Mobile app Safetipin bets on big data to push for women’s safety

Mukta Naik, Delhi Community Manager
Delhi, 10 March 2016

In Delhi, parents insist that their daughters return home before sunset. Fear of sexual abuse is very real in this city. In a 2010 survey by NGO Jagori, nearly two out of three women reported facing sexual harassment between 2-5 times in the past year; and three out of five women reported that they were sexually harassed not just after dark but in the daytime as well. Verbal, visual, and physical forms of abuse, including rape, are not uncommon in Delhi.

The words 'accessibility' and 'livability,' therefore, mean nothing to Delhi’s women unless they feel safe. Women’s groups and NGOs have, for many years, worked to support the government through interventions like gender sensitization training for the police and support to communities and victims in reporting sexual crimes. The focus had been firmly on policing, but there was another critical aspect that needed urgent attention.

The Jagori survey pointed out, vitally, that while the burden of staying safe fell almost entirely on women, resulting in restrictions upon their behavior and movement, the major causes for lack of safety are "poor infrastructure (including poor or absent streetlights), unusable pavements, lack of public toilets, and open usage of drugs and alcohol." Intervening to improve urban infrastructure emerged as a clear imperative; one that was taken up by researcher and Jagori Executive Committee member Kalpana Viswanath in partnership with entrepreneur and technology expert Ashish Basu. Together, they created Safetipin , a map-based mobile phone app that crowd sources data from users and trained auditors to enable cities to become safer. Input from users about what they see or feel are quantified through specific indicators like lighting, visibility, people density, security, transportation, existence of walk paths, and gender diversity and coalesce into safety auditsand safety scores for hundred of ‘pins’ or locations across the city.

For a woman in Delhi, the app provides critical information about the safety of particular locations with red, orange, and green pins on the map clearly highlighting levels of danger. "The Safety Score is useful for anyone stepping out for a meal at night, visiting a new city or renting a place to stay," says co-founder Kalpana Viswanath. "It can help all of us, specially women, make better choices and be better prepared."

In addition to providing safety information, Safetipin is visualized as a means to gather big data that will inform urban stakeholders like the police, urban planning departments, and policymakers in their endeavors to improve safety conditions. "Equally, Safetpin is intended to support communities to make demands on the State for improved, accessible, and inclusive public spaces," Kalpana adds. For example, a pilot test across 8 Indian cities shows that feeling safe was most highly correlated with the presence of people and gender diversity in public spaces followed by lighting and visibility. In comparison, the presence of security arrangements did not correlate as much with women feeling safe.

Already, Safetipin data has been used to suggest improvements in last mile connectivity of the Delhi Metro and to highlight gaps in infrastructure and services in Delhi’s historic core Shahjahabad, among other projects. The Municipal Corporation of Delhi and the Public Works Department are leveraging this data to improve lighting in different parts of the city. Going forward, continuous and large-scale collection of data through crowd-sourced safety audits will be able to closely inform planning and design towards safer cities.

In a country where the availability of reliable granular data is often the stumbling block for better planning, Safetipin’s open access data platform can be a powerful tool to re-imagine our cities and make them safer, especially for women. Encouragingly, a number of stakeholders expressed willingness to engage creatively and collaboratively with the data at a workshop organised by the Safetipin titled ‘Using Data to Build Safer Cities’ in February 2016. Given the current policy emphasis on smart cities and use of big data, Safetipin could well be the right solution at the right time.

Photo: Safetipin

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