Updated 21 May, 2013, 8:08 pm IST
Crowdsourcing tools to combat violence against women
| by Rohini Lakshane
My big curly hair is rich sexual-harassment material. Instead of tying it back to protect myself, I decided to use my academic and professional experience to reinvent a safe environment for me and every other woman. I am a GIS data analyst. That is, I am the nerd who uses statistics and mapping technology to explain how the number of street lanes can invite a certain type of crime.
- Sawsan Gad, Freelance Researcher, Harassmap
From molestation, cyber harassment and domestic violence to rape and trafficking, women across the world are subjected to numerous acts of violence every day. A few projects built on the open source Ushahidi platform display crowdsourced maps of reports of these incidents, as well as maintain a database of these reports. Some reports are submitted anonymously by the victims or their near ones; others are pulled in from the news and social networking websites. This data is useful for researchers, governments, law enforcement agencies, the police, organisations working on gender issues and issues related to violence against women, and civil society organisations. These deployments also guide the women facing violence to resources and help. Most of all, these initiatives create testimonies and offer the victims a presence and a voice -- verily crucial in the aftermath of crimes where victims are coerced into silence or purposefully isolated.
Harassmap displaying 'hotspots' of sexual harassment in Egypt.
Harassmap is a project to map incidents of sexual harassment in Egypt through SMS reports. Though the project is new, its model presents immense possibilities for use in ensuring the public safety of women if successful and replicated in other parts of the world.
Reports are submitted by texting details such as the nature of harassment (ogling, verbal abuse, sexual assault) and the location to a dedicated number. Alternately, they may be submitted using a form on the website, tweeting with the hashtag #harassmap, by sending an email, or using the iPhone or Android apps for Ushahidi. The reports are moderated by volunteers and placed on an interactive Google map as well as the Harassmap timeline. A list of the reports in chronological order is accessible on which visitors to the websites may leave their comments. Another section pulls in and displays news reports.
The places with the most reports are termed harassment ‘hotspots’. The site also has referral links to services where distressed users could seek help with filing a report with the police, undergoing psychological counselling etc. The website also publishes an analysis of the reports gathered over a period of time. Users of Harassmap can blog about their experiences facing harassment at the website and read those of others.
The Harassmap team includes volunteer activists and technical experts. The project seeks to acquire grants and sponsorships and plough them back into the project for greater visibility and outreach. From January 2013, the project also intends to identify safe zones, for example, shopping malls where the code of conduct does not tolerate sexual harassment. In the next year, the project plans to expand its scope to encompass more kinds of acts of violence against women. Once a month, over 500 Harassmap volunteers will join an outreach activity mostly focussed on ‘hotspots’ to urge neighbourhoods to be watchful against sexual harassment. The team has planned other events such as self-defense classes. To quote its executive summary, Harassmap intends to use its data to debunk a few myths such as “properly dressed has no statistical bearing”. If these initiatives are successful, Harassmap would become a comprehensive and powerful tool for prevention, awareness and response to violence against women.
Take Back the Tech! map displaying reports in Europe
Crimes against women have kept pace with technology. Women are controlled or coerced by abusive family members or partners in ways such as surveillance (tracking of communication or location using their mobile phones) and privacy violations. They also face online harassment, cyber stalking, cyber bullying, defamation, and unauthorised use of their personal information, photos or videos. The gender gap between male and female users who are well-versed with the use of such technology creates further scope for violence against women. The ‘Take Back the Tech!’ campaign aims to 'take technology back' from the perpetrators of abuse and use it to fight them.
The reporting system functions exactly like the Harassmap except that there is no SMS helpline and that the hashtag used to tweet a report is #takebackthetech. Reports are filed under various categories and sub-categories such as the kind of violation (accessing private data, shooting photos or videos without consent, etc) and the type of harm faced (harm to reputation, censorship, etc).
