SEATTLE, Washington – It has been a dispiriting year in terms of violence against women. The world’s gender-based violence epidemic was on display seemingly everywhere: from the Kenyan teenager who was gang raped and left to die in a latrine to the fatal gang rape of a physiotherapy student in Delhi to the rampant sexual harassment and assaults throughout Egypt and Syria.
And yet, these acts have not gone unchallenged. In the wake of such violent incidents, mobile and internet-based apps and campaigns have surged.
Long hailed as innovative and revolutionary concerning micro-finance and poverty alleviation, mobile and Internet technologies are now working their magic within the realm of gender-based violence. Here are just a few examples of how technology is tackling violence against women and girls:
1. Basic mobile phone technology
Though much ado is made of new applications for smart phones and crowd-mapping technology, the mobile phone itself has challenged destructive gender norms and increased the safety of women throughout the world.
India illustrates this phenomenon well. A mere ten years ago, scarce landlines were the privilege of elites. Now there are more than 900 million subscribers to cell phones – a full 75 percent of the country. Even if inactive numbers account for a third of these numbers, there is still an average of one phone per every two Indians.
For the women subscribers, this means they are better equipped to report abuse or receive aid in times of danger. Further, women’s ready access to phones disrupts old controls men have had over women. In the words of sociologist, Manuel Castells, “mobile communication is not about mobility but about autonomy.”
2. Safecity, India
With a self-proclaimed desire to “lead to a safe and non-violent environment for all,” Safecity is a project designed to help identify areas of Indian cities where women could be in danger. Anonymous users log in and report any incidents of harassment or abuse they’ve encountered with information on the location and time of the violence.
The technology works to point out hotspots and “no-go” parts of Mumbia and Delhi that are likely unsafe for women. But it does more than that. Social entrepreneur and founder Alsa D’Silva said the technology also works toward removing the cultural stigma attached to reporting crimes.
The site has collected more than 1,600 reports in under a year.
3. HarassMap, Egypt
“Born as a response to the persistent problem of sexual harassment on the streets of Egypt,” Harassmap harnesses web and mobile technology to end the social acceptability of sexual harassment. The initiative, the first to fight sexual harassment and assault in Egypt, was launched in 2010.
HarassMap has a number of functions. For one, it is a tool for anyone who’s been harassed or assaulted to report their experience. These reports are mapped – each incident appears as a red dot over the location where it occurred. When a user of the map clicks on the dot, a text of the incident appears.
The maps and reports illustrate the scope of Egypt’s sexual harassment epidemic and work toward breaking down stereotypes concerning where, when and to whom harassment and abuse happens. Activists take this information to the streets in an effort to educate people about the issue. HarassMap’s research team also utilizes the data to construct communication campaigns with significant impact.
Similar crowd-mapping technology has been utilized by Women Under Siege to create a map of sexualized violence in Syria.
4. Fightback, India
Developed by IT company Tech Mahindra, ‘FightBacK’ was initially developed for in-house use only. However, after the vicious Delhi gang rape in December of last year, the company made the technology publicly available and free of charge.
The application combines GPS, text, email and Facebook technologies to help keep women safe. FightBack privately tracks the location of its users. If a user feels threatened, she can send an alert message which will instantly reveal her location to the five contacts she has designated to receive her alerts.
The application also anonymously releases these live alerts for public viewing. The time and place of the alerts is relayed but not the identity of the victim.
– Kelley Calkins