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Keeping women safe with digital technology

Keeping women safe with digital technology

March 14 2016

By Nominet Trust

Violence against women is a very serious global problem; unfortunately, there is no pretending that women have equal rights to men in all corners of the world. In countries where patriarchal systems are still very much entrenched and women are not usually alone, the incidents of sex attacks in public remain alarmingly high. This is especially a big issue in India, where an average of 92 women are raped every day, according to National Crime Records Bureau statistics, so it is perhaps no surprise that three of the projects we showcased in the 2015 NT100 are using technology to keep women safe in large Indian cities.

Take m-Indicator, for example, an app for female commuters on India’s huge railway network. It features a manual SMS emergency tool which sends details of the user’s approximate location on the train, an automated alert that is triggered after several missed calls from the same number to the user’s phone between 9pm and 8am, and a panic button that immediately calls upon the assistance of Mumbai’s Railway Protection Force. For a woman travelling alone, this is a simple but effective use of SMS technology to stay safe.

SafetiPin allows users to alert a friend when they are feeling unsafe, sending a location pin to a friend or family member’s phone so that they can track the woman on a map until she has reached her destination. There is also an emergency alarm that can be activated if the user needs assistance, which will prompt the app to contact her loved ones who can then take action. The app also crowd-sources information on the safety of an area, using a feature that allows users to rate parts of the city based on factors like lighting and visibility – a valuable tool for anyone picking a safe route to travel at night.


Image courtesy of Safetipin

SafeCity uses crowd-sourcing in a similar way, taking real stories of abuse and using them to create heatmaps of problem areas in Indian cities. The app is at once a way for women to share their experiences and to help make their streets safer by reporting on negative interactions. Multiple reports of harassment in the same area make it easier for SafeCity teams to convince local authorities that changes need to be implemented. In the future, the SafeCity founders hope to use their voice, backed by the collected data, to petition for improvements to urban infrastructure and changes to gender equality laws.

These apps are all enabling women to feel safer in the streets, encouraging them to continue in their daily lives and not be confined indoors - a progressive step towards a more equal world. But violence against women isn’t just something that happens outside the home, and one of the most heinous crimes against females is an act that is forced upon women when they are innocent children: female genital mutilation, or FGM. It seems unthinkable, and yet it is more widespread than you may imagine. According to the World Health Organisation, up to 140 million women and girls worldwide have been subjected to this procedure.

#EndFGM is the Guardian newspaper’s platform to bring together campaigners against FGM, uniting their voices and championing their cause using a very simple but powerful technology, the hashtag. Two success stories that have been highlighted by #EndFGM are British schoolgirl Fahma Mohamed’s campaign to have FGM discussed in classrooms as part of the UK national curriculum, and Gambian FGM victim and activist Jaha Dukureh’s petition for proper research into the practise of mutilation in the USA, which was accepted by the Obama administration.


Image courtesy of #EndFGM

The four projects highlighted here were chosen for the NT100 for their ingenuity in using simple technologies to address a fundamental social imbalance, and in doing so to make the world a safer place for women. We’re very proud to be able to give each of these initiatives a platform via our 2015 NT100.

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