A Report on the Panel

As discussed earlier, we finally settled on an electronic panel to play the role of an information gathering tool to facilitate informal reporting of harassment cases. We faced many challenges in designing this panel; it had to overcome a multitude of obstacles before it could be relevant and useful for our cause-  technical and beyond. In this post, how we tackled said challenges in order to materialize our working prototype is discussed. The prototype itself receives the spotlight, of course!

Lets start off by looking at what meets the eye at first glance.

frontview

Well, it’s not much. And that’s the idea! Partly inspired by an ATM machine, navigation through the report is done using only the ten large buttons on either side of the screen. As a large chunk of our target audience has limited literacy, our device had to be kept nonintimidating and easy to use.
The fact that the report consisted only of objective choices hit two birds with one stone. One, it made interpreting the data and quantifying attributes of the problem easier. Two, it drastically reduced the complexity of reporting itself, allowing us to make usage of the device simple and clear.

Keeping in mind the advice we were given at the interview with Microsoft Research[1], we decided to minimize the layers of abstraction between the input mechanism and the changes it created on the screen. This was done by having large, well spaced physical buttons mapped unambigously to options on the screen right next to them. A touch screen would have been ideal to use in this scenario, but impractical due to another constraint, which brings me nicely to my next point.

The other major constraint we had to grapple with was cost. While it was all well and good to declare touch screens as the ideal input mechanism, we had to bear in mind that to be implemented on a large scale and to be relevant for day-to-day use in general public space, it had to be robust and cheap. This ruled out touch screens (which were relatively high-end and more prone to failure with the wear and tear of heavy use by the public), and made a simple, low-cost, sturdy, easily replaceable button system seem that much more attractive.

Moving on to the reporting itself, the process is basically registering the most relevant option on the screen as an answer to the question on that slide.

6what_r

The first slide is to select the language for the rest of the report to proceed in, and the second is a welcome screen that establishes context for the benefit of the user. Following this, each successive slide builds information about the user and his/her account of the incident being reported (however, each slide has an option to refuse to answer that question).

There are three layers to aid the user in determining the meaning of each option. First, the regular text layer, which can be quickly scanned and understood by mostly literate audiences. Then, the audio and visual layers come into play.
Semi-abstract pictograms are used to represent what each option means, or at least give users a vague idea of the same. An audio recording of a female voice reading out the options on the screen (one by one) complements this. The audio recording can be repeated if required by pressing the speaker button at the bottom of the panel. This comprehensive three-layered system should ideally form a clear picture in the user’s mind and help him/her register a report regardless of literacy level.

Every option on the screen is unambiguously mapped to a physical button, which upon pressing highlights the selected option and adds the appropriate icon to a strip of (pictograms of) options selected so far through the report at the bottom of the screen. This system helps the user confirm the selection of the option, and keep track of the report so far. At the end of the report, there is an option to leave a recorded message (specifically to suggest improvements that the user recommends/would like to see) in
case the listed options do not adequately capture the user’s opinion. Following this, there is a ‘Thank You’ screen that can be used
to inform the user how to follow up on the report, or keep track of the initiative.

So far we’ve seen the reporting through the eyes of the reporter, now for a view behind the scenes!

DSC_0732    RasPi

The device is powered by a Raspberry Pi, which registers the user’s input from the buttons and reflects changes on the monitor it is connected to. The audio layer is facilitated by speakers, which can be swapped out for / supplemented by headphones for clearer, less publicly audible instructions.

There is lots of scope for expansion and improving the panel device. The software that drives the panel is quite lightweight, and is a consequence of that, can be run on any old smartphone. Literally! An old, out-of-use smartphone can be recycled and used to power the processing for the panel, thus keeping costs low and giving new meaning and life to what is now considered “e-waste”. In the future, if required, the reports can be pushed remotely to a central database, from which a summary report of sorts can be compiled and presented to relevant organizations. The entire process, from the recording of the user’s input and transferring it over the network to a central server, to scanning the data for the required details and compiling it into one meaningful report, can be automated easily due to the objective nature of the records.

