Fear of possible violence shapes women’s ability to use public spaces, defines their comfort levels, and compromises their sense of freedom and inclusion in the city (Viswanath & Basu, 2015). Recent global prevalence figures indicate that about 1 in 3 (35%) women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime (WHO, 2016). Sexual violence and harassment happens on streets, in and around public transportation, schools and workplaces, water distribution sites, public toilets, and parks in urban, rural, and conflict/ post-conflict settings (UN Women, 2016). Addressing these factors is not about implementing criminal laws but about establishing adequate measures to improve the safety of women (Bhattacharya, 2016). A fundamental step in this process is to accurately identify the prevalence and nature of the problem (Blumenthal, 2014), to identify the factors that affect the ‘feeling of safety’. Measuring this ‘feeling of safety’ to make public spaces inclusive and safe for marginalized groups is key to the issue. Women’s safety audits are used to do this assessment through active public participation in data collection and decision making. It can been defined as ‘a process which brings individuals together to walk through a physical environment, evaluate how safe it feels to them, identify ways to make the space safer and organize to bring about these changes’ (Whitzman, Shaw, Travers, & Kathryn, 2009; WACAV, 1993).
Women’s safety audits were first developed in Canada in the late 20th century by Toronto’s Metro Action Committee on Public Violence Against Women and Children in order to mitigate violence against women in the city with the support of local community. The method has since been adapted and used across the globe, leveraging local ‘expertise’ to make neighbourhoods safer. Women’s safety audit is a dynamic participatory concept that exists in a constant state of modification and improvement (Women in Cities International, 2008). It’s strength lies in the participatory nature. It supports and legitimizes the use of women’s first hand accounts and knowledge in municipal decision-making. To conduct a safety audit, a group of women users of a particular urban or community space walk around that space and using a checklist, they note the factors that make them feel unsafe or safe in that space. The original women’s safety audit checklist included 15 categories, including lighting, sightlines (seeing what is ahead and around), entrapment spots, signage and maintenance. Next, recommendations are formulated, organized and prioritized to bring about the improvements to the neighbourhood, notabl by entering into a dialogue process with the local government and other key actors (for example, local development agency private land owners, police) (Whitzman, Shaw, Travers, & Kathryn, 2009; METRAC, 1989). Cities across the world use Women’s Safety Audits as a tool of improving neighbourhoods and as a means of empowering local communities. Cities have conducted safety audits under UN Women’s Flagship initiative Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces. In India, Jagori in New Delhi and PUKAR in Mumbai have been conducting safety audits. Jagori launched the Safe Delhi Campaign in 2005 to bring into public focus the issue of women’s safety. In 2010, it published a handbook on conducting women’s safety audits, outlining every step and the stakeholders involved at different levels. Unfortunately, so far success of gender based safety audits in India has been limited and they are often turned into a publicity tools by local governments, failing to result in positive change on ground. In these cases, the audit recommendations are quickly forgott about once the initial act has occurred and public attention has waned. (Women in Cities International, 2009) (Jagori, 2008) (Wekerle, 2005).
With greater access to internet and mobiles, there is an opportunity for widening the scope of engagement with women from different walks of life. Safety audits have now been built into mobile based applications that can be used by anyone with a smart phone or a tablet, recording their experience and crowd-sourcing information about status of infrastructure. Safetipin is one such mobile based app. It collects data about the situation of public places in the city on a set of nine parameters – lighting, openness, visibility, security and other factors. This data is available in multiple forms including maps, reports, csv files which can support urban stakeholders to take important urban planning and monitoring decisions, including deployment of limited resources for lighting, security, CCTVs, public transport at night (Safetipin). In Delhi Safetipin’s data is being used by Delhi police and PWD to improve lighting in public spaces. It is also being used to assess bus stops and metro stations in the city. Globally, there are several similar applications in place. They include Streetscore, Harassmap, Safetipin and Crowdspot.