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How mobile apps are making cities safer for women

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21st-Mar-2017       
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Jenny Lei Ravelo :
How safe do you feel in the streets of Bogota, Jakarta or major cities in India such as Delhi and Chennai?
That's a question the Safetipin app has been asking users since it launched in 2013 following the highly publicized case of a young woman gang raped on a bus in Delhi. The app crowdsources information on how safe a city is based on nine parameters, including lighting availability, visibility and a person's own feeling of safety. This data helps inform other users - women in particular - which areas in a city are safe for travel or walking, particularly at night, and which ones are best avoided. A new feature allows friends and family members to monitor one's whereabouts. The app launched in Delhi, but has since expanded to other Indian cities, as well as overseas. In 2016, this included parts of Quezon City, a highly urbanized city in Metro Manila, with a population of nearly 3 million.
The launch in the Philippines is part of a pilot project initiated by the Youth for Asia team of the Asian Development Bank's NGO and Civil Society Center. The pilot, led by Lee Lambert and Shruti Mehta, mobilized close to 150 youths, mostly university students, to conduct safety audits in parts of Quezon City, such as in Katipunan, where there are several universities, including Ateneo De Manila University and University of the Philippines. The activity allowed the team to get a snapshot of how safe particular areas are in Quezon City for pedestrians and commuters based on close to 2,000 pieces of audited information. They found that not all locations have good lighting, some areas are not as accessible for transport, and half did not have any security presence.
But gathering the data is just one part of the story. The long-term goal is for such information and ICT solutions to be more integrated into ADB projects, with youth as an important stakeholder in the process, Lambert and Shruti told Devex.
The Safetipin in particular could be a useful tool for ADB's gender, urban and transport sector and thematic groups, they said.
Most projects have a preparatory stage, where the first 18 months to two years of the project include a lot of data collection, Lambert said. This data helps inform the basis for how much loan is needed, or what further technical assistance the government may need to accomplish its development plan.
The idea is for such information on city safety to be included in that preparatory phase, he added.
"For a long-term perspective, what we hope is that any project that has livable cities, smart cities, urban cities design, safety is an important component and youth an important stakeholder of those cities," Mehta said. "So getting young people to provide data on the safety of cities that then governments can use to [make changes], that's a model we want to see in the long term." The Youth for Asia team has partnerships with several youth organizations in the region, such as the Global Shapers Community and AIESEC, one of the largest youth-run nonprofit organizations with presence in over 125 countries.
The mobilization of large numbers of youth and the potential integration of Safetipin data in ADB projects would help set the stage for apps such as Safetipin to move the needle on safety in a large-scale setting.
"If they have the resources then something gets done on the ground," said Kriti Agarwal, program manager at Safetipin. "No other partner organization has reached the stage where we are budgeting and then presenting that [budget] proposal to the government."
Safetipin's data, however, has been shared with and used by governments in places such as Delhi, where a campaign is ongoing to illuminate dark areas across the city. This is only one initiative against a set of parameters Safetipin looks at when gauging safety in the streets.
The Youth for Asia team at ADB is working on a series of toolkits that could provide guidance to ADB's sector and thematic groups and other interested organizations wishing to tap the youth and conduct their own safety audits in their respective cities. Their pilot, Lambert said, proves the model can be replicated.

(Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex senior reporter based in Manila).

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