So, to wrap up, what we have here is a medium for interaction with a large audience in public spaces, without even depending on the user being literate! In India, which has a 25.96% illiterate population[2], this is a significant factor.
This panel serves our purpose quite well. Placed at a bus stop, it would be accessible to a large audience, physically and otherwise! We hope that this panel will help make every voice heard, help women’s rights organizations in their advocacy for change, and last but not least, break the silence.

 

[1] Interview with Indrani Medhi and team at Lavelle Road office of Microsoft Research on 29th November 2013
[2] Census of India

Crazy concepting

With now our three approaches and accompanying research questions clearly defined, the brainstorming for ideas finally could kick off. As highlighted in the previous blog, we tried to focus on the short-term project, finding a solution to facilitate informal reporting of sexual harassment in a physical space while ensuring institutional linkages.

 

We found out from interviews with experts and via reports that there is a big lack of data on sexual harassment. But it is not that there is no research being done on this problem. On the contrary. There is no data because there simply is no reporting of cases. Biggest reasons for this phenomenon are the flawed legal system for reporting, the painful procedures or the misogynous police, but most of all is the shame women encounter and their unwillingness to talk about it.   So, how can we design something for this problem? How can we get around all these factors and develop something that facilitates the reporting of sexual harassment in public spaces?After two heavy months of researching and digging into this problem, we were very excited to kick off the conceptualizing phase.

 

But before we started spouting ideas, we went for a small field trip to Singasandra bus stop as a preliminary orientation to give us some more knowledge on Indian public transport. The Singasandra bus stop is due to its location, situated on the route from Bangalore to Electronic City connecting residential areas from the suburbs and outskirts with business and industry from the city centre, a big hub for a highly diverse traveling public. Business men, farmers, commuters, daily workers, salesmen and women, school boys and girls: all people from all ages and backgrounds can be found passing Singasandra on their way towards their destination. Yet, facilities at the bus stop to support this big group of daily travelers are rather poor. Proper safety measurements are missing and neither is it a cozy place where one would come to casually hang out. This bus stop therefore would be interesting for us to have a look at, since all these factors made Singasandra a notorious bus stop in terms of objective and subjective safety.   So off we go!   During an evening rush we spent two hours of only observing the surroundings. It gave us valuable insights in how small groups of passengers behave and how the division of men and women in public transport hubs already becomes significant without it even being forced, like it is in the buses. We also saw that the bus stop is actually designed pretty well, but is improperly used by its travelers, causing the tense unsafe situations.

 

Enriched with this firsthand experience, we started brainstorming. We resolved to not put any limits to our thoughts. No boundaries, no restraints. Let’s go crazy, let our minds flow freely and see what we can come up with. And so we did. Of course this didn’t guarantee the best or valuable ideas. Haha. No. But it enthused us to exaggerate possibilities into the absurd, going beyond the proverbial box, leaving constraints aside as problems we would take care or get rid of later. Our imagination went in all directions. From silly weapons like an anti-harasser toolkit that will fall from the bus ceiling with inflatable clubs one can bash up the perpetrator with to Twister-like games that boost up the ambience amongst waiting passengers at the bus stop, leaving everybody so occupied and cheerful with the game that no one would even think about harassing the other. Or from a flyover covering poster of a nude woman to distract all the men from the women around him to street tiles, lanterns or bus stop that would alarmingly light up in a certain color if a harassment has taken place in that particular area. Inspiration and enthusiasm enough.

 

After collecting all the post-its with scribbled down ideas, a rough selection could be made. Like I said before, our aim was to focus on the reporting, that we, due to our enthusiasm, could not always stick to in our brainstorming. Out of the discussions we had on our results, we discovered that a solid concept should contain a collection of data, an incentive for the user to participate, and a feedback of this data towards the bigger public. With these criteria we distilled the three following concepts.

