Role of technology in redefining women's safety

This series establishes an understanding of women’s safety and sexual violence as a public health concern and offers an overview of how tech based solutions are increasingly making an effort to address related issues of sexual violence in India.

Is technology changing women’s safety?

There have been several efforts towards expanding the role of ICTs in women’s safety in public and private spaces. There is a rising trend in technological interventions aimed at addressing women’s safety. Several apps for mobile phones, websites devoted to such tools, wearable devices for sending alerts etc., have been introduced towards an attempt to provide such safety.

Tech interventions around safety in public spaces tend to include device features like alarms for drawing attention or measures to unobtrusively contact friends or authorities for help. Other interventions here include aggregation of sexual harassment related crowdsourced data in the form of maps that help equip persons with information regarding the locations and provide a  platform for experiences sharing.

Are such technological changing how women’s safety is addressed? Yes, definitely. These interventions are allowing women to take increasing control of their own safety decisions. They are also collecting real time data and providing the basis for related evidence based  policy making. Though there is still a need for majority of such interventions to move away from post incident interventions and also work on prevention of such incidents.

How are such interventions aiding health based justice for women?

Gender based violence includes several harmful behaviours that are directed at women and girls because of their sex, a key component of this is sexual violence that is directed towards the said group. Such violence in general, and sexual violence particularly, are a public health concern. With economic figures suggesting a loss of USD 1.5 trillion annually, due to gender based violence against women, there are several parameters we must assess that are left unaccounted for by economic cost computing. Sexual violence has physical and emotional health consequences which are rarely accounted for, to ensure health based justice for women in such cases it is imperative to recognise the need for the State to protect the woman from costs of such healthcare and provide for delivery of speedy and quality healthcare around such incidents. Alongside a need is felt for the development of mental healthcare facilities that provide supportive care and healing for survivors.

This is where technological interventions come in, what they do is they create a safe space for interaction and information sharing amongst women who have undergone such incidents. It provides them with a supportive environment and allows them to see such violence in a larger context, hence discouraging internalised victim blaming.  These interventions also allow for women to have control over their action plan and decide what they want for themselves. Several such tools allow for anonymous conversations and hence help protect the identity of the individual as well. Finding such a space to engage in has several positive mental health implications for women and can help turn general action regarding women’s safety towards one that incorporates dynamics of health based justice.

How do we assess the impact of such interventions?

There are however multiple social and technical issues surrounding such tech based intervention. Social and cultural contexts may require more localised tech based interventions. For e.g., the desire to contact the police can differ nationally: one study shows that women in the U.S.A. prefer contacting the police while women in India prefer contacting their social circle in case of any such incident. Hence cab aggregators providing the option for users to contact their social circle in times of social distress, may work better in India than the option for them to contact the police.

A strong concern is the need to design ICTs in a manner that is in line with the need for privacy and control over personal agency for women, in the personal sphere especially where the nuances of safety and violence can be vastly different, there is a heightened need for control over communication and manner of intervention. We also need to understand how we look at technology as a solution. Are we understanding it to mean only post incident intervention tools or can we also use it to create information access and reduce such incidents at their very root?

In keeping with this line of thought, an urgent need is felt for effective assessment of the plethora of  tech based solutions to gauge their impact and to better streamline such interventions while also avoiding duplication. Currently, most impact assessment is done internally by such tech providers and NGOs. For more effective evaluation, outside monitoring and assessment is key. Engagement of stakeholders and impact assessment firms is necessary for understanding the efficacy of tools.

What is the way forward?

Suggestions to improve such intervention suggest the setting up of a digital nervous system that wires government departments with each other, complete CCTV coverage, tools like predictive analytics and big data might hold the key to creating a safe environment.”[1] Such a system, especially the use of CCTV coverage, can have several negative connotations and can become a tool for reducing rather than expanding agency of women over their own safety choices. Going ahead it is increasingly important to work on tools that aim at capacity development of women and create larger mass based sensitisation towards issues of sexual violence and the right to bodily autonomy and personal agency towards reducing incidents of sexual violence and enhance safety for women.

Further ahead in this series we will be interviewing Elsa D’Silva, Founder and CEO of Safecity (Red Dot Foundation), and Kirthi Jayakumar, Founder and CEO of Red Elephant Foundation on how they are using technology to address concerns of safety for women.  Safecity is launching their app in the coming month, this app makes anonymous reporting and access to crowdsourced data on sexual harassment in public spaces more easily accessible to more people. They aim to use this app and related data as a tool for starting conversations and for holding institutional bodies accountable for providing better services. Red Elephant Foundation has launched an app called Saahas, this mobile app provides a directory of 20,000+ organisations across 196 countries that offer a variety of supportive facilities for survivors of gender based violence, including but not limited to, medical care, legal aid, educational aid, consular support etc. It helps a survivor or bystander gain access to the nearest provider of services for providing support to the survivor. These apps and interviews will help us gain insight into what the way ahead for technology and safety of woman looks like.

Recommended readings:

Karusala, Naveena, and Neha Kumar. "Women's Safety in Public Spaces: Examining the Efficacy of Panic Buttons in New Delhi." Proceedings of the 2017 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, 2017. Pp.02 available at:

Karusala, Naveena, and Neha Kumar. "Women's Safety in Public Spaces: Examining the Efficacy of Panic Buttons in New Delhi." Proceedings of the 2017 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, 2017. Pp.02 available at:

Vaidya, J. and Vaidya, J. (2017). Technology & Women's Safety in India. [online] SAPAC. Available at:

Heise, Lori L., et al. "Violence against women: a neglected public health issue in less developed countries." Social science & medicine 39.9 (1994): 1165.


[1]ORF. (2017). Stricter implementation of laws key to women's safety | ORF. [online] Available at:

About the Author

Vandita Morarka

Vandita Morarka is the Founder and CEO of One Future Collective and the Policy, Legal and United Nations Liaison Officer at Safecity (Red Dot Foundation), tweets @vanditamorarka.