This month WorldPulse Leadership group proudly presents before you Elsa D'Silva,founder of Safecity as the Leader of the month for August.
An ex Vice President, Network Planning of Kingfisher Airlines, a sugar craft artist, a TEDx MidAtlantic speaker, a changemaker who after being in corporate culture for 20 long years, diverted to change the course of her life onto a new path to create “SAFECITY”. She is a Rotary Peace Fellow, an Aspen New Voices Fellow, a Vital Voices Lead Fellow, a mentee at the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women in Business and an alumni of the Swedish Institute. She won the Female Entrepreneur Award by European Angel Investor 2013, Dusan Stojanovic in July 2015 and the Digital Women Award in Social impact by She The People.
Safecity her first social project is a platform that crowdsources personal stories of sexual harassment and abuse in public spaces and the data which is anonymous, gets aggregated as hot spots on a map indicating trends at a local level. The idea is to make this data useful for individuals, local communities and local administration to identify factors that causes behaviour that leads to violence and work on strategies for solutions.Since its launch on 26 Dec 2012 it has collected close to 10,000 stories from over 50 cities in India, Kenya, Cameroon and Nepal.
On the idea that led to the creation of SAFECITY, Elsa speaks, “Why should half the population be deprived of exercising their rights, curtail their options, mobility and dreams because their family or society does not think it is “safe” for them? How can we think of women empowerment when basic rights of women are still being violated? How do you expect more women and girls to join the workforce and contribute when they do not have access to education or choice of career or are not safe in public or private? Since most of the crimes against women are undocumented, the issue remains invisible, the male population are totally oblivious of the pain the women/girls go through and therefore there is no urgency to do anything about it.”
Elsa had a childhood where she had the privilege of choosing her own career, interests and hobbies besides being treated equally as her brother. This freedom of life gave her a boost and inculcated a strong sense of independence and equality in her since childhood.The horrible Delhi gang rape case of 2012 influenced her tremendously and she used her skills, time and network to highlight these issues which were and are a big part of every section and place of society.
She highlights “We find that most women and girls do not understand what constitutes sexual violence and are totally ignorant about the various legislations and redressal available to them. We do workshops and campaigns to make them aware of the same. To me that is the first step ,making them mentally aware so that they feel confident to break their silence and seek help.” The mission of ‘SAFECITY’ Elsa D’Silva shares is to make cities safer by encouraging equal access to public spaces for everyone especially women, through the use of crowdsourced data, community engagement and institutional accountability.
Accordingly to her the most important steps are:
- Create awareness on sexual harassment and abuse
- To get women and other disadvantaged communities to break their silence and report their personal experiences.
- Collate this information to showcase location based trends. Make this information available and useful for individuals, local communities and local administration to solve the problem at the local level.
The Safecity platform allows for anonymous reporting which helps a woman document her experience and acknowledge the incident publicly. The police receives this anonymous data set and can adjust patterns of vigilance based on time, day of week and/or location. Also not every kind of harassment needs police intervention. A lot can be addressed through community support and intervention. This innovative social awareness and mapping not only is applicable in India,but also in other countries too where there are security concerns .
You can submit a quick report here : http://maps.safecity.in/externalpages/forms/report_new.php
Overall statistics can be seen on : http://maps.safecity.in/reports
Elsa shares, “ Sexual violence should not be a woman’s problem alone but society’s and everyone should pitch in to help eradicate it.”
Let us have a quick conversation with this entrepreneurial personality, Elsa D’Silva, whose innovative idea and planning has made this organization reach women across the country and to different nations .Here is a short interview where she shares her thoughts, goals and questions which have troubled us since long, yet there were no ways found to eradicate the reasons.
1.Safe City sounds like an ideal city where we all dream to live in? Is that the concept you had in your mind when you formed this and started this initiative?
Elsa : Safecity is an ideal which we aspire to where there is equality for everyone.Through Safecity we aim to make public spaces safer and equally accessible to all, especially women and girls, through crowdsourced data, community engagement and institutional accountability. By allowing for anonymous reporting of sexual violence we are making the issue more visible, helping women understand they are not alone and collating this information in a way that they can use to make better decisions about their personal safety and seek help. By making this information publicly available we encourage communities to rally around the issue, mobilize and organize themselves to take action at their neighbourhood and drive institutional accountability of service providers like police, municipal corporations, schools and educational institutions and even elected representatives.
