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Tackling Violence against Women in India with Technology

Zariya, was created with the vision of providing holistic justice to women who are victims of violence and helping them become confident survivors.

Violence Against Women (VAW) is the leading cause of death among women between the ages of 16 and 44. According to the WHO, 1 in 3 women around the world face physical or sexual violence, mostly by an intimate partner. In India specifically, nearly 70% of women face domestic violence according to a recent report by Dasra. Given such high prevalence of VAW today, there are three main problems that survivors in India face in seeking help:

1> Due to fear, stigma   a and inaccessible processes, most women endure abuse in silence  without telling their family members, let alone the police. In fact, globally, VAW is one of the most under-reported crimes; the reporting rate in Europe is 13% and, in India, it goes as low as 1% (Amnesty International).

2> Once they do decide to seek help, the services providing help are fragmented with little information available about quality of service and expertise. Survivors today have to tediously search the internet for service providers in their area and are not sure which ones they can trust both in terms of properly addressing their needs as well as maintaining confidentiality.

3> After deciding which service provider to seek help from, it is often the case that a survivor has different kinds of needs that are met by multiple service providers and not one alone. In this case, she has to go through the emotional re-traumatization of recounting her situation to multiple providers, thus severely hurting her emotional well-being.

Sahar Khan, Arzav Jain and Kanhika Nikam 
Sahar Khan, Arzav Jain and Kanhika Nikam 

The Birth of Zariya 

The idea for Zariya came to the founder Sahar Khan, during her exposure to grassroots women’s rights work in India in the summer of 2012. She realized how difficult it is for survivors of Violence Against Women (VAW) to reach out but also that justice is not just about punishing the criminal. She understood that a significant part of justice is systematically taking care of a woman’s legal, economic, medical and psychological needs during the event and in the aftermath. 

Through conversations with NGOs in various Indian cities (Lucknow, New Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Mumbai), she identified specific problems that survivors of VAW face. The goal was to understand how exactly reporting rate could be increased so that many of the 99% of women who accept an unhappily-ever-after fate can turn their lives around. The  idea was to  build a safe & secure entry-point that enables women to reach out anonymously and connect with much-needed help within 48 hours.

 Zariya breaks the silence first in order to end the cycle of violence in three ways:

Firstly, a woman may not know where to go, how to reach out, etc. Taking the first step happens to be the hardest step. Trauma is bad enough, so such frustrating logistics are replaced with Zariya. Survivors submit one piece of contact information (email and/or phone number) and they are connected with a professional counsellor within 48 hours, at no charge. The focus is on immediate response because justice delayed is justice denied.

Secondly it is not sufficient to just fix logistics because fear of identity revelation is a huge barrier to entry. At Zariya, technology is used to strategically repurpose the anonymity and silence surrounding VAW. When a woman uses Zariya, she can seek justice while preserving her identity. With Zariya, a woman’s voice is heard and there’s absolutely no need for her to be seen if she does not want to.

Thirdly, technology is used for the elimination of emotional re-traumatisation. The experience of violence does not just end with the physical act. A woman often relives the emotional hurt as she recounts the event several times to different people as she seeks help for legal, counseling and medical needs. With Zariya her information is stored securely online, so when her case is referred from one service provider to another, there is no need for her to repeatedly tell her story as she can simply give the provider access to her information in the Zariya system.

Zariya aims to enable women to report violence quickly and anonymously. The victim first submits an anonymous report online via either the website, the Android application, SMS or the Interactive Voice Response System. Using the victim’s location information and the type of help needed, Zariya will identify the most relevant and geographically closest “service provider” and connect the victim with this provider. “Service providers” include:

1. The Indian Police

2. Legal information centers and lawyers

3. Medical practitioners

4. Psychologists

5. Women’s banks/microfinance organizations

6. Women’s NGOs

As the provider earns the victim’s trust through telephone conversations, the victim will be more comfortable sharing information about the case and the provider will help in his/her capacity. There may be multiple service providers in touch with the victim to provide all the support necessary. From these connections, the victim can then pave her journey to justice.

Survivors do not have singular needs but a multitude of needs (legal, economic, medical etc.); hence there is a obligation for a coordination mechanism among providers on the ground. Zariya aims to build strong coordination mechanisms between the variety of services to deliver the best outcome for survivors.

So far, the team has built the entry-point of what will eventually be a comprehensive referral network with a trackable start-to-finish justice process. In the long run, ahigher case initiation rate signifies higher reporting which helps NGOs, governments, the police to best manage their monetary and human resources for optimum use so that they are helping women in the best way possible.

The current target market includes all urban women, 16 and older, with access to the internet. Right now, Zariya  is targeting women in Hyderabad. They do not currently target women in rural and impoverished areas. The Total Addressable Market in India for a period of 5 years would be 33 Million in the target age group.  It would be  400 Million women in the target age group in India (according to census, with and without internet). The  Served Addressable Market is 3.4 Million women in Hyderabad, Mumbai and Pune in the target age group who are on Facebook.

 Zariya’s website has had more than 1,000 unique hits and 40+ cases since its launch in October 2015.  Finally, Zariya will also give a real picture of the number of abuse cases, map these reports to geographical location thus giving insights into “danger zones”, and allow survivors to create a united community that can one day make bigger changes in society.

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