Today I’m gonna talk about, um, women’s safety
in urban India. I’m Neha Kumar. I’m an Assistant Professor at Georgia Tech and this is work,
um, that I did with my student, Navina Gersala who’s now doing her PhD. at University
of Washington with Richard Addison, actually. Um, so, it’s, um, a small world. Um, and,
uh, this is work that we did together and presented at, um, CHI, which is HCI conference,
uh, this year. So, getting out of New York City, in particular,
it’s a map of self-reported sexual harassment in New York City and it is widespread. How
widespread is it? As we saw last month, within 24 hours of the
start of the #metoo campaign, uh, 4.7 million people around the world had engaged in this
conversation, with more than 12 million whose comments and reactions. And in an essay by [inaudible] tied to sexism
in the city, states that most of these were designed around men and their work, suggesting
that urban planning could have a big role to play in improving safety for women, especially
in undoing, redoing planning, as it was conceived to us in less progressive times. So, the essay highlighted, it was
60 percent of women responded as unsafe and multi-story parking structures. That was not
true for men. Um, other details in the article also stressed that as times change and the
roles played by women evolve, we need to think about how cities could be planned to support
the new and growing mobility of women. And how infrastructures can be put in place
to back necessary safety measures. Uh, with With the growing focus in technology research for
cities, the larger question that we must ask is: How can we ensure that cities that we
want to be smart and sustainable are also safe cities, particularly for women? Many of us would agree that the problem of
sexual harassment has not been looked into nearly as much as it should. But products,
researchers and non-profits have been trying to apply technology in a variety of ways to
address how the problem is reported, understood and addressed. Through mapping of unsafe areas, wearable
devices, discussion forums, harassment, mobile apps that connect with close contacts
and more. We decided to focus our research in women’s
safety in New Delhi, India, where crimes against women are widely and internationally recognized
to be high. In 2016, the Indian Government mandated that
all mobile phones must have a panic button factor by 2017, and this is how it works in
theory: On any SmartPhone, you can press a built-in emergency button or a combination
of existing buttons. On a feature phone, you can press a 5 or a
9. The button will then contact law enforcement for help. To see what people, particularly women part
this mandate, we interviewed 17 women who resided in New Delhi and were from 18 to 40
years of age. We also conducted an online survey, which received 30 responses from men
and women across India between the ages of 18 and 64. These responses also offered a perspective
of safety in other places outside of Delhi. Um, the women we interviewed were educated
and independent. They could afford SmartPhones and had relatively more choice in how they
traveled. Our goal was to examine what safety technology,
such as the panic button could achieve even in best case scenarios where women do have
resources. So, we use a [inaudible] of human computer
interaction of [inaudible] and described by [inaudible] at Indiana University, to think
about the design and potential re-design of the panic button. And the four principles we used were: Participation,
or the idea that we should follow participatory design processes to in-, introduce an intervention.
[Inaudible] or the idea that we should reject [inaudible] or universalizing perspectives
in our design so that many voices are heard. Ecology so understanding the effects of an
intervention on all possible stakeholders. And then advocacy, recognizing the values
that are put forth in a design and how they relate to users values. Location featured prominently in our findings.
In public spaces, the intensity of the crowd made a difference in shaping perceptions of
safety. On some level, crowds were a good thing. For example, malls were safe because
they were [inaudible] places and people around would hold any perpetrators of sexual harassment
responsible. But large crowds, like in the Delhi Metro,
felt unsafe. This often made women stick to the women’s only compartment when possible.
And it’s not the size of the crowd that mattered as much as who the crowd was made up of. The specific city and its cultural or legal
norms could make a big difference in participants’ sense of safety. Some participants said that
Delhi was not particularly unsafe. That women could be unsafe anywhere and that Delhi had
just gotten more media attention. On the other hand, Bombay was often cited
as being much safer than Delhi. Women were commonly seen out late at night, which was
a measure of safety. They would wear the clothes that they wanted and people seemed more respectful
of differences, in general. In other instances, safety was linked with
law. So, participants said that Manyavar had laws against alcohol consumption which made
[inaudible] behavior like drunken loitering less likely. Social presence and influence had a role to
play. Participants said [inaudible] if they were alone in or in a vehicle with strangers.
