By Daria Kroupoderova
Northwest Asian Weekly
Do women feel safe in public spaces?
Kalpana Viswanath, cofounder of Safetipin, addressed the safety of women in her presentation “Building Gender Inclusive Cities” on Mon, Oct. 12 at University of Washington to an all-female audience. Viswanath, a researcher of women’s safety in cities for over 20 years, began her talk with something simple: the feeling of fear.
“Often it’s the fear that you might face violence which in fact impacts the way you feel that you can access public spaces,” Viswanath said. Feelings of fear for their safety, limit women in participating in daily life within a public space.
Viswanath wants to focus on creating more inclusive public spaces where women can move around freely. Things such as high fences and walls, low visibility, and lack of gender equity in spaces are all problems that cause the feeling of fear.
“Our understanding of spaces is often determined on our notions of fear,” Viswanath said.
Safetipin, is one way that Viswanath is trying to reduce the feeling of fear in her home of Delhi, India.
“It’s an online mobile phone application which collects data on cities…through either crowdsourcing or through other methods of collecting data,” Viswanath said. Safetipin is free for anyone with a smartphone, however it has not been used in the U.S., only in Delhi, and recently in Nairobi, Kenya and Bogota, Colombia.
The way the app works is someone could conduct a safety audit of a public space he or she is in and answer questions such as is how is the lighting in the area, was there any type of harassment experienced in that area, and how does someone personally feel in the area. The app gives the safety audit a rating out of 5 based on the answers given.
Having a safety audit available through an app allows more data to be collected about neighborhoods. Once someone does an audit, it is automatically uploaded up to the app where everyone who has access to the app can see it.
“I think it’s really cool…I wish we had something like this on campus,” UW student Naynay Chohan said. She currently gets UW alerts on her phone after something happens but thinks an app like Safetipin would be more helpful.
Another feature of the app is a tracking feature where a friend or family member can track someone’s path to make sure he or she gets home safely. There is also an emergency button in case there is any trouble.
“The idea was really one place to have a single app which was both providing information and providing a kind of tool for women to feel that they have access to some kind of support,” Viswanath said.
Currently, 70 percent of the app’s users are men. However, women are more interactive with the app itself, according to cofounder Ashish Basu. The age range of users is 20-37.
So far, some interesting data that has been uncovered by Safetipin such as which places people feel most and least safe in Delhi. McDonald’s currently holds a very high safety rating due to the fast food restaurant setting up shop in constantly busy areas. Least safe spaces are school after dark where there is no lighting or visibility at all. Also, seeing women and children in public spaces gives women a perception of safety due to the gender diversity.
“I think it’s a nice way to collect data,” said the executive director of the UW Women’s Center, Sutapa Basu. She said she thinks Seattle should use something similar to Safetipin to collect data.
Currently, Safetipin has 50,000 different spots audited.
“We are looking to map at least another 20 cities in the coming year so that there’s data across the globe on safety in cities,” Viswanath said. (end)
Daria Kroupoderova can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.