Women’s empowerment is one of India’s most crucial needs at the moment, and all the pillars of our democracy claim to be doing their bit for it. Organisations too are focusing on gender diversity and inclusion more than ever before. This collective effort is ensuring that women’s issues are starting to make up a fair share of the social discourse. Yet, the statistics around women’s safety in India continue to look bleak.
According to the National Crimes Records Bureau, 39 crimes against women are reported every hour. For every 1,00,000 females in the country, the rate of crime is as high as 55.2. An astounding 2.5 million crimes against women have been recorded in India in the last decade or so. Add to this the number of unreported crimes – including domestic violence, sexual harassment, and rape – and it is not hard to see that the law-and-order situation surrounding women’s safety needs a lot of attention.
Even as NGOs and activists continue to advocate policy and legislation for women’s safety, empowerment, and inclusion at both social and financial levels, several startups and organizations have joined them in the cause. Together, they are taking the lead in using technology for the personal safety of women. Here are some of these good samaritans that you need to be aware of.
Leaf Innovation makes SAFER or wearables, such as smart jewellery, that are in fact smart devices for women’s safety. Currently sold as amulet necklaces, the device can trigger alarms and send messages to pre-identified phone numbers in case of emergencies. It also helps guardians monitor their loved ones’ movement, which becomes useful especially during late night commutes.
Founded by IIT engineers Avinash Bansal, Ayush Banka, Chiraag Kapil, Manik Mehta, and Paras Batra, Leaf started as a small project that got recognized as a World Champion at Gitex Technology Week in Dubai. It became one of the top 10 innovative startups in India recognized by the Department of Science and Technology and won the Ericsson Innovation Award.
A few months after the horrendous Brigade Road incident last New Year’s Eve in Bengaluru, local authorities got serious about women’s safety. 51 pink hoysalas (patrolling vehicles) were added to the patrol vehicle fleet in Bangalore. Another tool that the local authorities have come up with is the Suraksha Panic App. When in distress, victims need to hold their devices in front of the attacker. Following this, the camera switches on automatically, records a 10-second video and sends a trigger to the control room. Users can also click the power button five times to seek help from the command centre.
Launched earlier this year, Pink Samaritan is an initiative by Asianet, supported by Facebook. The app-based ecosystem has social transformation at its heart by creating a citizen-led community to supplement local law enforcement systems. In its initial phase, the app took on male and female volunteers for women’s safety, also known as Pink Samaritans. These Samaritans are accessible to women in danger for help and assistance via a GPS system.
Other features of Pink Samaritan that are being released in phases include content and maps to locate closest police stations, hospitals, and pharmacies, and automatically triggered calls to the police station.
Founded by 27-year-old Nikhil Kumar, Undaunted Research is also using technology to promote personal safety. Their currently-in-the-works personal safety app, Don’t Fear, is scalable beyond 4G penetration as it uses SMS-based communication and downloads geolocation information directly from satellites.
There are approximately 200 regular active users who use the app currently.
Using GIS (Geographic Info System) mapping/geospatial technology, Safecity documents cases of sexual harassment and abuse in public spaces and presents that information on a map. Women can use the platform to report any kind of violence or abuse, and even upload pictures and videos. The primary focus is on the reportage of the incident or crime – where it happens (as exact a location as possible), and date and time of the incident. With over 10,000 reports from over 50 cities across India, Kenya, Cameroon, and Nepal, the platform crowdsources information on unsafe “hotspots” that women can share and access.
A crowdsourced app, My Safetipin allows users to check the safety of a location, which is preassigned a “safety audit” score. Launched in 2013 by husband-wife duo Kalpana Viswanath and Ashish Basu, My Safetipin looks to enforce the need for women safety and is doing its bit by generating enough data for purposes of advocacy and improvement.
Clearly, the startup and technology ecosystem is seeing a significant focus on personal safety. As the needle moves towards safer, inclusive, and women-oriented public spaces and infrastructure and not just personal safety, we expect more organizations to join the bandwagon. What we have so far is just the tip of the iceberg. A lot of work remains to be done.