Violence against women and girls is regarded as a global pandemic that affects one in every three women across their lifetime. An estimated 736 million women become victims of intimate partner violence (IPV), or non-partner sexual violence, or both, at least once in their life. In 2021, India’s National Commission for Women (NCW) received nearly 31,000 complaints of crimes committed against women, the highest since 2014.
Technology, however, is changing the way women are dealing with sexualised violence. A recent review on the role of emerging technologies regarding women’s safety found that smartphones were the most commonly discussed protective technology in the literature (37.2% mobile phones, 18.8% apps). Another study found that 62.9% of college students would consider downloading a personal safety app, and even more students would consider doing so if the app contained a tracking feature (Source: bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com).
Here’s a look at a few safety apps & initiatives specifically designed to make the world a safer place for women. It is important to note that the apps with evidence-based data are also helping police and civil authorities to initiate better policies and frameworks.
Founded by Dr Kalpana Viswanath and Ashish Basu, My Safetipin (www.safetipin.com) is a personal safety app that generates a safety score based on the data, and helps users to make safe and informed decisions about their mobility. Safetipin is present in 60 cities across 15 countries, including nearly 35 cities in India.
At the core of the app, there’s Safety Audit, a tool to analyse a given area based on the physical and social infrastructure parameters.
Safetipin collects data using three mobile phone applications: My Safetipin (uses crowd sourcing to collect data); Safetipin Nite (an app that used to collect photographs in the night-time) and Safetipin Site (web application designed to collect information on selected public places or public services through a detailed questionnaire, pictures, and spatial data).
“We crowd source the data which comes in handy not only for users but also in decision-making by authorities: shift patrolling by the police, organise last mile safety, improve lighting. In Kolkata, we have worked on how walkable the city is; in Pune, we have worked with Smart City. We also emphasise on Eyes on the Street, an urban design principle that is based on the theory that if you are standing somewhere in a city, do you feel safe?,” Dr Viswanath told moneycontrol.com.
The December 16, 2012, Nirbhaya gang rape incident shook Elsa Marie D’Silva to the core. A veteran of the aviation industry, her immediate response was to create safer spaces for women. Not through a SOS helpline but creating awareness through crowd sourcing stories of sexual harassment that often lie buried in the victim’s heart. That’s how SafeCity (www.safecity.in) was born 10 years ago. Today, SafeCity has a huge data set of 40,000 stories from victims; it has reached out to 1 million people and has so far trained 40,000 to make the world safer for women.
“SafeCity is a platform that empowers individuals, communities, police and city government to create safer public and private spaces. Our technology stack collects and analyses crowdsourced, anonymous reports of sexual violence, identifying patterns and key insights. This data enables citizens, communities, civic authorities, police, researchers and policymakers to create safer spaces by increasing awareness, transparency and public accountability and improving policy and tactical precision with data-led insights,” Elsa Marie D’Silva, founder, SafeCity told moneycontrol.com.
On SafeCity, before stepping out, you can peek at the map and know the danger zones. Elsa is focusing on prompting conversations, educating people and changing the narrative of bystander intervention.
An initiative by Delhi Police, Himmat (www.digitalindia.gov.in/content/himmat-app) is a free safety app and an emergency service that can send a distress call or emergency message to Delhi Police officials and specified contact or group in an emergency situation. If the user raises the SOS alert from the app, the location information and audio-visual will be directly transmitted to the Delhi Police control room following which the police can reach the location. To use the app, the user has to register at the Delhi Police website.
The Raksha app (digital.kecrpg.com/raksha) comes equipped with a button, which will send alerts to your chosen contacts with your location in a situation of distress. Moreover, even if the app is switched off or not working, one can still send alerts by simply pressing the volume key for three seconds. The app also has SOS functionality and can send SMS if stuck in a non-internet area.
Filmmaker Madhureeta Anand launched Phree (www.phree.co), a mobile app, making public spaces safer by harnessing user safety ratings. Phree does not have a point-based rating, they have ‘safe’ or ‘unsafe’ options and users can only choose between the two. UserS can rate safe and unsafe spaces. Phree is making the data available to the police and civic authorities to change perception and create better infrastructure and policing.
bSafe (www.getbsafe.com) is a personal safety app in which users create a ‘social safety network’ of individuals who are notified in case of an emergency or in situations where the user feels unsafe. Contacts can follow you through a live GPS trail and also set a timed alarm which goes off if you haven’t ‘checked in’. It will also make your phone ring with a fake call and also notify the emergency contacts with the location, video and even siren.
You can activate the SOS button with your voice, even if your phone is in your pocket, or purse. The activated SOS alarm will send an audio alarm and a notification with your current location/address to the preset guardians (such as friends and family). The user can also decide whether they want the alarm to sound a loud noise on their phone or be silent so they can discreetly trigger it. The basic version of the app is free.
Supported by the various states’ police, Smart24x7 (www.smart24x7.com) sends alerts to emergency contacts. By pressing a single button, you get access to your nearest Police Station/Ambulance Service/Fire Station. On activation of the ‘panic’ button, an alert is sent in the form of SMS and alarms to members of your primary circle. One among these primary contacts gets an alert in the form of an alarm. These applications also capture pictures and make recordings of surroundings for later use. Integrated GPS (Global Positioning System) enables others to locate you on an online map. The app’s Fake call features can help you get out of a panic situation or unwanted meeting.
Shake2Safety is an SOS app that lets you send text messages to emergency contacts, share picture with location and record audio in emergency situations. All this happens by just shaking the phone or pressing the power button four times. The app works even on locked screen and in places where there’s no internet connection. The app can also be used in case of an accident, harassment, robbery or any natural calamities. No registration is required to access the app.
Other safety initiatives
Blank Noise (www.blanknoise.org): Founded in 2003 by Jasmeen Patheja, Blank Noise is a community of ‘Action Heroes’ /citizens and persons united to eradicate sexual and gender-based violence. Over the past decade, Blank Noise has designed a range of participatory actions, events, campaigns (select projects include I Never Ask For It, Meet To Sleep, Talk To Me) committed to ending victim blame, shifting the environment of warnings and fear, by instilling ideas of trust and belonging.
Fight Her (fighther.org): Determined to do things differently and bring the issue of women's safety to the forefront, in 2018, Silvy Kalra launched Fight Her, a nonprofit initiative to make self-defence accessible and affordable for women, and domestic workers in Delhi. The mission of Fight Her is to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor by motivating women from affluent families to contribute a small amount for the classes and in return making the classes free of cost for the ones who can’t afford them.
Rape-proof underwear: Nearly four years ago, Seenu Kumari, then an undergrad student in Farukkhabad (Uttar Pradesh), created a rape-proof underwear equipped with a camera, an emergency call button and GPS. The GPS will alert the police officers and the family about the girl’s location and the in-built camera will capture the culprit’s image as evidence.
“So many women in my neighbourhood have been raped and I wanted to do something for their safety,” Seenu said. The prototype is ready but Seenu does not have finances to perfect the design and launch it in the market.