Many participants felt safer when traveling with friends or family. One even said: It’s
a very sexist statement, but I would feel more safe if I’m with a guy. Parents, we were told, would secretly warn
their daughters against certain modes of travel or get them to send regular location updates
when taking public transport such as auto, trains or buses. Beyond personal social networks, sexist attitudes
appeared to be pervasive. Participants mentioned the large influx of rural migrants into urban
spaces in Delhi, who appeared to hold onto traditional gender rules and did not approve
of women independently navigating public spaces. I talk now a little bit about technology and
how women engage with it in respect to personal safety. Participants all used mobile phones for safety
when taking public transport. In general, participants considered being in a moving
vehicles driven by a stranger as unsafe. When women had to take an auto or a cab, they
used technology in two ways. One was for keeping strangers accountable. As one participant
said: One thing that I’ve learned, just do it in front of him. Click a picture of the
driver, click a picture of the cab, and say that I’m sending it to my brother. He’ll at
least be sure everybody at least knows who he is, so he better not do anything. Another way was for accessing one’s social
network or seeing or pretending to stay on the phone with a family member or friend,
to ensure that nearby people or the driver if they were in car, knew that someone was
watching out for them. I’ll briefly touch upon perceptions with police
and how these affect them in terms of safety. Overall, participants trusted the police enough
to ensure general safety. For example, to check bags and ensure no one was bringing
dangerous items into the Metro trains or stations. But they were not viewed as trustworthy as
far as sexual harassment was concerned. Participants generally felt that if they were to press
the panic button, police were not likely to respond, or would not respond quickly. If they did respond, there was fear the interrogation
and victim blaming would quickly follow. Police could even be complicit in sexual harassment,
participants feared. Mass media has its own role to play. On one
hand, media could provide new knowledge. One participant [inaudible] that she learned from
the news that women’s fitting rooms could have double-sided mirrors and how to check
for them. But on the other hand, parents were get increasingly
worried by the news that they heard about women’s safety. As one participant said: Sometimes
it’s just annoying. I would definitely get a call from my mom if I’m not home by 10:00,
10:30. I’m OK with it, but my mother is not OK with it. Those stories, the bad things,
they stay in our head for a long time. For some participants, stories from the media
added to their parents’ concerns so much that they felt compelled to think about safety
for their parents’ sake, even if they wouldn’t have otherwise. Finally, there were personal choices that
women felt compelled to make for their safety. Almost all participants felt the burden of
having to look out for their safety all the time. This also meant that participants preferred
precaution over reaction, which affected their view of the usefulness of the panic button. If something happens to me, I will call. The
panic button is very reactive. It is not doing anything to protect safety. This also reveals how safety was thought about
in stages. So, that’s precaution. So, one might avoid traveling in a certain area at
a certain time of day. There’s an intermediate stage when wa-, where one feels unsafe, though
there may not be an imminent threat. And then there’s reaction, where one is confronted
with an actual threat. Women’s thoughts about safety, uh, may help
in understanding the limits of the panic button. We concluded that a phone may not be the best
form for the panic button to take. Participants preferred using things at hand to protect
themselves. Since a phone could potentially be deep in a purse or handbag, and also often
the first thing that a perpetrator might take away. The idea of the panic button also did not
align with women’s values. Thinking of safety and different stages, having-, with feeling
unsafe to actually facing a threat, the panic button is a reactionary tool that comes too
late in the timeline, or it could call for help when there is no real threat. Finally, the panic button did not integrate
well with wider infrastructure such as the police, the mass media, social influence.
The button assumes police will respond reliably, although women’s perceptions and experiences
have indicated otherwise. There’s also little media coverage that ensures
that women know about the panic button and how it functions. And finally, the button
does not interact with the fact that for instance, parents were also involved, would implement
safety and needed to be updated on travel plans and such. So, using the principles of participation
and [inaudible] the realities of how women respond to unpredictable emergency situations
becomes clear. To design for accessibility, the button could take the form of a stand
alone wearable device, a device that connects to one’s phone, similar to a Smart Watch or
an Add-on or an accessory. Um, and there are these devices now in the
market, actually. Athena, for instance, is one of them. Again, thinking with, uh, pluralism in mind,
women think about safety in extremely diverse ways. Women could prefer calling friends,
family or the police. They may want to share their location and travel plans in real time;
they may not. They may need to stay in constant contact
with parents, even if there is no emergency. Understanding that there is no single feature
that can fit all of women’s needs and that all needs cannot be fulfilled with one design. The panic button could be designed with customizability
in mind. And finally, following the principles of ecology
and [inaudible], which promote consideration of stakeholders in values in design, we realize
that wider public infrastructure, such as the police and media, must also be held accountable
in order for the panic button to function. I know I’m out of time so I’m gonna cut this
short here. But I will say that, uh, we talked a little bit about design and policy recommendation
in our paper, so you’re welcome to take a deeper look at that. But honestly, this is not a problem that we
have solved. But it was really good to be able to understand it better and understand
all of these factors there. Thank you for listening to this talk and um,
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Global UX: Designing for Women’s Safety in Urban India
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