Guest post: Tweet to @SafecityIndia to make your city safer

By ‎@elsamariedsilva‎
Tuesday, 27 October 2015

When civic situations unfold, people use Twitter to reach government agencies, send live reports during critical situations, and organise responses to disasters. Inspired by how Indians have been harnessing the power of Twitter for public safety and activism, Safecity India (safecity.in) is integrating the Twitter platform for real-time public conversations to empower people to share their experiences about public harassment.

@SafecityIndia encourages women and girls to use Twitter to talk about these instances because it is critical to break the silence around sexual harassment — and document it. Official statistics do not reflect the true nature and size of the problem partly because of poor reporting.

@SafecityIndia has been collecting data on this issue for the last three years and has a large database of incidents, which are geo-tagged and show up as location-based trends. We use this data to identify factors that lead to behaviour causing sexual violence and help us think through approaches for solutions. We partner with other NGOs, citizen and student groups who mobilise the community to rally around the issue using this data.

For example, our data helped us identify a hotspot in an urban slum in Delhi, on a main road near a tea stall. Men would loiter there and intimidate women and girls with their constant staring. When asked what they wanted to change about their neighbourhood, the young girls said that they would like the staring to stop. So we organised an art workshop for them and they painted the wall with staring eyes and subtle messaging that loosely translates in English to: ‘Look with your hearts and not with your eyes’. It has been 9 months since the wall mural was painted and the staring and loitering has stopped and the girls can walk comfortably, with no stress, to school, college or work, without fear of being intimidated by those men.

Cultures of violence are changed not just by modifying policies, but also by giving people a voice. By making it easy for people to share their stories and report, and thus transparently showcasing data, we can hold institutions accountable. At @SafecityIndia, we have several examples where on presenting the data, police have changed beat patrol timings and increased patrolling, municipal authorities have fixed street lighting and made safe public toilets available. Such data can also empower local residential welfare associations and other citizen groups to realize a persistent problem and create innovate self-sustainable solutions.

The @SafecityIndia Twitter campaign that commences today will initially aid women in Delhi, Mumbai and Goa, with support from the police forces in these regions, gradually panning across India. To share their experiences of harassment in public spaces in these cities, people can Tweet to @SafecityIndia or use the #SafecityIndia hashtag. You can also submit stories via the Twitter Direct Message feature instead of a public Tweet. You will receive an automated response from the @SafecityIndia team, confirming receipt of the information, and also include useful details such as helpline numbers.

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@SafecityIndia aims to contribute to the cause of women’s safety not only by highlighting sexual violence in general and public harassment in particular but also by offering real-world solutions. With our active volunteers across the globe reviewing these stories, @SafecityIndia will include all reported Tweets in a monthly trend report submitted to the police and may also direct certain ones to relevant law enforcement agencies so they can take timely action. Online crowdsourced maps, a customized dashboard, and automated responses will be provided for each city through this collaboration. @SafecityIndia will also share story trends and hotspots on an online map, which will serve as a safety guide for citizens and local authorities.

We started off almost three years ago in a place where women are hesitant to share their experiences of sexual harassment and abuse. Today, we stand at a benchmark of over 6,000 stories from over 50 cities in India, Kenya and Nepal. Our movement will gain further momentum with a live public platform like Twitter. We are confident that we will be able to encourage more women to come forward and break their silence, share their stories and inspire others to take action.