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Culture and regeneration: An art project turned mobile app helping to track violence against women

Published Date: 8 March 2016

SIX held its 8th annual Summer School in Mumbai on 4-6 November 2015. The event explored The Connected Urban Life: how can new ways of connecting make cities better for all? The event saw local site visits including Dharavi Biennale, a three-year art, health and recycling festival, with a series of standalone workshops (called Art Boxes) led by Mumbai-based SNEHA, an NGO focusing on gender and health, working in different informal settlements such as Dharavi.

The Dharavi Biennale project was created to give residents the opportunity and space to openly discuss the issues they face in Dharavi, particularly around health, which can then be used by SNEHA to inform approaches to their own work. The project aims to empower residents to take a more active role in instigating change in their own lives. An inspiring example of this comes from the “Mapping the hurt” project, a map woven together by different recycled fabrics and material to highlight areas where women experience violence in Dharavi.

Below is an excerpt from the site visit where SNEHA’s Program Coordinator Preethi M. Pinto explains in more detail about the impact of “Mapping the Hurt”:

“The map we created was in partnership with women living in Dharavi. We prepared life size plastic maps, which we put on the floor and we asked women to map the places where they felt unsafe, where they had faced violence or they knew violence had occurred. We then had a group of women to embroider this map with all the buttons to depict the areas of violence.

This exercise was a way for us to track incidents of violence and what we tried to do then with the map was to convert it into digital form. SNEHA has developed an integrated app for mobile phones where we are using multiple ways to track and respond to gender based violence.

SNEHA works very strongly with groups of women, men, and young people in informal settlements in the city. From voluntary groups have emerged women leaders and these leaders are who we train on counseling and responding to women facing violence, as well as connecting the women facing violence to public services such as the police and health system. The mobile app we have developed have been given to these leaders, with mobile phones that have been awarded to us through the Mobile for Good grants.

Women can do many things with this app. Initially, when they hear of an incident of violence, they can put a pin on the map to locate in real-time that a violent incident has occurred. Then if the woman facing violence consents, her information is taken down. We do this through Open Data kit, which is an open source form that SNEHA has adapted to its work. The form will include information on the woman and the incident of violence. This helps us track prevalence of violence because there are no real statistics on gender based violence, especially in India. This form once completed can be uploaded to a server SNEHA has and it can be downloaded then by a SNEHA counselor at a counselor center. If the case is more complicated, the volunteer leader will refer the woman to help at the SNEHA counselor center, where a counselor can then download the form and continue the follow-up. The counselor can help with more professional expertise and with the backing of the NGO it can help take the case forward.

We have this one case that really goes to show the strength of women and the need to sustain work on gender based violence by women in the community: One day, a volunteer leader brought us a woman whose husband threatened to burn the house down with her in it. The counselor, who was following up the case, informed the volunteers in the area of where the women lived and what the volunteers did in the early evening was take the woman, along with her mother and children, from the house with their important belongings and kept them in one of their own homes. Right enough, the man came to the house that night and set it alight. Volunteers called for help but as no one immediately came, they went as a group to the house where they caught the husband and held onto him until the police came to arrest him. 

This is the strength of women in Dharavi and this is what we want to encourage more women to do. We hope it will bring gender-based violence out in public and not behind closed doors.”

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Read more culture and regeneration case studies from Asia-Europe Foundation's report.