16 days of activism against gender based violence — You too can Participate… 

A little less than a year ago, Delhi witnessed a gruesome rape and death of a 23-year-old woman, that not only sparked off nationwide protests but also brought about legal reforms in our country. While not much has changed as far violence against women (VAW) is concerned, what has definitely changed is that more number of women are speaking aloud about their experiences of sexual abuse.

Given this backdrop, Breakthrough in association with Hacks/​Hackers New Delhi (a group of journalists and software developers), are planning to organise a thematic hackathon around women’s rights. More specifically, around VAW in India. This event is a small effort in trying to keep the conversations going around the issue. This event is one of the various activities organised as a part of the global campaign- 16 Days of Activism against gender based violence.

A particularly common but a disturbing phenomenon that has long existed has been the associated silence around the issue of VAW. It has never been easy for women to come out and share their personal experiences about the violence they faced because of the intense victim-blaming and shame they follows not just from society but also from police and judiciary alike. However, even as more and more women are coming forward and talking about their experiences, silence around violence against Dalit and tribal women continues. The idea behind organising this hackathon was to use digital technology and other varied tools to tell women’s stories. This is also a small effort in breaking the silence around the issue.

During the initial planning stage, we were clear that wanted to engage with open data and data visualisation. We have datasets from various organisations including Gramvaani, World Bank, WhyPoll, National Crime Research Data among many others. Subsequently we also decided to explore multimedia storytelling by incorporating different kinds of data viz. video files, audio files, tweets etc.

Open data is very important for a developing country like India since it democratises access to information. Even as India made its foray into the world of open data, data from government organisations including research studies among many other things is extremely hard to get. For instance, we couldn’t find a single dataset belonging to the central women and child ministry in the government’s data portal. In the context of VAW in India, it is important to talk more about what the studies are trying to say because hidden within the statistics are trends and stories about the issue in India. We need to understand these trends to talk about the problem and thereby breaking the silence around the issue.

Apart from data visualisation, we will also be having a Wikipedia edit-a-thon, where we will be editing articles pertaining to gender-based violence in India. We will not only be updating articles about cases of VAW in India, we will also try and update biographical articles of women who have contributed actively to this cause. This event is open to all. Details of participation can be found here. This effort is even more relevant considering the skewed ratio of women editors in Wikipedia is a well-documented fact.

The question that arises is how can technology help? For starters, our organisation, Breakthrough has consistently used media, pop culture and technology in order to raise awareness about the issue of VAW. Technology can be a great catalyst for empowering women. However, several limitations influenced by sexist stereotypes prevail in the way technology is accessed. For instance, while we have more mobile phones than toilets in our country, it does not necessarily mean that women have indiscriminate access to the former (and the latter too!). Our studies in rural and semi-urban areas have repeatedly showed that women’s usage of mobile phones is limited and highly policed. We have had to design our campaigns keeping this reality in mind. However, discrimination towards women using technology is not limited to rural areas alone. One can also witness the same in urban areas as well. Women in technology are a minority and face severe discrimination as the field of technology continues to be a male domain.

In my opinion, Internet is just like any other public space. Women face the same discrimination and harassment that they end up facing on the street. Skewed representation of women in areas like technology, internet, physical spaces is a form an an outcome of violence against women. In a study by Internet Democracy Project’ last year (disclosure: I was a part of the study), we found out how women who were publicly online on social media and blogs faced abuse on a regular basis. Virtual harassment will only lead to increasing marginalisation of women and we need to reclaim the space.

Apart from breaking silence around the issue, women also need to populate physical and virtual spaces with their presence. We need more stories of women. We need varied points of views of as many women as possible. This event is a small step in that direction. Does this mean that the hackathon is only open to techies? No! We intend for this hackathon to open to all. We need people with diverse skillsets in order to achieve the desired output. Does it also mean that men can’t participate? Absolutely not! While we want more women to take part, we also want more men to participate because we believe men are allies in the cause of VAW. So, if you are interested in gender issues and data visualisation and are in Delhi, please do come for our event on 7th and 8th December. To know more, please go here.

Shobha is a multimedia manager at Breakthrough and tweets at @Shobha_SV

Originally published in DNA.