 

Cisco

Concept one is a campaign of sorts. At multiple locations in the city, a small counter is located, decorated as a flower kiosk, preferably close to a bus stand. Women who have experienced any kind of sexual harassment at that stand or in the surrounding area can pick up a flower with root, and plant it somewhere at a given open ground behind the kiosk. The more women plant flowers, the bigger the flower bed will grow. It will decorate that specific site of public space, creating a colorful natural palette in the urban environment. But at the same time it will portray an ironic message of each flower representing a woman who has been harassed at that location.   As a variation on this idea, the flower kiosk can be replaced by a coffee or tea counter, where people can pick up a free cup of coffee or tea and throw the empty cup in special bins. A green one symbolizing a good personal experience of that particular bus stop (the person feels safe, hasn’t experienced sexual harassment at that site), a red one symbolizing a bad experience (feeling of unsafety, experienced sexual harassment). The fuller the bins, the more data is collected on peoples opinion in terms of that bus stop’s safety.

 

CiscoThe second concept concerns an electronic panel. Initially we thought of a booth which women can enter and where they can report their case of sexual harassment. The booth can be situated on many different locations trough the city, yet always in a public space, easy accessible for all women. In the booth a number of buttons or touch screen is presented, questioning the woman’s individual cases. For example: the woman is asked, electronically, to give time, location, nature of harassment, identity of perpetrator and herself, etcetera. All this can be presented on a screen, and the woman can answer by pressing the buttons with the corresponding options, or typing on a small keyboard. As a variation on this, the electronic panel on which the questionnaire will be completed can be replaced by an old fashioned phone, which one can take off the hook for talking. The user can now speak about whatever she wants to tell about her case of sexual harassment, and her monologue will be recorded.   All the data that is being collected by these booths will be visualized on a big public screen, so a larger audience will now know the status quo of the problem, and users will see that something actually gets done with their data. Aside from this visual feedback via a public screen, the data will also flow to institutions that are dealing with women’s rights and public safety, which they can use for their advocacy. After the reporting in the booth, the women have the chance to request for a soothing song. Within the booth, a small jukebox will be present, playing the requested song trough the booth. One can choose whether she wants to turn up the volume, sing a long, shout it out, or keep it only hearable for herself. The music played by the jukebox will just serve to offer instant relief or comfort for the woman in the booth, creating a moment for her own, letting her feel better after her bad experience. Other options are a dummy face one can slap or a whack-a-mole kind of possibility to vent frustration.

 

Cisco Another electronic panel-like concept is a change machine. Change, the small denominations of money one gets back after payment with a bigger bill, is a big scarcity in India. Especially in buses for ticket sale. In change of a bill, this parking meter kind of machine at the bus stop would give change, but only after one first answers some questions that will pop up on the panel as soon one activates it. These questions again will be on experienced cases of sexual harassment or the general safety of the concerning bus stand. After this reporting, the panel will ask for suggestions for interventions to change the current (unsafe) situation at that bus stop. So, in order for change, the user should ‘give’ change.

 

CiscoThe third concept regards more of a narrative. A set of two colorful cartoon characters, Auntie Nighty and Uncle Lungi, via who’s life and adventures issues like masculinity, sexuality, safety, etcetera are addressed in a playful way. These characters can be the key narrative for a story or game.

 

With these concepts we went for some user testing to win feedback. Around the IIIT-B campus we went for spotting some audience within our target group. Several groups of giggling girls aged between 17 and 25 were asked their opinions about the concepts. And for a second round of interviews we returned to our loyal experts whom we had spoken previously during our research phase. I can tell you that the feedback was pretty spicy and a lot of hidden flaws in our concepts became evident. But bad feedback is the best, so they say, and for us many valuable insights appeared. A professor within IIIT-B kindly pointed us on the fact that a change machine would mean lengthy and difficult negotiations for the banks to cooperate with us and that our chance of succession in this would be minimal. Also, our lovely target group indicated that they would not just take any free coffee or tea from strangers on the street. And yes, that a flower bed in city indeed would be very nice, but what about all the cows strolling around the city streets for which the flowers would mean a delicious meal?

