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Peace Tech Exchange Mumbai: Tackling gender-based violence through technology

Gender-based violence (GBV) is a persistent problem in India, taking multiple forms in both public and private spaces –sexual harassment on the streets and in offices, emotional and sexual exploitation of wives and daughters at home, mistreatment of sex workers by the authorities and so on.

A study by the United Nations Population Fund and the International Center for Research on Women reported that in India, 1 in 3 women experience physical or sexual abuse.  60% of the men in the study admitted to committing some kind of emotional, economic, physical or sexual abuse against their partners. Furthermore, sexual harassment in public places is so common that most women accept it as part of their daily existence. To make this worse there are no specific laws in the Indian Penal Code directly related to street sexual harassment; the only provisionsare concerned with public obscenity or offending the modesty of women.An increase in cellphoneusage and the Internethaveprovided new channels that promote such behaviour.

At the same time, technology can be a critical component in the movement against gender-based violence.

To explore and realize the potential of technology in the fight against GBV, the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) in collaboration with the U.S. Consulate General Mumbai and Samhita Social Ventures organized the PeaceTech Exchange (PTX) Mumbai on the 6th and 7th of December 2014,which focused on Gender-based Violence.

PeaceTech Exchanges are workshops where technologists interact with civil society organizations to identify technological solutions for some of the most pressing development challenges.Participants are introduced to a broad array of tools to enhance their impact. It also fosters long-term partnerships between the organizations and the technologists.

The two-day event in Mumbai saw the participation of over 40 civil society representatives from over 35 organizations working to address gender-based violence across India.

14 technology experts trained participants in the use of the latest tech platforms to enable them to collect, represent and share data, raise awareness, mobilize supporters and raise funds, through tools such as IVR systems, text messages crowd-mapping software and social media.

Those present included:

  • Achintya Rai (Video Volunteers) –Using video to empower communities to tell their own stories
  • Aditi Gupta (Menstrupedia) – Using crowd-funding to raise money for projects
  • ArjunVenkatraman (Mojolab Foundation) –Developing low cost technology forNGO needs
  • ArpitaBhagat (Hollaback Mumbai) –Advocating for your cause through crowdsourcing
  • Deepta Naha – Training programs for NGOs to understand and use technology better
  • Elsa D’Silva (Safe City) and YogeshLondhe (Simple TechLife) –Mapping events online through citizen generated content
  • Keith Porcaro (Simlab) –Using SMS services for monitoring and collaboration with government and NGOs
  • MunafKapadia (Google) –Telling stories through digital channels
  • Ruben Mascarenhas (Zero Tolerance), Ashwin Mishra and Rachel Bali (Say No Accept No) – Using social media for campaigns
  • Sashwati Banerjee (Sesame Workshop India) –Community radio storytelling
  • TB Dinesh (Servelots) –Using open source tools to create contextualized stories for community outreach programs

The first day focused on familiarizing NGOs with the technologists, their work and technology tools and included a deep dive into various aspects of Gender Based Violence–domestic violence, caste bias, sexual harassment at work, assisting survivors of violence, engaging government in policy making etc.

The event started with ‘Speed Geeking’ – quick 5-minute interactions with technologists. Participants then chose to be part of breakout sessions that they found most relevant to their requirements.

At the end of day 1, the participants developed clear problem statements:

  • How can we make information on funding from corporate social responsibility programs easily available?
  • How do you make the police more accountable using crowd-sourced information?
  • How do we use technology to reduce the isolation and stigmatization of sex workers?
  • How can we increase the participation of girls on our football team by 25% in the next 6 months?
  • How can we curate, collect, visualize, and measure qualitative data about sex workers?
  • How do we identify and mobilize men who are not violent and want to support women’s rights?

On the second day of the event, the participants and technologists worked together to develop detailed strategies that would address the various problems.

To ensure that PTX Mumbai facilitated real change on the ground, the USIP announced that it would be offering small grants to organizations or groups that could come up with potentially impactful projects with implementation plans. The grants will be distributed after review by the PTX team and the US Consulate, Mumbai.

Sheldon Himelfarb, Director of USIP’s PeaceTech Initiative, said, “We are fortunate that today, we have unprecedented opportunities to use technology to bring about positive change. However, we believe that wider collaboration across disciplines and organizations is needed to tackle complex problems like gender-based violence.”

Priya Naik,  Founder and Joint Managing Director of Samhita Social Ventures added, “This event has not only initiated new discussions on the critical issue of gender-based violence but it has also encouraged the development of partnerships between local civil society organizations and technology experts.”

PTX Mumbai was an experience that encouraged collaboration and provided learning opportunities not only for the NGOs but also technologists and organizers. The NGOs were able to create meaningful projects and develop new ideas that used technology as a platform for connectivity, communication and impact. The technologists experienced first hand challenges faced by NGOs on the ground and realized the crucial role that they could play in bringing about change.PTX Mumbai was successful in bridging gaps between technology tools and end users in order to create actual impact rather than just theoretical possibilities of change.