FIRST THOUGHT: Creating Safe Spaces for Women
Women have had to put up with a lot throughout the centuries. Even in modern times, we’re often judged by our appearance, cat-called from the sidewalk or, in worst-case scenarios, are the targets of violence.
In the past, these issues may have been buried, but more women today are speaking up about the cruelty they’ve experienced, giving a voice to the hardship they’ve endured. And because we live in such a connected society, we are able to learn of remarkable stories from women throughout the world who are bravely sharing these experiences, shining a light on injustice. Connecting, relating and sharing our experiences with other women can empower us to find—and demand—safe spaces in an unsafe world.
WOMEN IN NUMBERS: 92 Percent
When you’re minding your own business in a public space, the last thing you might expect is to be harassed. Unfortunately, such behavior is terribly common in the world. In a 2012 study, 92 percent of women in New Delhi said they have experienced some form of sexual violence in public spaces in their lifetime, and 88 percent of women said they’ve experienced verbal sexual harassment.
This staggering pandemic led more than 100 countries since 1995 to collect data and assess the prevalence of violence against women. And in 1993, the UN General Assembly’s Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women provided a framework for action on the problem.
But it’s still up to every single one of us to ensure violence and harassment of women are things of the past. Today, do your part and take some action, even if it’s minimal, to help create a safer world for women.
WOMAN TO WATCH: ElsaMarie D’Silva, Co-founder and Managing Director of Safecity
ElsaMarie D’Silva lives in Mumbai, India, and like a lot of women we feature in On The Dot, she made a mid-life career switch. But ElsaMarie’s move from the aviation industry to entrepreneurship wasn’t brought on by money, convenience or a lack of opportunity; ElsaMarie was driven to effect real social change in the world, setting her sights on public spaces.
So, in 2012, ElsaMarie founded Safecity, an online crowd-mapping platform that tracks sexual harassment and abuse in public spaces. Women and men submit anonymous stories of such harassment, which translate into data. That data is then aggregated as “hot spots” on maps. The idea is to make this data useful for individuals, local communities and leaders to identify factors that cause violent behavior and work on strategies for solutions. Safecity currently operates throughout India, Nepal, Kenya and Cameroon.
Safecity is a groundbreaking idea, and one that’s gained a lot of attention. In these past four years, Safecity has gathered more than 8,500 stories from more than 50 cities, mapping locations where harassment occurs and building awareness and participation among local communities driven to create safer spaces.
One monumental aspect of Safecity is that it addresses an aspect of harassment and violence that’s frequently overlooked: Women and girls are often fearful of being blamed or ignored. This fear urges women to stay silent, and by remaining silent, the problem persists. ElsaMarie knows firsthand what it’s like to be afraid to tell someone about such an encounter because when she was 13 and traveling on a train with her family, she was the victim of an assault. Compelled by that experience, ElsaMarie is now giving women an outlet to express their real experiences and demand changes in their own communities.
ElsaMarie has a passion for creating safe, public spaces. And by encouraging women to talk about their experiences and realize the tremendous power they hold within themselves by acknowledging the problem, she’s helping women all over the world become part of the culture shift around sexual harassment and making the world a safer place.
QUITE THE QUOTE
Creating a place for women and girls to feel safe should be of paramount importance to everyone—male and female. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu said:
“Men and boys, we show our manhood through the way we treat our women: our wives, our sisters, our mothers.”
That’s all for now. Be sure to share this so more women can have a voice! Thanks for getting ready with us.