 

Baffled by our own brains that we could not think of these restraints brought by an Indian context ourselves, we had to drop the first set of concepts. Other noteworthy understandings we gained were the delicate balance between guaranteeing full anonymity for the user and the verification of the data, the value of data on the response of the victim, perpetrator, and bystanders on the incident, and the need for solutions or interventions for the problem. Women’s rights organization Vimochana let us see how the problem is already very well known to many people. Defining it again is not necessary, according to them. Instead, provide interventions for it that come from bottom-up.   With our brains buzzing of all the comments, critique and newly gained insights we locked ourselves up again. Time to pick the most promising of our concepts, revise, tweak, and alter it into the mould that appeared out of the loads of feedback. We decided to continue with the electronic panel, for this being a powerful possible tool for the informal reporting. The next steps will be the designing of this panel and all that comes along with it: not only the piece of hardware, but also the system that will run on it, the repository design, data flow, its user interface, the feedback of the information towards the users, you name it. Content, analysis and presentation have to be fully fledged.

 

So, it seems like we finally shifted away from the Do What? to the What To Do? Keep a close eye on us about more updates on this dazzling design process!

MediaLAB and Fields of View, telepresence at Cisco

Suit up! On the 17th of October we went for a little trip to the city… the day of the telepresence call with the MediaLAB Amsterdam.

As we might have told you already, the project we are working on is a mirrored project, meaning our team started out with the same research question/topic as the team in the MediaLAB Amsterdam: Women’s Safety in Public Space. Our main funder, Cisco, facilitates high-end, high-tech, monthly meetings to showcase our findings in this cross-cultural project. Our weekly Skype meetings are nothing compared to this state-of-the-art, almost immersive experience, diminishing distance as the office in Amsterdam and Bangalore are real-time connected . Look at this!

DCIM101GOPRO

 

This meeting was, for us, the first formal meeting for this project. We looked forward to it. We prepared a little presentation summing up what findings we had so far. In this blog post we will recap what we told in that presentation at Cisco. Although our project at this moment has taken some steps further, we didn’t want you to miss this. These are descriptions of the path we followed, people we spoke to, decisions we made, things we’ve learned and our future plans (approximately one month ago). Because we made a very simplistic presentation in Prezi, which you can find here, I will add a little more flesh to this skeletal structure. I will give you four key decision points.

When we got introduced to this project roughly 4 months ago, it was called the ‘Panic Button’ project. The idea originated in one of the classes a professor here gave. The conversation was about a device, that would be unobtrusive, easily wearable and maybe even fashionable. The idea of a device to use in case of panic was born.

When we arrived in the end of August, we had a lot of talks about what this project was actually all about. For starters we looked at the name, ‘Panic Button’, which was chosen as a temporary name. The main problem for us with this name was that it placed a strong accent on ‘panic’; something we wished to dismiss or avoid. Hence, a name that would imply the avoidance or removal of panic in a hazardous situation seemed better. “What about ‘Unpanic’? –Yes, sounds alright, let us take that for now.”

Panic Unpanic-01

It was soon after this when our colleague, sociologist and gender expert Dr. Niveditha Menon sent us an interesting mail. She pointed out that with using the name ‘Unpanic’, we actually tell the users, in this and most other cases women, that they should ‘unpanic’. They should not be in panic, what ever happens to them. Or worse, they should not be overacting.

[…] if we are telling women NOT to panic we are telling them two things – One, that they do panic (which they do not), and that thy ought not to panic (why not? the fear is real enough). […] we are not in any position to tell woman NOT to panic, because frankly, do we have any right to? – Niveditha Menon

Here we were, working on a project with no name. We had to have something… so we started from scratch, again. What do we want to accomplish? What do we want to improve, help or solve? Is our problem even solvable? And if so, is there any change that would happen within our time here, a limited semester. We began blowing up our initial research question and deconstructed it.

