The Anahita Speaker Series, an initiative by Carnegie India and the Vedica Scholars Programme for Women, is a monthly women’s speaker series that aims to highlight the experiences and achievements of women professionals who are giants in their fields.

India has repeatedly come under scrutiny for its unsafe public spaces, especially for women. This has a wide ranging impact on how women are perceived in society, how they navigate public spaces, and the employment options available to women across the country. An inaccessible and unsafe public environment, along with multiple other factors, have contributed to India's dismally low labour force participation rate. An organization working toward alleviating this problem, by providing a number of technology solutions to make cities safer for women and others, is Safetipin.  

In the fifth edition of the Anahita Speaker Series, Kalpana Viswanath, co-founder and chief executive officer of Safetipin, drew on her experience to give us an insight into how technology can play a role in making cities safer for everyone, especially women. The discussion was moderated by Kirithiga Selladurai, a Vedica scholar. 

Discussion Highlights: 

  • Differing Perspectives on Navigating Cities: The participants addressed the varying perspectives that people have while navigating cities. This is a global phenomenon and not limited to Indian cities, they noted. The participants highlighted that the manner in which women experience a city differs drastically from how men perceive it. They added that this significantly impacts the choices women make. They cited the example of how women may choose not to work due to unsafe public spaces in cities or how women may choose to move around in areas that are only familiar to them. They noted that unsafe cities have major ramifications for the economy, as women aren’t able to participate as freely as men. Participants also emphasized the impact of unsafe spaces on society, as women and anyone who finds a public space unsafe, choose not to partake in societal activities that they would have otherwise. The participants noted that cities that address the needs of various marginalized groups, such as senior citizens or members outside of the gender binary, are generally safer. 
  • What Makes a City Safe? Participants stated that the government, and society at large, need to understand the factors that contribute to making a public space unsafe. For instance, it isn’t sufficient for metro stations in New Delhi to be brightly lit within the station when the streets outside the metro station are dark, they. Participants drew attention to the inadequate state of last mile connectivity, which poses another barrier and potential safety concern. They noted that safe public spaces, and safer cities in particular, can only be created when stakeholders identify the root cause of the problem and tackle it in a collaborative manner. Participants agreed that cities which have good pedestrian facilities usually make for safer cities, as there is a focus on demarcated areas for walking and are usually accompanied by proper lighting. 
  • Partnerships and Collaborations: Participants noted the value of collaborating with various organizations to overcome challenges. They acknowledged that Safetipin has benefitted from partnering with organizations such as the Government of Delhi and District Secretary for Women, Bogota. Participants cited the example of Safetipin collaborating with various organizations in the city of Bogota in order to assess the “safe-ness” of the city, which resulted in the city creating a Spanish version of the app. By collaborating with stakeholders in the city of Bogota, Safetipin was able to share its best practices while reaching out to a larger audience, participants noted. They also cited the Government of Delhi program with public bus drivers to conduct gender sensitization programs, as an example. Participants emphasized that such initiatives enable greater engagement among multiple stakeholders, who then perceive the problem as a collective one, rather than one pertaining solely to women’s safety. 
  • Can New Technology Make Cities Safer? Participants agreed that emerging technology solutions can help create safer cities. However, participants stressed that these technology solutions need to be grounded in reality as they can only aid populations to a certain extent. For instance, they noted that while CCTV cameras are helpful, they are generally used after crimes have occurred. Similarly, while there is a lot of focus on the advent of “smart” cities, participants noted that most of the causes that contribute to making a city unsafe are socio-political in nature. While technology solutions can assist in creating safer public spaces, technology doesn’t exist in a vacuum and the root causes behind unsafe public spaces need to be assessed and addressed accordingly. 

This event summary was prepared by Shreyas Shende, an executive assistant and research assistant at Carnegie India.

Speaker 

Kalpana Viswanath is the co-founder and chief executive officer of Safetipin. She has worked on issues of gender and urbanization for over twenty years, with several organizations, such as UN Women and UN Habitat. She is also the chairperson of Jagori, and a board member of the International Centre for the Prevention of Crime. 

Moderator

Kirithiga Selladurai is a Vedica scholar.