The campaign aims to bridge the gender divide in the online world and help women and girls overcome technophobia. The map is an initiative of the Association of Progressive Communication (APC) and built by seven organisations and collectives across Bosnia and Herzegovina, Congo, Kenya, the Philippines, Pakistan, Colombia and Mexico. The crowdsourced mapping deployment is a part of the campaign’s ‘End Violence: Women's Rights and Safety Online’ project funded by a Dutch ministry.
This deployment displays an interactive Google map of the location of helplines for women and children run by the police and government agencies, support groups, NGOs and others. A list of the helplines is also displayed. Helplines can be listed by submitting them through a web form or calling an IVR number. Like with the other Ushahidi deployments mentioned here, reports are verified and added to the map.
The data generated by these reports is not available for use yet. A section of the site declares, “Once enough information has been gathered, the data will be made available to other websites, apps by API calls”. The deployment is a part of a crowdsourcing project by Maps4Aid.
The map displays crowdsourced data about incidents of sexual harassment at the workplace, rape, dowry harassment, abuse, infanticide and foeticide, street harassment and murder in India on an interactive Google map. A news feed about crimes against women is displayed along with the reports. The website displays daily and weekly round-ups of the reports submitted. Reports can be added through a web form or by tweeting with the hashtag #Vaw. Here too, the data is not available for immediate use.
Blogs4aid, the maps4aid blog, displays data collected over time on charts in the statistics section. It also publishes reports on issues related to crimes against women. The campaign is active on Twitter and Facebook too.
Note: The deployment has been marked inactive at the time of writing, but reports seem to go through.
This Ushahidi deployment is a part of maps4aid and maps incidents of violence against women (VAW) in Mumbai. It accepts reports by SMS (+91 7736256298), tweeting with the hashtag #vawmumbai, web form, email and the Ushahidi apps for iPhone and Android.
The reports submitted here present a disturbing picture, as do those on other deployments, "I am a fourteen year old girl. A wrong number once called me and ever since then has been sending me disgusting texts. From his english, it is pretty apparent he is of a cheap, and one text message I got said, "I want 2 **** u babe." I once got followed by a man, and once a man tried to touch my breasts in an area near Dadar. This is growing worse day-by-day, and I cannot wait till I get out of Mumbai. Please do something to help..."
Geographies of Violence, built using Ushahidi and Crowdmap, was set up a few days ago to map sexual violence and to identify unsafe streets and neighbourhoods in Delhi. No reports have been submitted to it yet. This deployment enables downloading of data under an open license and also subscribing to alerts. Reports can be submitted by using an SMS helpline (+91 9650567690), a web form, and the Ushahidi apps for iOS and Android.
A 2010 map from WomanStats.org
Though not built on a crowdsourced model, another comprehensive database of women’s issues, crime against women, economic status and other human development indicators from over 170 countries is compiled and updated on WomanStats.org. The WomanStats Project is run by a team of researchers and students, which aims to establish a connection between the security of women and the tendency for interstate and intrastate conflict (among other things). The Woman Stats Database comprises of sources such as documents from governments and NGOs, journalistic accounts, expert interviews and non-expert interviews. The database houses static maps of localisation of gender issues.
The pervasive presence of such visualised data is more likely to make citizens aware of the magnitude of the problem than raw statistics or sporadic news reports. Additionally, creation of and access to rich datasets can also function as a decision support system (DSS) for future intervention programmes in areas with high incidence of such crimes while also helping in monitoring and evaluation of existing programmes to control violence against women.
This article is a part of our series of features on crowdsourcing and citizen data initiatives. View the series.
Cover Image: Getty Images
Tags: Ushahidi , maps4aid , Harassmap , violence against women , crowdmap , crowdsourcing , crowdsourcing series , Take Back the Tech , crimes against women , ICT , FrontlineSMS , Womanstats , woman stats database , dataset , open data , mapping violence against women , mapping crimes against women , public safety , sexual harassment , sexual assault , safety of women , rape , abuse , molestation , ICT4D
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