‘Be the change you wish to see in the world.’ – Mahatma Gandhi
Almost ten years ago I launched Safecity, a crowdsourcing platform to collate anonymous stories of sexual and gender-based violence. These stories are geotagged and appear as pins on a map. It makes visible the issue of sexual and gender-based violence which is highly underreported due to stigma and taboo associated with it. The map allows you to look for local patterns and trends by time of day, day of week, date range and category of harassment. This information is very valuable because it gives information to contextualise the incidents, helps point to contributing factors that cause the violence and encourages one to think of solutions to prevent and address it.
Safecity was launched as an immediate response to the horrific gang rape of Jyoti Singh on a bus in Delhi in December 2012. At the time I was working in the aviation industry where I had a two-decade career between Jet Airways and Kingfisher Airlines. The brutality of the incident as well as my own personal journey to find my purpose led me to focus on working towards creating safe spaces for women and girls.
Sexual and gender-based violence is globally pervasive, impacting on an average one in three women around the world according to UN Women. This number seems to be much higher in India where the National Crime Research Bureau statistics indicate that there is a rape every 15 minutes. Such harassment and violence is normalised as seen in the recent National Family Health Survey where fifty-two percent of women surveyed believed it was reasonable for a husband to beat his wife. This patriarchal mindset leads to physical and other forms of violence and discrimination perpetrated against women and girls leading to high rates of femicide, low representation in political and business leadership, low participation in the formal labour force and more.
Over the last ten years, my organisation Red Dot Foundation which is a registered nonprofit in India (Sec 8 company) and the USA (501c3) has been working with youth on college campuses and women in communities on gender sensitivity, challenging harmful gender norms and biases and break the silence on sexual and gender-based violence. A large part of our work is educating people to understand the spectrum of harassment and abuse and know their rights. With the data we have collected we have encouraged over 40,000 young people and women to be better allies, peer first responders and work with their institutions to have stronger mechanisms to prevent harassment and violence. We have also partnered with local community-based organisations in over 25 locations in India and abroad to use the data to understand the contributing factors that cause the violence and engage police, civic and transport officials to create safe spaces and effective redressal mechanisms for survivors.
Changing cultures of violence are partly about policies, but it’s also about giving people a voice. By making it easy for people to share their stories and report, and thus transparently showcasing data we can hold institutions accountable. Over the years we have partnered with several organisations in different parts of the world to map out violence and have supported them with our technology and data analytics to design effective local interventions. This year in India we will be working with 50,000 people to be better bystanders to prevent sexual and gender-based violence, 50 college campuses and 10 nonprofits on a safe spaces program and sensitising 10,000 police, civic and transport officials on gender bias and prevention of violence.
We are looking to scale our operations to Washington DC and New York and map the intersection of gender, race and violence. We believe that every woman and girl has a right to a safe environment and it is our duty as part of society to provide that for her success.
ElsaMarie DSilva is the Founder and President of Red Dot Foundation Global (USA) and Red Dot Foundation (India), non-profits that work on gender equality and justice. She is a Yale World Fellow, an Aspen New Voices Fellow and can be found at @elsamariedsilva on Twitter and @elsamarie_ds on Instagram. For volunteering opportunities, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org