Published: 04th February 2020
Delhi's My Safetipin App is telling women which streets are unsafe to be on. Here's how
Founder of My Safetipin app, Dr Kalpana Viswanath tells Edex how the app is making the streets of Indian cities safer for women and what more can be done with it
Violence against women is a major problem worldwide, and is an extremely serious issue when it comes to India. However, this Delhi-based app called My Safetipin, now available in over 20 cities across the country, hopes to encourage women to be out rather than bind them with the fear of not stepping outside.
Founded by Dr Kalpana Viswanath in 2013, the My Safetipin app gives information about a location based on scorecards to help the user identify which places are safe and which are not. With an intent to make public spaces safer for women, the app uses crowdsourced data to measure how safe an area is. The idea originated from the fear that women and girls experience before traveling to or through certain areas which were known to be unsafe for numerous reasons including bad street lighting. "The app is completely free and anyone can download it on their smartphones and share their experience of a public space. We gather data with the help of safety audits where people can rate a specific location on the basis of nine parameters. The data is shared with all the users on the app so that they are made aware of the locations they are travelling through or to. This data can be used for improvement. The whole idea is to make cities safer for women, more walkable, improve street lights, and encourage more women to be out," explains Dr Kalpana.
Dr Kalpana Viswanath, Co-founder, Safetipin app
The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) recently released the annual Crime in India Report 2017 on October 28, 2019, after a delay of two years. According to the recent report, a total of 3,59,849 cases of violence against women in 2017 were reported. The number of cases reported has increased as compared to 3.38 lakh cases of crime against women in 2016 and 3.2 lakh cases in 2015. Responses to these cases typically include curfew for female students at colleges, universities, parents putting a curfew on their daughters at home, women choosing work hours that don't necessarily extend after 7 or 8 pm in the evening.
What does the My Safetipin app do?
The app uses a Safety Audit to determine the safety aspect of a location. There are a total of nine parameters that together determine the perception of safety. Each audit after conducted results in a 'pin' on the specific location where the audit was performed and also provides a time and date stamp. The colour of the pin is red, orange or green based on the measure of the parameters, which are:
- Lighting in the Area
- Openess of the Area
- Visibility in the Area
- People Density
- Walk Path
- Transportation in the Area
- Gender Diversity in the Area
- Feeling (something that is based on the user/individual as to how they feel at the location)
Based on audit data in an area, what is called a Safety Score for that specific location is generated. If you are moving to a new locality or simply visiting a new place, you can now be aware of the safety score of that locality or place. The app, with its safety score feature can now help you judge the state of public infrastructure, basic amenities available and personal vulnerability to crime in a new locality or a place.
Any user, who has the app, can do a safety audit or post their feeling about a particular place. Users can agree to other people's posts, put up their own comments, and even post it on social platforms like Facebook and Twitter. They can report problems such as poor street lighting, broken/blocked footpath, open wiring etc. Heat maps, which are quite easy to use and in fashion these days, already show us map based information like the most popular places for eating, drinking, sightseeing, and pretty much anything that can be tracked. The My SafetiPin app also has its own heat map for a city's safe and unsafe clusters that show the safest locations and routes in cities. Green color used in the heatmap is for safe, amber for less safe, and red for unsafe. You can also set up a tracker on the app with any of your contacts, who will then get to see your location and help in emergency situations. The feature called Safety Route on the app shows you a safe passage for you to reach your destination safely.
My Safetipin app is currently available in English, Hindi, Spanish, Mandarin, and Bahasa. Dr Kalpana also added that they are already operating in Nairobi, Bogota, Jakarta and Manila, as well as collecting data in eight other international cities — including Rio de Janeiro, Kuala Lumpur, and Johannesburg.
What's in the name?
Curiosity makes us inquire about the unique name, to which Dr Kalpana says that there are a few reasons behind it. "The most obvious is that SafetiPin mobile safety app shows a safety audit score as a 'pin' on a map. Since the score is called a safety score so we came up with SafetiPin. The second reason is that in India, traditionally women used the safety pin as a weapon of defence against street harassment, stalking harassment and bullying etc., especially in crowded places even 10-15 years ago. It might not be a tool which is very relevant now, but a jab in the flesh with a safety pin is often an effective deterrent to the roving hand," she explains.
Kalpana adds that they have been working with several government service providers, NGOs, companies, portals and more to provide them access to the data the app collects from the safety audits. This can then be used as a tool by these organisations to help improve the safety of a area, for advocacy by NGOs, to extend safety outside the workplace, and made available to travel or property portals to give users information about the level of safety of specific areas.
How well was it received?
After working for five years, the response has been great, says Dr Kalpana. "For example, in Delhi, in 2015-16 we gave some data about 7,000 dark points in the city, then we shared it with the state government and we had meetings with all the stakeholders. They worked with the specific data provided for each municipality — places where there's an extremely poor score on road lighting and more. Then we conducted another mapping in 2018 that measured the actual change in terms of dark spots and it had come down and we were glad that the data had been used. Similarly, in Bogota, they wanted to focus on bicycle routes, especially the ones used by women after dark. So, we worked with the government there and provided them with relevant data. Currently, government bodies and urban local bodies are responding and using the data to make changes on the ground, which is a step in the right direction," she adds.
As far as their future plans go, the My Safetipin app team is trying to work with the Delhi Government in terms of street lighting to make the city more walkable, so that it actually becomes safer for women. "We are also working on last mile connectivity. Women may take metros, buses but after that how do they get home especially in the evening? We are conducting in-depth studies near metro stations in the city to help with this," she concludes.