The next topic of discussion regarding our project was whether or not we would be making a device. The initial plan, the panic button, would’ve been a device to be used in cases of panic, violence and/or harassment. We would not be touching the core or the cause of the problem by making such a device. In Dutch we have this beautiful saying: ‘It is like mopping the floor while the tap is still running’. The problem is rooted deeper and by making a reactive device we would not address the core problem. Another saying seems appropriate: prevention is better than cure. Though, preventing harassment would require an attitudinal or behavioural change, and how were we going to achieve such a complex task. We felt that we needed to split the project in different parts.

After thinking about what we wanted and needed, we started to draw it out. In the blog post “Recipe for curry” we wrote about how we then structured and prioritized our further research. You can read it again here if you like.Designbrief #1

 

As we floated ideas freely, we concluded that we were not going to find a solution. We cannot solve this problem or make it disappear. This is not being pessimistic, solely realistic. Though, it’s not a reason to be disappointed or demotivated. We found that, even if we were not working towards a future without violence or sexual harassment, we could still be doing a meaningful project. We thought about it in a ‘two steps forward- one step back’ way. It is not that women don’t have rights here, because they do. They work, they vote, they do pretty much everything men do. Still, women are being restricted because they are not considered equal to men. It feels like new canals have been dug, but some boats still take the old route. It always takes time for changes to be accepted. In addition, every change brings about new sets of obstacles in its wake. It is like a wave movement, cyclical. Inspired by the feminist waves of women’s emancipation, we saw our project as contributing towards the crest of the next wave. Knowing we won’t make much change, if even any, our vision is to work on that next waveThe project would from now on be referred to as the ‘Next Wave’ project.

Unpanic- Next Wave logo

With our three approaches we went to see professionals and experts in the field. We asked them for feedback, tips&tricks and experiences. We are blessed with the availability of people who have been working in the field of gender, human- and women’s rights and activist-groups for years. How nice it was, therefore, to see that their way of thinking about this subject echoed our views. They liked the path we had walked thus far, but there was still a lot to do. After extensive discussions and almost personal lectures we mapped out the different aspects of this social crisis and how they were interconnected. Here is the map.

 

Frame 1

Now it was time to unite the knowledge we gained so far and start thinking about the research questions in each of the three approaches. The research questions would determine the choices we made. Here they are.

Keywords:
From safety to freedom, mobility, visibility and self-hood

Short term:
How can we facilitate informal reporting of sexual harassment in a physical space while ensuring institutional linkages?

Long term:
How can we design a tool for Indian men to interpret themselves, in a non-threatening way, so the frame shifts from entitlement to consciousness of power structures?

Unifying:
How can we design an online platform for organizations and a general audience, on organizations working to promote freedom of women?

The span of our plans is huge. We know that. We are not sure how far we will go, but we found it too difficult to narrow down our scope. For now, we are focusing on the short-term project, since this is the most feasible to accomplish within our stay.

Keep you posted!

 

Muddy Surface

Within every research, one will face questions that, seemingly, aren’t the ones that help you solve the main problem. They may occur as an irrelevant obstacle on your way, like a mud puddle on the road, your feet get stuck into. It is valueless for whatever you’re heading to and extremely slows down your journey to get there. Seemingly. Because only when you wrestle yourself out of this, it hits you that in any way you had to go through this mud puddle to get on the right, paved track again.

 

And so the story goes for us. In our previous blog we described our struggle with defining the research question, one that would capture the complexity of the topic we’re trying to get a grip on: improving women’s safety in Indian public spaces.

After deciding our three broad focuses, the short term, long term and unify, a new round of blowing up and deconstruction followed.

 

For the long term focus, this came down to a closer look into masculinity. How can we understand the Indian masculine culture? How can we understand the patriarchic society? What in this man-dominated way of life can we point out as a factor for sexual harassment of women?

Obviously, deciding on capturing this focus within our research that sheds light on the more deeply rooted cause of women’s harassment in Indian public spaces, we couldn’t proceed without having these questions answered.  Therefore, an understanding of how and when masculinity, and its counterpart femininity, were established is also required. This is where gender made its entrance. And this is where that mud puddle came on our path.