2. What is the role of Safecity besides providing a platform to women for reporting cases of nuisance, harassment, or any kind of assault? Does this reporting help the victims, or non victims in any way?
Elsa :UN Women states that 1 in 3 women face some kind of sexual assault at least once in their lifetime. But in our experience, the statistic in India seems to be extremely high. A rape occurs every 20 mins in India.Yet most women and girls do not talk about this abuse for a multiple of reasons - fear of society, culture, victim blaming, fear of police, tedious formal procedures etc. As a result women keep silent and this data is not captured anywhere but the perpetrator gets bolder over time and we accept it as part of our daily routine. This leads to under communication and under reporting of the issue. If there are poor official statistics, the problem is not visible and is not a true representation of the actual problem. Therefore we need to break our silence and document every instance of harassment and abuse in public spaces so that we can find the most effective solutions at the neighbourhood level.This platform allows to break the silence and finally, the information itself being in the public domain can help encourage community action and drive institutional accountability.Today we make choices for everything based on reviews - books, movies, restaurants, hotels but we have nothing for personal safety.
"The Safecity data can give you insights on location based experiences which you can use to make better informed choices regarding your own safety."
3.How is the anonymity of women reporting to cases being maintained and how does the local mapping help local authorities to keep an eye on the same to check the numbers of such cases?
Elsa: Safecity uses software, Ushahidi, allowing for anonymous reporting. The cases are reported anonymously even if the complainant has chosen to reveal her name.. For e.g. in Kibera, Kenya, our partner organisation Polycom Development found a hotspot outside a mosque where young men would intimidate the girls with their staring, commenting and groping. After sharing the information with the mullah of the mosque, he started preaching through his sermons about this issue and it was effective in getting the young men to stop. In another case in Delhi, art was very effectively to stop staring and loitering. For example, Safecity data helped us identify one of the hotspots in an urban slum in Delhi. A tea stall where men would loiter 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 expressed the ogling to stop. So an art workshop was organized 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." Since the art mural happened , the staring and loitering has stopped and the girls can walk with no stress to school, college or work comfortably.
4. Do we need counseling for only women or for men too who are actually the root of the problem?
Our country is patriarchal and the eldest male member of family has a great influence on the life of everyone else and on any kind of decision, while women have little or no say regarding their lives. This deep socio-cultural conditioning has led to a situation, where it is difficult for women and girls to confront a male perpetrator and stand up for their rights. Even though times are changing,it is easier to blame the woman even though she is a victim and shift the focus away from the crime. Very often, women are blamed for these kind of incidents raising questions on their attire, behavior and nature.My challenge with Safecity is to get people to question the status quo and to come forward to break their silence. We should encourage active bystander intervention. Most men may not be perpetrators but they are definitely passive bystanders. For us to solve the problem, we need such men to be part of the solution.
Elsa D’Silva , a woman of strong character and nature, always believes in pushing herself to explore her boundaries, adapting to new circumstances, changing course where needed and constantly adding value to herself and others. She adds, “ If you look at my career path, I started off as a flight attendant, then was a flight safety instructor teaching pilots and cabin crew safety and emergency procedures, then went into strategy - revenue management, pricing, network planning. I did many different jobs, always adding value to myself and constantly pushing boundaries. If there was something new to learn, I wanted to do it. I always added to it with formal education degrees and diplomas.”
Last year when she spoke at a panel with several police officers and they mentioned that they were scanning websites like Safecity for crowdsourced information that hadn’t reached them,since then she has reached out to the police in Mumbai, Delhi and Goa to regularly share data and trends with them.She states, “With Twitter India, Safecity has extended reporting to twitter users where they can direct message with their experiences on @SafecityIndia whilst also scanning the website with a tool developed by Twitter and Frrole for tweets on sexual violence and responding to them with information/help.”
"With women like Elsa D’Silva, the world is surely going to change one day, this woman spurts for a change and has started working towards a goal, the need of hour is to join hands and walk together ."
Her message is truly inspiring to young women and leaders - “Pick your cause carefully because in good and bad times, it will motivate you. Never give up, there is always a way forward and don't be afraid to seek help as you are not alone.”
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