Crowd data and mobile phone app make cities safer for women



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Mayors and activists from the World Urban Forum 9 sign a sign supporting safer cities for adolescent girls by 2030. Credit: Manipadma Jena / IPS

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, February 21, 2018 (IPS) – When Shiba Kurian got off the train in Chennai City, the crowd back at the evening office was dense and jostled. After booking a cab, she headed for the entrance. Instead of the cab she had to wait an hour for, saucy comments and mocking laughter came to her from a group of Romeos by the side of the road.

Kurian a journalist did not take him lying down. She went to the train station the next day and pinned her to a dangerous place in her GPS-enabled mobile app called Safetipin. From now on, whenever women using this smartphone application are in this station, an alert will be sent to them.

“Safety is a social issue. A city becomes safe not so much through the police and closed circuit television (CCTV), but through people, especially women, who can use all public places without fear, empowering them by making it easier to ‘access to social and economic opportunities,’ said Kalpana Viswanath, who co-founded the Safetipin app, told IPS at the ninth session of the World Urban Forum (WUF9, Feb. 7-13) which ended on last week in Kuala Lumpur.

On the theme “Cities 2030-Cities for all: implementation of the new urban agenda”, WUF9 was organized by UN Habitat and brought together 22,000 participants from 165 countries. The global community is committed to localizing and scaling up implementation with the Kuala Lumpur Declaration which calls for urban centers where no one and no place is left behind.

This was the first Forum to meet since the adoption of the New Urban Agenda (NUA) at the Habitat III conference in Quito, Ecuador, in 2016. The NUA aligns with SDG 11 to make inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable cities. Gender equality (SDG 5) is one of its various other goals.

Cities face unprecedented demographic, environmental, economic, social and spatial challenges, with six in ten people worldwide expected to reside in urban areas by 2030. According to UN-Habitat, more than 90% of this growth will take place in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. For the first time in history, more than half of the world’s population now lives in cities. Given this growth, urban areas are at the heart of economic opportunities and growth and women cannot be excluded.

But today, women and girls in many countries are struggling to move safely to cities and realize their potential.

A Malaysian participant walks past the exhibition booth in Abu Dhabi, host of WUF10 in 2020, where advancements in women’s urban safety, a major topical event, should be scrutinized by the global community. Credit: Manipadma Jena / IPS

Dangerous streets and public transport hamper women’s economic growth

A participatory study conducted by the global NGO Plan International for its “Because I am a Girl” program involving more than 1,000 adolescent girls from 5 cities around the world reveals that the fear of sexual violence creates “no-go zones” for women. girls.

Only 3.3% of Delhi girls said they always felt safe when using public transport, while 45% of Kampala girls faced sexual harassment on public transport. In Lima, a tiny 2.2% of girls said they always felt safe when walking in public spaces, according to this earlier study.

The Safetipin mobile app, which is free, has been downloaded 85,000 times in 20 countries, mostly in Indian cities, Manila, Nairobi, Jakarta and Bogota.

Easy to use, it has a set of nine parameters that represent how safe a person is after dark and helps users audit public spaces like Kurian did.

The parameters include the degree of lighting or not of a place and its degree of openness or framing and objects and people are clearly visible. The fourth parameter is a control over the people present or is it deserted; Are there other women using the space and whether a security guard or police officer is present. The next parameter checks whether public transport is readily available. But most important of all is what the user thinks of the place.

The app also directs users to the safest route evaluated based on data from the crowd of users. It displays color-coded alternative routes and once a route is chosen, a Google map opens. Pick-a-pic is another feature showing two images side by side for users to decide which one to go with. If the users are in a new or unsafe location, an alert notification will appear on the screen.

Viswanath said she invariably activates Safetipin’s geolocated “stay with me” feature on her husband’s phone when she returns late from the airport in her hometown of Delhi, who can then monitor the movements of her in real time. his taxi.

Young, active women between the ages of 25 and 40 are the most frequent users of the application. It is when they begin to live independently that safety becomes a major concern for women, according to Viswanath. When in a new city, these women check the security of hotels and paid accommodation areas.

“Interestingly, while young women between the ages of 18 and 20 as long as they live with their parents aren’t too concerned about their own safety, their parents download the app to monitor their safety,” she added. .

In addition to data from the crowd of users, Safetipin includes a second application that captures night photographs of a city, mounted on a vehicle. These real-time photographs, this crowd-sourced data, and Google’s big data analyzed together, present strong, confirmatory technical data that helps municipalities take corrective action for hazardous locations.

In Delhi, data and photographs identified 7,800 dark public places that the government had to take care of and fix streetlights. In Bogota, Safetipin in partnership with the municipality mapped the 230 kilometers of cycle path. Based on the results, CCTV cameras, bicycle docks and lights were attached to the track to improve biker safety.

Teenage tourists wander safely to George Town in Malaysia, a UNESCO-listed city that keeps women safe as its tourism industry is booming. Credit: Manipadma Jena / IPS

Teenage girls make cities safer for themselves

“Every month, 5 million people move to cities in developing countries. By 2030, nearly 1.5 billion adolescent girls will live in cities, but they are too often under-represented in urban safety policies, ”according to Plan International.

“Girls in cities face both increased risks and increased opportunities. They face sexual harassment, exploitation and insecurity, but they are also more likely to be educated, politically active and less likely to be married at an early age, ”Alana Livesey told IPS, global manager of Plan for its “Safe Cities for Girls” program. at WUF9.

By using innovative and participatory tools, Plan’s program was able to increase the safety and inclusion of girls in cities.

In Hanoi, a third of teenage girls in Plan International’s survey said they could not access emergency services, including the police. Lan and Linh (last names not mentioned for protection reasons), two of Hanoi’s youth leaders attending the Kuala Lumpur Forum said they undertook group walks at night in dark areas to map risk and raise community awareness. the right of girls to safe public spaces.

“Almost 10,000 girls use public buses every day in Hanoi,” 13-year-old Lin told IPS. They distributed flyers and comics to more than 8,000 public transport drivers and ticket agents to spread the message that girls’ safety is also their responsibility. The girls’ campaign succeeded in getting the government to install cameras on buses and issue official guidelines against overcrowding.

While there is momentum to address women’s safety in public transport in India (and other developing countries), “investments in urban transport are largely gender blind, with limited understanding of the interrelationships. between gender and transport inequalities, ”a New York-based policy brief said the York-based Institute for Transport and Development Policy (ITDP).

“Sustainable urban development will remain elusive without integrating the safety, comfort, convenience and affordability of women and girls in urban transport,” he warns.


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