 

By digging into numerous articles about feminism, rules of masculinity, and gender construction we threw ourselves into the deep. Yet, with this theoretical framework, carefully selected and composed by Nivi and Sruthi, we managed to keep our heads above the mud. The matter was fairly comprehensible and yes, in the world around us we could recognize the social rules of gender construction that were addressed in these papers. But needless to say, this way of understanding stays rather on the level of a spectator’s notion, containing an outsider view on the case. A more deeper conception of how gender operates within all aspects of society could only be achieved if also looked into the topic from an insider’s perspective.

 

With some simple, though effective experiments, Nivi and Sruthi taught us to think about the deviation of male and female, masculinity and femininity, that is apparent in our own private everyday life.

To illustrate. Close your eyes. Imagine yourself going to work, doing groceries, hanging around with friends. Just doing your daily routine. But, dressed in a pink skirt that goes swish-swish. As most of our team members are male, the following overall facial expressions floated between alienation and horror. Why? Why were we feeling highly uncomfortable with only thinking of ourselves in a pink skirt? Do we think this pink skirt threatens our manliness? If so, then why? Out of this, we were asked to answer the question, “How do you define a man or a woman?” for ourselves. What do we picture if we think of a man? What do we picture if we think of a woman? It was this seemingly innocent, small exercise that made us realize that we couldn’t keep our heads above the muddy surface at all.

 

Because all what we listed as a characteristic, quality or association for a man or a woman couldn’t be attributed to only men or only women, for we knew there were also men and women that didn’t have those characteristics, or, do have characteristics that are assigned to the other sex.

For example, girls have long hair, soft voice, don’t like sport, but are more fond of signing. Does this mean that there are no guys with long hair and softer voice, preferring singing above sports? And if girls do like sport, does that make them a boy then? Do we consider a man more of a woman if he doesn’t have broad shoulders?

Clearly, no we do not. Then what makes a man a man? What is the definition of a woman? Are we sure we can define a man or a woman?

 

It appeared that neither the people around us nor ourselves could fulfill all aspects in our own lists. So we tried harder. But the harder we tried to make this list exhaustive and the harder we tried to define rules for the exceptions on the rules, the more complicated the matter of gender seemed to become. With every step the mud surrounded us more and sucked us deeper into the puddle, trapping us with every attempt to move in any direction.

We obviously didn’t succeed in sketching an all-embracing image of a man and a woman. Yet, we definitely could determine people around us being just one of those two. Also, we definitely considered ourselves a man or a woman. If this deviation between men and women isn’t that binary and boundaries therefore are very blurry, what then makes us so sure of our capability of defining a man and a woman? What is here at play, that we, almost unconsciously, construct these sets of criteria that indicate a man or a woman?

 

We bumped into grand narrative, a concept I hope will be described meaningfully here. Grand narrative is the set of rules no one can clearly explain nor pinpoint, but everyone knows them. This set of rules gives one an identity within society and a corresponding code of conduct. This is already defined for you, and therefore gives comfort and a notion of confirmation. Also, it provides one a set of attributes the ‘other’ hasn’t and one can exploit in his or her advantage against the ‘other’. This way, an unwritten social law becomes evident. One can conform to this social law, one can also discard it. But one can not completely escape from it. It is fluid, always changing and therefore both inclusionary and exclusionary. Complete refusal and non-conformation of it indirectly shows an acknowledgement that it is there, which eventually still makes one a part of it. Within interaction with each other, we get confirmation in our social roles we are set to behave to, for others are treating us according to these roles as well.

 

For instance, a woman parked her car wrongly and is fined by a police officer. She then takes the classic role of the damsel in distress, helplessly put in the subordinate position, hoping for the police officer’s grace so he will withdraw the fine. However she may highly object to this behavior in other situations, she knows that this role may work in her advantage now. She knows that her particular behavior, confirming him in his more powerful position, might affect the officer and will persuade him being the gentleman and forgive her. No one taught those two their roles. Only through interaction with others they know about it.

