Recent reports of brutal gang rapes and widespread sexual assault in Indian mega-cities highlight India’s challenge in addressing SDG#5 and #11: commitments to Gender equality and Sustainable Cities and Communities. Urban governments have responded to this challenge by sponsoring ‘Safe City’ initiatives such as CCTV cameras, increased police presence and safety apps which seek to keep women safe on the streets by registering them on a central database, geotagging their movements and alerting law enforcement authorities during emergencies. This technocratic approach to Violence Against Women (VAW) however is biased in favour of those with increased access to digital technologies, private forms of mobility and living in middle-class neighbourhoods. Invariably the voices and experiences of young women living in urban peripheries – resettlement colonies, urban villages and border towns are left out of these initiatives.
GENDERING THE SMART CITY project comes at an important moment of a ‘smart turn’ in Indian cities that seeks to address global and societal challenges through a rationality of big data and ubiquitous connectivity. This new ‘ICT mediated social order’ (Gurumurthy and Chami 2014) raises serious concerns for gender justice and sustainable urban futures since India is one of the world’s least connected countries, with a huge gender gap in ICT and online access (only 28% of women own mobile phone compared to 40% men). While the absence of digital technologies disempowers marginal groups on the basis of gender and social class, the presence of digital data and locative media does not necessarily enable gender empowerment.
This project moves past the technocratic logics of the ‘smart’ or ‘digital’ city by establishing an alternative framework for curating the smart safe city. It aims to engender current smart city agendas through young women’s everyday experiences of navigating the city. It will present different perspectives of mobility and safety generated by young women through participatory maps, photographs, videos and WhatsApp diaries maintained over a period of time. In doing so it explores how women on the margins view, understand, and ultimately navigate the city through information and communication technologies (ICT) accessed from low-cost (and often low-tech) mobile phones. It provokes us to think what safety means in a context where social media provides real time information on the dangers and freedoms located in the metro, bus, auto rickshaw, and walkways as well as the opportunity to express this in creative and poignant ways. It shows us how women living on the urban peripheries negotiate the ‘freedoms’ of moving in online space with the ‘dangers’ of going out into the city, or the limitations of engaging via digital technologies with the freedom of stepping out of one’s home. Through a convergence of artistic practice, digital media and architecture, this project will demonstrate the potential of a new kind of visual language on VAW and safety that is co-produced with the women. It will reveal the capacity of this language to move beyond existing gendered data on VAW to highlight gendered and socio- economic patterns of inclusions and exclusions brought about by a digital urban age.