By ElsaMarie D’Silva*
Every year gender advocates and activists around the world observe 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence from 25 November to 10 December. Violence against women is a shadow pandemic, as stated by United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, which impacts an average of one in three women around the world. However, I often worry that observances of these international days, weeks, fortnights and months become a “must do” on the calendars of activists, but the conversation takes place in an echo chamber without more people joining the movement.
At my organisation, Red Dot Foundation, we work at the intersection of gender, technology, data and community engagement. In our view, technology can be used not only as an advocacy tool, but also as action enabler to generate insights for decision making to contribute to a more connected and inclusive society. This year, during the 16 Days of Activism, we hosted two challenges for youth. In both these challenges, young people from different parts of India attended trainings to understand the spectrum and nature of gender-based violence, technology interventions like Safecity, and analyse the dataset in relation to their own location.
One challenge focused on designing solutions for greater bystander interventions in incidents of sexual- and gender-based violence. They had to understand the problem and gaps from both a survivor and bystander’s perspective and come up with solutions on how to intervene. Some of the solutions proposed were education on bystander intervention trainings, awards to recognise timely action (#TheyCanAndTheyWill) and personal commitments (#ICommit) to intervene.
The other challenge was focused on community interventions from a legal and criminology perspective. They had to physically audit the hotspot or location with the greatest number of incidents, analyse the contributing factors, and then work with their community to design preventive interventions. The solutions included providing local dashboards with the data trends to police, civic authorities and community influencers, using these data to further improve infrastructure like fixing streetlights or broken pavements, and lobbying for funds for awareness campaigns or closed-circuit television cameras at key locations.
The feedback we received from the 100 participants in both challenges was that they were not aware of the incidents or their relation to the place, time of day, day of week or local context. Not being aware meant that they would not necessarily be able to recognise or categorise an experience as sexual harassment, even if they had witnessed it. Therefore, they would not be expected to intervene.
In our experience, most bystanders do not intervene as they do not know what to do or how to intervene without putting their own selves at risk. According to L’Oréal’s Ipsos survey 2019 conducted in eight countries, 78% of the 15,500 women interviewed claim to have been harassed at least once. Only 25% said that someone intervened.
Artificial intelligence (AI) and related technologies can help with awareness and intervention. As we build our Safecity crowdmapped dataset, we apply machine learning and AI, in collaboration with other technologies and platforms, to improve bystander intervention within a legal and ethical framework. For example, if you are travelling on the metro in Washington DC, Google maps gives you a prompt to rate your experience and give feedback on how crowded the train was - if you had several, many or no seats available, or if the train was on time. Similarly, Safecity could give you prompts to report your experience of safety and invite you as a bystander to share your experience.
As the number of responses and reactions to those responses increases, our directory of relevant responses to a situation and database grows. If, for example, you see a man harassing a woman on a train, you may wish to intervene and pretend you know the person being harassed. You could invite him/her to sit next to you and offer to get off at the next stop or make a scene drawing the attention of others around.
Our Safecity platform has a section to report safety tips. As more action on the ground is taken and reported, we will learn the myriad ways people respond, intervene and prevent such violence from occurring and in turn we can improve the probability of responding more effectively in a situation as well as build an individual’s confidence to take action.
The US non-profit Hollaback works on bystander intervention and has defined a methodology called 5Ds: distracting the perpetrator; delegating by asking for help; documenting the harassment; directly speaking up; and delay by comforting. These can very easily be supplemented by automated prompts if we start collecting data and analysing how people experience and respond to sexual- and gender-based violence.
Whilst we focus on violence prevention using evidence-based, crowdsourced data that are reported on our Safecity platform, we also encourage individuals in their communities to act. They can lobby for better public space infrastructure and resources for survivors or a more responsive community policing task force or transparent spending of taxpayer funds.
We believe that using technology and having access to the data is key in designing and driving effective solutions in one’s community. We see a need to use technologies like artificial intelligence to make obsolete the need for sixteen days of activism to end gender-based violence.
* ElsaMarie D’Silva is the Founder of Red Dot Foundation (India) and President of Red Dot Foundation Global (USA). Its platform Safecity, crowdsources personal experiences of sexual violence and abuse in public spaces. ElsaMarie is a 2020 Gratitude Network Fellow, 2019 IWF Fellow and a Reagan Fascell Fellow, a 2018 Yale World Fellow and an alumni of the Stanford Draper Hills Summer School, the US State Department’s Fortune Mentoring Program, Oxford Chevening Gurukul and the Duke of Edinburgh’s Commonwealth Leadership Program. She is also a fellow with Rotary Peace, Aspen New Voices, Vital Voices and a BMW Foundation Responsible Leader. She co-founded the Gender Alliance which is a cross-network initiative bringing together feminists from the BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt's Responsible Leaders Network, the Global Diplomacy Lab, the Bosch Alumni Network and Global Leadership Academy Community (by GIZ). She is listed as one of BBC Hindi’s 100 Women and has won several awards including Government of India Niti Aayog’s #WomenTransformingIndia award and The Digital Woman Award in Social Impact by SheThePeople. In 2017, she was awarded the Global Leadership Award by Vital Voices in the presence of Secretary Hillary Clinton. She is also the recipient of Gold Stevie Award for Female Executive of the Year - Government or Non Profit -10 or Less Employees in 2016.