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A Hackathon for Women’s Rights

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A New Delhi-based group of journalists and developers contributes to 16-days of activism against gender-based violence. 

By Shobha S V (Multimedia Manager, Breakthrough)

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 the country. While not much has changed as far violence against women (VAW) is concerned, what has definitely changed is that more 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), have organized 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 [ending tomorrow].

A particularly common but a disturbing phenomenon that has long existed is the 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 face because of the intense victim-blaming and shame that follows, not just from society but also from police and the judiciary. 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 a small effort in breaking the silence around the issue.

Where’s the Data?

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 organizations, including research studies among many other sources, is extremely hard to get. For instance, we couldn’t find a single data set 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 break the silence around the issue.

A Wikipedia Edit-a-thon

Apart from data visualisation, we are also 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 that the skewed ratio of women editors in Wikipedia is a well-documented fact.

Reclaiming Technology for Women

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, sexist stereotypes limit access to technology in several ways. 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, the Internet is just like any other public space. Women face the same discrimination and harassment that they end up facing on the street. Skewed representations of women in areas like technology, the internet and physical spaces are all forms 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 the varied points of views of as many women as possible. This event is a small step in that direction.

This post originally appeared on dnaindia.com. Image credit: Joe Athialy via Flickr

12547About the blogger: Shobha S V is a multimedia manager at Breakthrough and tweets at @Shobha_SV