecity) is now an Organization in Special status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations
  • People can sign up for alerts based on location or category of harassment. This helps them understand the “safety” landscape of an area and make informed choices
  • Red Dot Foundation Group works at the intersection of gender, technology, communications, data and urban planning and Safecity is its flagship programme

 

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