A crowdsourced initiative for making cities safer for women

Red Dot Foundation tries to bring civilians, authorities and social workers together to fight sexual harassment


Elsa Marie d'Souza, founder of Red Dot, a Mumbai based NGO which works with women's safety and development. Photo by Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint.
Elsa Marie d'Souza, founder of Red Dot, a Mumbai based NGO which works with women's safety and development. Photo by Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint.

Mumbai: One in three women across the globe faces some kind of sexual assault at least once in their lifetime, said ElsaMarie D’Silva, founder and managing director of Red Dot Foundation, a Mumbai-based non-profit organization, citing a United Nations report.

In India, the statistic will be much higher, she said, pointing out that a rape takes place every 20 minutes in the country.

Red Dot was formed precisely because of the startlingly large number of sexual harassment incidents faced by women in India, to spread awareness about the problem. It has its origins in an online initiative named Safecity—launched in December 2012.

It is currently present in Mumbai and Delhi where D’Silva and her team have partnered with other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to help formulate steps to tackle sexual harassment.

Beyond these two cities, Red Dot also provides its services in Nepal and Kenya, in partnership with Vital Voices Global Partnership, a US-based NGO.

“The real trigger for starting Safecity was the Delhi gang rape that happened in December 2012. It was a turning point for what I wanted to do,” said D’Silva, who has worked in the aviation sector for almost 20 years.

A 23-year old physiotherapy student was raped and murdered on 16 December 2012 in Munirka, a south Delhi neighbourhood. The incident led to a public outcry, raising concerns about women’s safety in the country.

“I believe if you can provide safety to women, you can very well do it for society as a whole. Initially we never thought we could ever make it into a formal organization. It was more of a response to what was happening at that time. It took us a while to decide what and how we wanted to take it forward. It was only after launching Safecity that we decided to register Red Dot as a non-profit organization,” said D’Silva.

Two years after Safecity was launched, Red Dot came into existence as an organization whose main interest was to work for women’s development.

Safecity helps women who have faced sexual assaults reach out and tell their stories. The information they provide is shared with the concerned people, including municipal authorities, social workers around the area and even the local police, to enable them to take steps to reduce crimes against women in those localities.

Through Safecity, D’Silva and her team of five members crowdsource stories and information from women who have faced sexual assaults. Victims can reach out anonymously through their website, and provide details of the incident. Such information gets aggregated and the incidents get mapped as “Hotspots” on the website. Women can also reach out through social media.

Apart from collecting information, Red Dot runs campaigns and holds workshops, in partnership with several NGOs, to educate women of various age groups and inform them about their personal rights and redressal mechanisms.

It is currently working with five NGOs including Vacha and Sneha in Mumbai, and Gender Resource Centre in Delhi on campaigns for women’s safety in public places. Besides, it also works with students and runs programmes in around 10 colleges in Mumbai.

D’Silva said Red Dot is looking to expand its work beyond the two cities in the next few months. Pune and Bengaluru are among the cities that she is looking to launch Safecity, apart from taking it to countries like Malaysia, Argentina and Papua New Guinea.

“Queries have come from these countries through NGOs that are working there. Our services are mainly around on how to run campaigns, data dissemination and integration. We would definitely like to work there,” she said.

A Safecity mobile app is also on the cards. This will help expand the platform, she added.

While the initiative has so far been largely funded personally, it has received financial support in the form of a “small grant” from Tata Trusts, for running its various campaigns.

D’Silva said Red Dot plans to tap corporate social responsibility funds by conducting workshops in office premises to educate company managements on how professional working women can protect themselves from sexual harassment and what are the legal recourses open to them.

Mint has a strategic partnership with Digital Empowerment Foundation, which hosts the Manthan and mBillionth awards.

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