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Digital initiatives raise awareness about sexual harassment

In many countries throughout the world, women and girls are subject to violent attacks. Digital initiatives such as HarassMap and Safecity offer the chance of combating sexualised violence and making public spaces a little safer.

Girls and women today often lead more independent lives in towns and cities than in rural areas. But in some countries, especially in large cities they are also at greater risk of being subjected to sexualised violence. Activists are now using digital technology to combat the problem.

Violence against women is a widespread problem in Latin America. The app Junt@s (“Together”) is intended to help women in emergencies. With only a few clicks, smart phones can help to save lives – for instance, by sending an encrypted call for help to friends or family members.

Combating violence: An app to improve safety

One in three European women over the age of 15 has experienced physical or sexualised violence. These are the findings of a study conducted in 2014 by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA). The study showed that most assaults are carried out by partners or former partners.

But violence against women and girls takes place not just in the private domain. In some countries women and girls are not always safe to walk around in freedom and safety outside their own four walls. Not even when they live in towns and cities, where diversity and anonymity often affords women a more independent way of life compared with rural areas.

Way too many women and girls are still victims of sexual harassment, stalking or physical violence on the street, on public transport, in cafés and bars or just about anywhere in fact. All too often they are judged to be responsible for the violence to which they are subjected, facing accusations such as “You should dress differently” or “Why do you need to take the bus?”. In many countries cases are also trivialised by the police, perpetrators are rarely brought to justice. In some cities and conflict areas the situation is alarming.

One of the award-winning apps that was developed at the “Hack for Youth” in Uganda is called SafePal: It is a confidential platform which can be used by young people to report incidences of sexual violence on them or their friends.

Health Apps in Uganda

Initiatives to combat sexualised violence

How can public spaces be made safer for girls, women and also transgender people? In the last few years, activists in various countries have developed digital tools designed to help women and girls in particular to feel safer in public spaces, to share their experiences and to create greater awareness of the issues surrounding violence against women.

The HarassMap project in Egypt is an example of how digital communication is being used to combat sexist behaviour and violence. Using SMS, Twitter, Facebook or via the website, people can report cases of sexual harassment, whether experienced personally or witnessed first-hand. All reported cases are registered on a digital map illustrating the extent of the problem. The project calls upon people to intervene if they are witness to an act of violence. The message to perpetrators is clear: your behaviour is not acceptable and has consequences!

Video: What is Harassmap?

Created by the Red Dot Foundation from New Delhi in India, the Safecity app follows a similar strategy. With the slogan “Pin the creeps”, the founders have been collecting reports of sexualised violence since 2012 from currently 50 cities in India, Kenya, Cameroon and Nepal. In addition to giving the precise location of where an assault took place, the app can also be used to upload photographic or video evidence.

Video: Safecity – Intercultural Innovation Award 2016

Initiatives such as HarassMap and Safecity are unconventional and innovative public initiatives to combat sexualised violence in public spaces – and they invite everyone to get involved. This is a highly promising step towards a combined effort to ensure that the urban spaces we move about in on a daily basis are safe and accessible to all.

Community discussion on violence against women

The fifth of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is concerned with gender equality and specifically with eliminating violence and exploitation. Do you know of other projects that use digital technology to make public spaces safer for women and girls? Tell us more about them in the comments and take part in our discussion on initiatives to eliminate violence against girls and women worldwide.

Author: Janna Frenzel
FLMH Labor für Politik und Kommunikation GmbH

August 2017

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