Reclaiming the streets: 6 apps and initiatives keeping women safe

by Kim Harrisberg | @KimHarrisberg | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 15 March 2021 15:54 GMT

A group of girls pose for a picture in Chihilsitoon Garden, which was restored after it was damaged during four decades of war in Kabul, Afghanistan. November 6, 2019. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Rina Chandran

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As the murder of Sarah Everard sparks calls to improve street safety in London, these global initiatives strive to make cities safer for women

By Kim Harrisberg

March 15 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The murder in Britain of marketing executive Sarah Everard, who was abducted as she walked home in south London earlier this month, sparked nationwide protests on the weekend that ended in violent clashes with police.

Her killing has led many women to speak out about their fears of walking alone and experiences of being harassed or attacked by men in public, with calls for more action to be taken to address violence against women and abuse.

Globally, nearly one in three women worldwide is subjected to physical or sexual violence during her lifetime, according to the World Health Organization.

As Everard's murder leads women to share their everyday safety tips - like pretending to be on the phone and crossing the street to avoid groups of men, here are six initiatives from around the world that strive to make streets safer for women.

SAFETY APPS - India

Indian women are increasingly turning to apps like Safecity, My Safetipin and Himmat (courage) that let women anonymously report crimes, warn about danger hotspots and share data with each other, as well as with government agencies.

Nearly 100,000 people have made use of the My Safetipin app, which has expanded into other cities around the world such as Bogota, Hanoi and Mombasa.

WOMEN-ONLY TAXIS - Cape Town

In South Africa, recent police figures show more than 53,000 sexual assaults were reported in the year ending March 2020, stirring community activist Joanie Fredericks to launch a female-only taxi service earlier this year so women feel safe moving around Cape Town.

Based in the gang-ridden Cape Flats area, Fredericks quickly received requests from dozens of women desperate to get to work and school without being catcalled or assaulted.

ANTI-RAPE CLOTHING - Germany

Marathon runner Sandra Seilz survived an assault by three men that led her to launch a line of "anti-rape" shorts called Safe Shorts that use cut- and tear-resistant fabric and cords making it impossible for attackers to pull down, she said.

The shorts are fitted with a deafening 140-decibel alarm to deter attackers and Seilz distributes to customers in more than 35 countries including Japan, Canada, Australia and Libya.

The Soweto patrollers pose for a photo, holding their vuvuzelas in the air in Soweto in Johannesburg, South Africa, 19 September, 2019. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Kim Harrisberg

STREET 'TRUMPET' PATROLLERS - Johannesburg

In South Africa's biggest township, Soweto, dozens of men and women sound their vuvuzelas - plastic trumpets originally used to cheer on soccer games - to let women know when it is safe to leave home.

Loud toots alert women heading out before sunrise that the safety patrollers are in the neighbourhood to escort them to public transport points, a grassroots initiative that community members say has reduced crime and brought peace of mind.

FEMALE MAPPERS - Latin America

Miriam Gonzalez founded Geochicas in 2016 when she realised that the majority of contributors adding data to OpenStreetMap (OSM), the world's biggest crowd-sourced map, were men.

Geochicas has since trained more than 230 women in 22 countries, mainly in Latin America, on how to use and contribute to online maps, finding that women add places used specifically by them - such as childcare services, domestic violence shelters and women's clinics, as well as street lighting.

SAFE PARKS - Kabul

After four decades of war, women in Afghanistan's capital are finding respite in more than half a dozen of the city's restored and upgraded parks, some of which admit only women and families on certain days.

With more than 75% of Kabul being informally settled, women have struggled to find public spaces to relax with friends, but the city's recent development plans include markets for women, as well as improved transportation networks to increase safety.

Related stories:

Why a murder has sparked such anger in Britain over violence against women

Sarah Everard: London police under fire for clashes at vigil  

Black-clad women rally in Australia to demand gender violence justice

(Reporting by Kim Harrisberg @kimharrisberg. Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)