Know Our Work: Using Technology for Change


Using Technology for Change

by Elsa Marie D’Silva

Curated by Vandita Morarka

You’ve gotten to know our team, we’re bringing you this series so that you can get to know our work better too. We explore the different verticals of our work through the lens of the people leading them.

In today’s connected world, we cannot do without our mobile phones or access to the internet. In fact, we feel lost and uneasy without our devices and totally cut off from the world without the internet. In such a scenario, we should use technology to our advantage to address pressing social issues. Safecity is a great example of leveraging technology to address sexual violence in public spaces.

We launched Safecity as a response to a horrific gangrape of a young woman on a bus in New Delhi in December 2012. This particular incident blew the lid off the issue and suddenly the conversations put the spotlight on people’s personal experiences. For the first time I openly shared my experiences and heard so many of my friends’ stories. Yet none of us had ever spoken about it before. The shame associated with the incident, the fear of the police, the lack of knowledge about the legislation and the lengthy process for justice were all barriers to reporting thus making the issue “invisible”. There had to be a better way to document our incidents and put the spotlight on the issue.

Taking a cue from Harassmap Egypt, we launched a customised version Safecity which encouraged anonymous reporting of sexual violence. We were primarily concerned with collating these stories from India but soon we had requests from Kenya, Nepal and Cameroon. The stories started flowing in. These stories are then collated as location based trends and visualised on a map as hotspots. Since our launch on 26 Dec 2012 we have collected over 10,000 stories from over 50 cities in India, Kenya, Cameroon, Nepal, Nigeria and Trinidad & Tobago and directly reached over 400,000 people.

The idea is to make this information available in the public domain for anyone to use –

For individuals – to document their experiences, learn from each other, improve situational awareness regarding the location and type of abuse

For communities – to use the data as a starting point for conversation to debate and discuss so that local solutions can be found and to demand from institutional service providers better infrastructure

For Institutions – a new data set that can be used as additional input for decision making.

In countries like India where official data is not freely available, this new dataset is very valuable to make decisions. Even if one had access to the official police crime data, information at the street level or a breakup category wise is not available. And just like we use peer review sites like Trip Advisor, Yelp and many others in making decisions on an everyday basis, Safecity offers you a chance to use your peers’ experiences to make better choices for your personal safety. By representing the information thus collected on a map as hotspots, we are moving the focus away from the “victim” to the location and people can view the issue with a different lens.  

We use the online data that women and girls share to identify factors that lead to behaviour that causes sexual violence and help us think through strategies to find solutions. We partner with other NGOs, citizen and student groups who work in a local community, to create awareness and collect information on sexual violence. The data highlights trends and we then mobilise the community to rally around the issue using the data as the base.

For example, our data helped us identify a hotspot in an urban slum in Delhi. It was on a main road near a tea stall. Men would loiter there while drinking their tea 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. The wall mural was so effective that the the loitering and staring stopped and the girls could walk comfortably, with no stress, to school, college or work, without fear of being intimidated by those men. 

Changing cultures of violence are partly about policies, but it’s also about 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. 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. And together with a partner organisation in Nepal, we pressured the transportation authorities to issue “women only” bus licences.

We have just launched our mobile app on Android and Apple playstores which will make it easy to report and access information to deal with sexual violence. Additional features including posting safety tips, marking places to indicate resources like hospitals and police stations and building a community through events and discussions.

So go ahead download the app, report sexual violence and join our movement in making public spaces safe for all especially women and girls.


Connect with us?

Write in to with feedback and queries and to if you would like to connect on our policy and legal work. You can now download our app on Android and iOS systems – let’s make spaces safer together!


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