Safetipin Apps – Safe city routes for women in South Africa
Womanity Award finalist Safetipin, a social enterprise based in New Delhi. Safetipin makes streets safer for women in cities. So far they have launched their suite of safety apps in 20 cities, mainly in India, but also in countries such as Colombia and Kenya. They are now set to expand into South Africa, potentially increasing safety for millions more women with their apps, including their flagship venture – My Safetipin App.
Safetipin is working with its South African award finalist partner, the Soul City Institute for Social Justice, to explore how the app could work for women in the large metro cities across the country. Should this partnership team be awarded this year, Womanity Foundation will support to launch in cities in South Africa through a package of funding and assistance, including mentoring and technical expertise.
Safetipin Apps crowdsource input from volunteers and from women themselves. In addition, with support from Uber, real-time footage of streets at night is also taken from moving vehicles. Using the information, My Safetipin App, for example, places red, orange and green pins on virtual city maps indicating which areas are the safest. Factors assessed include lighting, quality of walk/ cycle paths, gender balance in the streets and general feeling of safety.
In Delhi, seven different government departments have used Safetipin data to make improvements, including fixing all dark areas highlighted across the city. This work is essential. In 2012, for example, the UN Women Safe Cities Global Initiative report stated that 92% of women in New Delhi said they had experienced some form of sexual violence in their lifetime.
Are minivan taxis safe for women?
South Africa’s public minivan taxis are known among women commuters for being unsafe. The busy routes which taxis shuttle between, and the drivers’ lack of accountability can be a terrifying prospect for passengers. But alternatives are limited, so taxis remain the primary use of transport for women to get to work, college or to leisure events.
Last year, concern and terror among users of the vans – which can carry up to 14 passengers each – escalated to a disturbing new level. A woman passenger was abducted in Johannesburg and raped in a taxi in front of her 10-year-old son. It’s attacks such as these that finalists in the Womanity Award 2018 are working hard to prevent.
Addressing ‘no go’ areas in cities
The title of this year’s Womanity Award: ‘Creating Safer Urban Environments for Women’, is very timely. In the last year, a growing number of women have taken to social media to reveal the true extent of the abuse and threats they face daily in their cities. With more people living in cities than ever before and the trend set to continue, this situation is highly concerning. Presently, women and girls often find themselves avoiding multiple areas around their hometowns, or not wanting to go out after dusk.
Improving the safer cities’ agenda in South Africa
In a country such as South Africa, which has a femicide rate five times the global average, (Statistics SA, 2016) initiatives such as Safetipin are desperately needed.
Shereen Usdin, senior executive at the Soul City Institute, explains: “The Soul City Institute for Social Justice for Young Woman and Girls and Safetipin have formed this innovative South to South partnership making the country safer for women. Let’s be clear: the safe mobility of women is a basic human right. We are therefore working closely with the leadership of South Africa’s major cities. This arises out of our commitment to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, especially to achieve full gender equality by 2030.”
Ambitions of the Womanity Award 2018
The aim of the Womanity Award is to bring together complementary organisations working to reduce and prevent violence against women. Each finalist team comprises an innovation partner, in this case Safetipin, and a scale-up partner, i.e, Soul City. Together they plan to adapt and expand a successful women’s safety programme, in this instance the Safetipin apps, to new cities and territories, respecting the local context and social norms.
The Soul City Institute has traditionally used a combination of mass/social media, social mobilisation and policy advocacy to bring about social change. “We have already rolled out a safe taxi campaign, and we will be using the big data generated through the Safetipin app as an advocacy tool to make our streets safer for women by engaging with decision-makers’ and providing evidence-based solutions for city planning and budgeting. The Municipality of Ethekwini (Durban) has already agreed to partner with us on this project.”
Improving safety for women on taxis
“Most women use public taxi transport but the ranks have been identified as very unsafe,” Usdain explains. “Women get harassed by the taxi drivers and also by queue martials who are meant to be protecting them. There is very extreme behaviour. The abduction of a woman passenger who was subsequently raped in front of her son became very public and we have since started the Safer Taxi Campaign,” she says. “There was a real sense in South Africa’s cities that enough is enough.”
Kalpana Viswanath, co-founder and CEO of Safetipin who was recently supported by the Womanity Award programme to go on a field visit to South Africa, adds: “Clearly women’s safety and access to the city is something people are thinking about and is a priority agenda. I met the mayor of the capital city of Tshwane (Pretoria), which, amazingly, is the third largest city in the world in terms of geographical spread after Tokyo and Los Angeles. I gained an understanding of the ambitious commitments that the political parties have made in South Africa.
Besides the use of the apps, Safetipin and Soul City are also planning to have a community engagement element in their programme. They will work with the RISE girls clubs – an established project of the Soul City Institute which trains 15-24 year old women to become outspoken gender advocates. The young women will conduct safety audits in their neighbourhoods using a mix of mobile technology as well as physical data collection. The RISE activists use the audits to engage their communities and local government stakeholders to take the appropriate action to make their areas safer for women.
From #MeToo to safer cities
It’s an important time in history to get city officials to take notice and keep the discussion going around women’s safety, notes Viswanath. “The global conversation has certainly given an impetus, but we were already having this conversation and aim to get more women having this conversation,” she explains. “I do think, certainly, however that it’s becoming a global issue and people are becoming more open around speaking about it.
“Initiatives like the #MeToo campaign provide public and online space to get more people to engage with the issue,” continues Viswanath. “This is the time to take this discussion from personal stories, to making stakeholders accountable and asking for change. That’s where Safetipin comes in. It’s about taking the story and saying “now what? how do we ensure this issue around women’s safety changes?”