Community-driven initiatives to reduce gender-based violence

Ashali Bhandari, Mumbai Community Manager
Mumbai, 2 February 2016

Government planning has done little to address the burgeoning rates of crimes against women in Indian cities. Mumbai’s ex-municipal commissioner acknowledged the exclusion of "gender perspective(s)" in previous city development measures. Unfortunately, Mumbai is not alone: statistics from the National Crime Bureau report higher rates of crimes against women in cities (69.7 per 100,000) as compared to the national average (52.2). In order to incite change to reduce gender-based crimes in urban areas, ingenious citizen initiatives and laudable projects by NGOs use community members to create safer city spaces.

At SNEHA, the Society for Nutrition, Education & Health Action, Nayreen Daruwalla and Professor David Osrin have been working on community programs to reduce gender-based violence in Dharavi, one of Mumbai’s largest informal settlements. SNEHA trains women in the community, known as Sanginis, to help identify and refer cases of gender-based violence to the counseling center. However, the ubiquity and normality of such crimes made it difficult to track the frequency with which they were occurring, except for those who approached the counseling centers.

The Little Sister Project provides the Sanginis with technology, enabling them to record and map cases of violence when reported, in the hope of circumventing under reporting. The Sanginis are neighbors, friends, and family members of the victims. “Our vision of primary prevention is to create community activists to make them into a 21st-century surveillance team who use a set of protocols and skills to carry our primary and secondary intervention in innovative ways,” says Daruwalla.

Since June 2014, over 1,000 cases of violence have been reported, averaging at 60 cases every month. The Little Sister Project integrates technology to track patterns of intervention as well: 25% of victims have chosen crisis counseling at SNEHA’s counseling center and over 45% have chosen barefoot counseling with Sanginis. However, Daruwalla has mentioned that challenges with technology have impeded tracking. In order to combat difficulty in accessing GPS due to poor connectivity, they have recently mapped the GPS coordinates of their neighborhood (Dharavi).

On a larger scale, Safecity emerged as a platform for women to report incidents of sexual violence in public spaces in urban India. Along with details about specific incidents, women now have the ability to geotag crimes, creating a map of “hotspots” to identify zones of harassment. Over the last three years, more than 7,500 experiences have been documented on the platform. Safecity has led interventions and workshops to create safer neighborhoods in areas with a higher prevalence of gender-based crimes.

Overall, both projects in Mumbai have participatory approaches when dealing with violence against women. The initiatives show that using community members to devise plans and solve issues can help raise awareness and can benefit community members more than top-down approaches (or the lack thereof). Going forward, hopefully more participatory programs will allow community members to contribute to their own development within the framework of their environment.

Photo credit: Ashali Bhandari

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