“Gender-based violence is widespread, yet, it is mostly invisible, under reported, and normalized, and so many women and girls continue to be victims of rape and sexual violence…as well as other forms of psychological, physical and economic violence.” – Ms. Dubravka Šimonović, UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, 2015–2021

According to UN Women, almost 9 out of 10 women in cities around the world feel unsafe in public spaces. The fear is common and it is global. The experience and fear of violence narrows a woman’s world. It impacts her ability to move freely, to study, to go out with friends, or to get a job.

In fact, violence against women is one of the most pervasive human rights violations of our time. According to World Health Organization (WHO), nearly one in three women worldwide is subjected to physical or sexual violence during her lifetime.

Photo credit — Left: Ketut Subiyanto / Right: Nikita Belokhonov

study by Plan International revealed that fear of sexual violence has created ‘no-go areas’ for girls. In Delhi (India), a survey revealed that 95 percent of women and girls feel unsafe in public spaces.

In Kampala (India), 45% of girls faced sexual harassment on public transport, while in Lima (Peru), only 2.2% of girls reported always feeling safe when walking in public.

As more and more people move into cities — 5 billion people, including 700 million girls, by 2030 — there are increasing concerns about girls and women’s safety in public spaces.

Photo credit: Uriel Mont

Creating safety involves much more than just responding to violence. It involves creating conditions for women to move about safely and freely without fear of violence or assault.

As noted by Kalpana Viswanath, co-founder of the social organization Safetipin, “a city becomes safe not so much by policing and closed-circuit television (CCTV), but when people, especially women are able to use all public places without fear, which then empowers them by facilitating access to social and economic opportunities.”

Working with a wide range of urban stakeholders, Safetipin collects data via 3 mobile applications and aims to make safety a collective effort, where anyone, anywhere can work towards creating safe, inclusive public spaces.

Photo credit: Edexlive

The Safetipin app makes it possible for safety conditions in these spaces to be informed by women, their experiences and their inputs. “Safetipin was designed as a way to help women make safer choices to move around cities,” said Viswanath. “Using a safety audit rubric, it assesses the physical infrastructure and social usage of a public place, and provides a quantifying [safety] score.”

“We now have data in more than 60 cities across the world, used by individuals to make decisions about choosing places to live, hotels to stay in, and accessed by city governments to fix lighting, walkability and improve security.”

Nearly 120,000 people in different cities, such as Bogotá (Colombia), Hanoi (Vietnam) and Mombasa (Kenya), have used the app, warning about dangerous spots, reporting crimes, sharing safety tips and providing useful information from a gender-based perspective to government officials, city planners and police in order to improve urban areas.

In cities where violence on the streets has increased, citizens are more willing to share data for their own safety. In Delhi, for example, Safetipin was used to identify 7,800 dark spots in the city, and government officials responded by improving the lighting in these areas by 70 percent.

“That was a big impact and a big success,” said Viswanath. “Now the Delhi government has come back to us and asked us to do a fresh round of mapping of the city, so we are really happy that it’s being used both by women on the street as well as by governments to make change.”

Photo credit: Safetipin

In Bogotá, the Department of Women used the Safetipin app to conduct audits along the city’s bicycle paths. The data led them to identify the best places to set up CCTV cameras, bike parking and increased lighting.

As women in an increasingly urbanized world struggle for equal access, Safetipin provides evidence-based strategies to ensure safe and inclusive public spaces. “We find that city and municipal governments are willing to listen, and we would love for many, many more cities to adopt it,” said Viswanath.

This project aims to address the following UN Sustainable Development Goals: 3. Ensure health and well-being; 5.2 End violence against women; 11. Make cities safe, inclusive, resilient and sustainable; 11.7 Provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible public spaces.

WDO’s World Design Impact Prize™ was established in 2011 to honour and elevate industrial design driven projects that benefit society. The award aims to bring visibility and recognition to socially responsible design initiatives around the world.

View the other World Design Impact Prize 2021 shortlisted projects.