An Indian portal site, Safecity, allows users to enter cases of sexual harassment on an online map in order to make cities safer. The site has been commended with the Intercultural Innovation Award, a joint initiative of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) and the BMW Group. We spoke to the initiator of the project, ElsaMarie D’Silva.
Hello Elsa, reporting about sexual harassment online has a lot in common with recent social media campaigns such as #MeToo.
#MeToo is important because it raises public awareness of the issue of sexual harassment. However, the data on Twitter isn’t structured in a way that allows us to draw any general conclusions about it. Our portal Safecity makes it possible to assign a specific location to each case of harassment reported by an affected person – in an overwhelming number of cases, this means a woman – and to collect this data for various statistical analyses over a longer period of time. Since its launch, Safecity has logged over 11,000 reports in more than 50 cities in India, Kenya, Cameroon and Nepal. Thanks to a high number of responses and our processing of the data we have seen some significant effects.
What kind of effects?
Once we’ve collected reliable, well-structured data on our website, we can use it to show authorities such as city officials the areas where their cities are particularly unsafe. If the data shows that there are increasing instances of sexual harassment in certain streets, we can put pressure on the authorities to station more police there or install more street lighting. Another example is in schools. In particularly unsafe areas, we specifically target educational institutions to ensure that there is a greater emphasis on teaching about the issue of sexual harassment.
Why did you initiate this project?
Sexual harassment, which particularly affects women, is a problem all over the world. Unfortunately, India has the shameful reputation of being among the worst offenders. I live in India and know the problems here, so I was convinced that I had to take a stand.
You had the opportunity of continuing your career in aviation. Did you find it difficult to take on a project that was socially responsible yet financially insecure?
I had the feeling that by doing this I would be able to make an important contribution to many people’s lives. Even though we didn’t have the money available to us back then. The funding only came in gradually, through foundations and the CSR departments of international organisations.
Was it hard to get funding?
If you have a good product that really benefits people, then a lot of companies will support you. They want to shoulder part of the responsibility for social developments. However, you first have to get to the right contacts in these companies. This is where the prizes we’ve won have helped us a lot. Two years ago, we were presented with the Intercultural Innovation Award, which is sponsored by the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) and the BMW Group. We are pretty proud to have made it into second place out of 1,200 candidates from all over the world. This has led to a great number of crucial contacts. For example, we were invited to join the Global Media Forum in Germany, which also gave us access to other networks.
Should companies use other opportunities to pursue their social responsibility apart from handing out subsidies?
Of course! Now organisations are employing more and more women. It has been proven that heterogeneous teams work more creatively and effectively. However, organisations need to ensure that women can do their jobs without being harassed by their co-workers. So we need internal workshops to raise employee awareness, an open-minded corporate culture that lets employees discuss these problems, and generally more investment in diversity within the company.