With the era of technology diffusing in our lives like sugar in water, the women of our times are on an i n t e r e s t i n g threshold. On the one side lies the plethora of opportunities that internet opens for us and on the other lies the over dependence on it and lesser dependence on our own selves. With the arrival of mobile technology and social media the scenario has become even more interesting. Information is right at our fingers and the women are making full use of it. Gone are the days when a damsel in distress would wait for her prince charming to arrive and save her, now a tap on the safety app in the damsel’s phone would bring the entire police department to her rescue. But is this quick fix a real solution to women’s woes? Are the many safety apps in our phones actually going to be of any use during emergencies? Or do we need to depend on our own presence of mind and training of bodies? Technology is certainly a help, but it is but a part of the solution. This rapid advancement in technology is complemented with increase in the crimes against women. A holistic solution is to be aware, alert and prepared in all forms, in all ways, for all situations.
Safety at your fingertips
Well, to bring safety at our fingertips, legislative measures are increasingly being sought to ensure the safety of women where technology is facilitating the process. The issues of safety of women and other vulnerable sections of society are engaging the attention of the police and agencies concerned in and outside the government. It is being increasingly felt, especially, post the “Nirbhaya” rape case of 2012, that there is a need for innovative ideas to tackle these issues and that effective use of technology can go a long way in ensuring safety. A number of safety applications have entered Indian markets. Some of them have survived while others have grown redundant over time. With technological development, newer applications keep entering the market, claiming to have features better than the previous ones.
The utilisation of technology for supporting women’s security is important. Today, applications would not assume a fundamental role in security, but rather its consistent use and standard upgrade according to the need and mindfulness about security will help to give technological solutions. In a survey conducted by MitKat of women safety applications available in the market, we came across various criteria which are important to be considered while judging/downloading an application in terms of its reliability and availability. In the wake of rising crime against women, many startups have taken the initiative to introduce products in the form of applications, which will ensure safety for women. VithU, Raksha, BSafe, Pukar, SafetyPin are some examples.
For improving women’s safety in India we need to focus on four things: Priority 1: A mechanism to deter or avoid any danger to them.
Priority 2: A mechanism to help them defend themselves. Priority 3: A mechanism to reach out for help. Priority 4: A mechanism to help identify and incarcerate the predators.
What do we have? / what’s available?
• There are applications like EYE WATCH, B Safe, VithU, which provide features like SOS activation, and location sharing.
• Applications like Nirbhaya notify the police and have group tracking.
• Then there are applications with special features of video/audio record, scream alert/alarm clicking crime photos, recognise shouting and crying as distress and emergency directory.
• A few of them like EYE WATCH, even work without Internet.
• There are apps which mark safe/ unsafe zones, signals women safety secured.
• There are smart devices concealed in the form of bracelets, watches, key chains, and pendants etc which alert the emergency contacts in the face of threat.
What are the problems with such devices/ applications?
• Many special devices are primarily western and most of them have not reached India yet.
• Another issue is the high cost of manufacturing these devices.
• To make applications efficient, they would require GPRS services which might not be feasible.
• Applications get hanged, which lowers down the response time.
• These applications consume too much of battery power.
• Most of the applications available in the market do not work without the Internet or mobile network. This is exactly where the government needs to step in and try and mitigate cost and infrastructure issues for the corporations working in this direction
Study of the currently available solutions revealed that somehow smartphone safety apps are not considered the best solution by the masses. There is a need to think the problem through, keeping in mind the infrastructure present in India. We are looking to work on a new cutting edge technology that could potentially solve the shortcomings in the current existing solution. Hence, there is a need to understand how to design the solution so that it will have the maximum impact. The efficiency of technology in guaranteeing women’s safety is questionable. As of now, no large scale success has been produced by them to show us that they have proven to be successful in averting danger.
The problem with apps is that they tend to be clumsy. The woman has to open her phone, unlock it, open the app and then press a button. Also, most of the times, the perpetrators usually go for the phone first. The need is to develop independent devices like safety bands, rings, key rings etc that can be carried around in disguise and used faster, and which will allow the women to send emergency messages with their location in times of distress.
It is important to note that the enlisted emergency contact may not be in a position to help the victim at the time of the attack. Most attacks happen to unsuspecting victims and the attacker has the advantage of surprise, barring the victim a chance to even use the device. For technology to be truly helpful in ensuring women’s safety, it needs to be available to all. It should be subsidised and made compulsory in high school/college. These technology measures have an exclusive target of urban elite women who can afford such expensive devices and will have the knowledge of its use. The reach of technology is extremely narrow in order to make women safer. The rural and the small town women are completely alienated from it. Adequate training should be given to women on how to make the maximum use of technology for their safety. These devices must come with geo-trackers and a direct police helpline, specifically set up for this and linked to a hospital.
In addition, there is a need for a government-run website, listing all criminals with a record. It makes it easy to identify the perpetrators and also helps in certain ways, by deterring such behaviour in others. Public shaming is a really powerful tool. A large majority of the incidents like eve-teasing, following someone, lewd talk, and inappropriate touching are done by people who are not hardened criminals but uneducated/ less-educated, sex-starved men who know it is highly unlikely that there will be any repercussions. However, the same individuals, once made aware that they are being watched, will back off.
At most, technology can only be a facilitator to ensure the safety of women. It cannot be a fool-proof solution as a woman under attack may not be able to use it. If she has been restrained by her assaulters, her nails and teeth are the first weapons. Devices, based on technology, can mainly act as a deterrent. The use of technology has to be supplemented by basic self-defenceand safety awareness training, which will give the victim a buffer time to use the device in case of a surprise attack. In addition, work places and police stations must be made women friendly so that women are free to approach the law enforcement in case of harassment and abuse. There is a need to not just look for smart gadgets and devices that come handy for women but something out-of-the box solutions and innovative applications that can be embedded in the mobile phones of the person in trouble.
A student of International Studies pursuing her Masters degree from Christ University, Bangalore, Mumal Rathore was an intern with MitKat Advisory Services’ Information Services Department.