Simi Mehta, Anshula Mehta

Information is the new oil of the 21st century. Therefore, digital literacy is very important to understand the basics of internet safety as cybercrime is on the rise. Women are victims of gender- based violence in every sphere, subsequently, they must make  their voices and concerns be heard out loud in the public spaces and technology can be an amplifier in that regard.      

Given the context of rising reported cases of violence and the gendered impact of COVID- 19, IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi hosted a webinar on Using technology to address gender-based violence with Elsa Marie D’Silva, Founder and President of Red Dot Association, United States of America.

ElsaMarie_Using Technology to address Gender based violence

Professor Vibhuti Patel initiated the discussion by underlying that girls need to use technology effectively to help them in tackling gender-based violence. The use of technology has introduced the possibility to access support from the community and to build evidence safely.

There has been an exponential Increase in cyber-crime, which has exacerbated following the COVID- 19 induced lockdown. Boys’ locker room incident indicates that sustained public education on nature and consequences of cybercrime is important to eradicate toxic masculinity. Capability building programmes by colleges can be a very helpful mechanism in empowering young women.

Sexual Violence is Spectrum

Elsa Marie D’Silva  pointed out that 1 in 3 women experience sexual harassment at least once in their lifetime, 70 percent before they turn 16. The statistics further detailed that more that 50 percent of survivors of sexual assault were women.  Underreporting  of sexual assault  cases is a major problem in India as girls feel under-confident and tend to blame themselves.

The lack of statistics on sexual assault in India also adds to the worry. Even with laws present to prevent sexual violence at workplace, women tend to take the recourse of resigning from their own positions. Spatial location and trends help the women in better preparation to understand crime that is rampant in the geographical location.

It’s important to understand that sexual violence and abuse is a spectrum as it involves non-verbal, verbal and physical actions which affect women’s choices, movements and mental health. It is also important for us to not normalise sexual violence as then it becomes difficult for a woman to speak up. Her app ‘Safe city’ encourages anonymous reporting of people’s personal experiences which is then geo-tagged on the maps. The aim is to make public spaces safe and equally accessible to all through Individual awareness, community engagement and institutional accountability.

The app aims  to gather information, publish it and then study the patterns and trends. The app protects identity and privacy and provides support through legal information and helplines. It is a low cost and low technology solution. There is a successful online-offline model. It focuses on making crowdsourced  data more useful. The app aggregates location based trends and visualises them as hotspots on the map. The applications’ goal is to provide the opportunity for women to build situational awareness to respond better. Used lockdown as an opportunity to add empathy layers to reporting and expand privacy settings to ensure anonymity.

Communities need to rally themselves around the issue and demand for better accountability from institutions as girls need to be empowered to speak up and stand for their rights. Institutions need to build better relationships with the community by using the dataset. Data can be a push for legislative change and can create deeper engagements on the “Taboo topics” like gender-based violence and sexual violence. Technology should be used as an enabler to work towards creating an equitable society.

Empower the Marginalized

Dr Sangita Dutta Gupta, Professor of Economics at Jagdish Sheth School of Manangement,  remarked that gender-based violation is a violation of basic human rights and not confined to geographical location. ICT can help in mapping data which can be further used to bring change in society. It can provide support and information to survivors. Smartphones are not accessible in villages and women are not literate enough to use ICT, so it becomes crucial to empower the marginalized and work towards bridging the gap between rural and urban areas.

Mrs Rwitee Mandal, Programme Manager at Safetipin, Gurugram emphasized that it is important to understand the nature of the problem as information is not available in the public domain. More importantly there is a lack of spatial information, begs us to the question does the  built environment need  to be investigated to understand what contributes to sexual harassment at workplaces? Street lighting  is crucial; access to public spaces is linked to accessing opportunities.  The aim of the Safety pin is to map built environment to ensure that cities are planned effectively. The digital  divide is a problem that needs the attention of various stakeholders.

Public Education

Professor Vibhuti Patel shed light on the improtance of workshops and training programmes in the service sector. While technology may be part of the solution it cannot be a sole answer to the problem of gender-based violence. The assertive trainign programme is another pillar which taught women to speak the language of empowerment. The power of language and counselling is important. Capacity building programmes can be a step forward. Technology should also reach senior citizens and just not be restricted to youth. Social solidarity and town planning is the need of the hour.

Ms Else  reminded the audience  that Patriarchy is deeply embedded in society. Education is the key to solve the problems. Technology needs to be aided with education. Space needs to be created for conversations on sexual-based harassment, for the same to be normalised. Collaboration with NGOs aided the cause of Safe city. The silence  around sexual harassment needs to be challenged.

Women’s lived experiences need to be taken into account”    

Change in the social mindset can be a way forward. Compromise on the quality of education as girls tend to choose colleges near their home, also there is an increase in dropouts reflected in the female participation rate in the workforce. The way forward is to recognize restorative justice and provide the reconditioning necessary to grapple with the issue of gender-based violence.

Dr Sangita Dutta Gupta, highlight that smartphones are usually possessed by male members in the rural area as access to smartphones makes a woman less focused on her household responsibilities (A myth). Women have started using the importance of technology which is a good sign. Women should be financially independent to raise their voice strongly. She pointed to the advantage local NGOs can have in creating awareness.

Intersectionality of Issues

Mrs. Rwitee talked about “Safety Chaupals” where she talked about the intricacies of the built environment to generate awareness among women. Certain areas like tea stalls and beer shops are places that become intimidating for women as they are male-dominated  places. In urban spaces, women do more care work than males. Trends and patterns help us to identify fake news, said Elsa. Education is crucial and needs to talk about what is appropriate and inappropriate. Intersectionality needs to be kept in mind.

Dr Simi Mehta focused on the partnership between technology and Law & order. Workshops with the police officers are important as their role becomes important in ensuring justice and being  sensitive towards the issues. The digital  divide is rampant and smartphones  should be among the necessities as it facilitates the use of applications like Safe city.

Mrs. Elsa emphasized  that as a non-profit organisation, Safe city collaborates with NGOs. It is also important to understand that we can’t solve every problem as a non- profit. Awareness at the local level needs to be amplified via posters, street plays and theatre. The community should be given more powers in creating solutions by providing the data for their local areas.

Ms Rwitee echoed Ms Elsa’s opinion by asserting that sensitization and advocacy are needed. The government is putting in efforts. Work needs to be done in every field. Delhi metro’s bogey for females has created more confidence in women as now they are more visible in public spaces now. There is a need to move forward steadily. Ms Elsa emphasized the positive side of technology. Gender sensitivity needs to be cultivated in our society.

Body Autonomy

Professor Vibhuti Patel concluded by asserting that we should not question a women’s character when she is a victim of sexual harassment. Use your tongue power and speak for your cause is very crucial for women. Self-defence programmes should be organised more frequently. Public education is very important as people should feel free in sharing their stories. Region-specific material is also very important so that people can access information in their own language.

Gender sensitization needs to be started from the pre-school level to understand the meaning of body autonomy and integrity. A consistent effort in the right direction can be a way forward. Accept the problems and then change can be initiated. Networking with different stakeholders can be a part of the solution. Our criminal justice system needs to be reformed in its approach towards women-centric issues. McKinsey Report has located for us four key reasons for the declining female participation in the workspace, the fourth reason being safety. Spatial security and safety can be better catered to using technology.    

Acknowledgment: Ishika Chaudhary is a research intern at IMPRI and is pursuing BA Hons in Political Science from Lady Sri Ram College, Delhi University.

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Picture Courtesy: Poverty Action Lab