 

Slowly we got a grip of this phenomena that, frustratingly, we couldn’t articulate before. Because although we indeed knew those rules (without being able to explain where we learned them), they seemed too much of a matter of course, that we did not even think about pronouncing them.

 

So, having explicitly named the rules at play within gender construction, now what? What was the benefit from this struggle? Obviously the mud puddle had trapped us and we did not like to bust through it. But, although we might not want to admit it, having knowledge of this complex matter was an eye opener. An eye opener that is needed to continue a project dealing with these invisible social structures. Recognizing and then questioning this grand narrative, gives us insights in how gender is constructed, maintained and operates in society. And therefore we can now view masculinity and femininity from both an insider and an outsider perspective, being able to deconstruct and evaluate them more thoroughly.

We can now see the value of our fight with the mud. We managed to get trough the puddle, let’s follow that paved track again.

 

Fantastic world of frames

Frames. It is a domestic word that invokes images of straight wooden planks fitted into a rectangle. But frames are not just for those inviting French windows, they exist in our minds too, adjusting and compartmentalizing our views of the world. But before we talk about frames, let us talk about elephants.

 

If I tell you not to think of an elephant, what happens? Cognitive scientist George Lakoff has tried this exercise in his class and has never found a student who can not think of an elephant. You could jump from mahouts to ivory tusks to Dushera processions, to Binani cement, to circuses, but you will still think of an elephant.

 

Lakoff terms this web of associations as a frame – once you are in it, it is difficult to get out. Every word evokes a frame. Every word, including safety.

 

Safety was what we started this project with: What can we do to ensure safety of women?

 

When you think of women’s safety, by saying safety you invoke a frame. A mother’s embrace, locks, surveillance, policing, laws – I could go on. When we focus then on women’s safety, we think inside this frame, and when we do, a solution that women stay behind the safe confines of their homes and not move out makes perfect sense. If you don’t work in that office that does not let you go home before 10 pm, if you don’t take that shortcut home, if you don’t get on to that bus when no one is there, you will be safe. But is that the frame we want to be bound by? There’s a rub.

 

What do we do then? Lakoff asks us to jump out of that frame and move into another one. How do we do that? Listen to the Republican party in the USA for starters. Once upon a time everyone spoke about global warming. When you think of ‘global warming’, you think of a planet sitting on a stove, with particularly nasty red-hot coals smoking away. You think of yourself wilting without water, drying up. Or drowning in all that water that was moulded into icebergs once upon a time. The Republican party felt it was too doomsday an image to be thinking about. And so they called it ‘climate change’. It is not that threatening, isn’t it? After all, we even have books instructing us on how to deal with change, inspired by mice hunting after spiritual cheese. So climate change it is. The debate changes, ever so slightly, and then in a more pronounced fashion. Nothing is permanent except change. If the climate is changing then, it makes sense. Stop worrying and embrace the change. How do you argue with that?

 

You can’t. It is difficult to argue when you are inside the same frame. Remember the episode in Mad Men where they have to come up with an advertisement for cigarettes, at a time when everyone is worried about the health issues of tobacco?

And that’s why, when we talk about women’s safety, it is not safety we want to focus on. We want to change the frame – and those who have thought long and hard about this issue say, it is not about safety, it is about freedom.

 

Is a woman free to go where she wants to go, do what she wants to do, and be where she wants to be? Are women free?

 

All of a sudden, a woman safe inside the four walls of her home is not an option any more. Telling her that she cannot wear what she wants to wear is akin to binding her in sartorial chains. Asking a woman not to choose a job that implies she can’t come back home late night is an assault on her freedom.

 

So we plan on dwelling over this question now: What can we do to ensure freedom of women?

 

Blog #3 Recipe for curry

It has been one month now, more or less, since we’ve been here. In these last three to four weeks we have been breaking our brains over what we are researching. What exactly do we want to work on? How do we define these aspects and, how can we formulate our research question? Also, we had online meetings with team Amsterdam to see how they are progressing and Sruthi gave us a nice introductory lecture on India and its society. We will start off with the progress of our research question.

We were aware of the complexity of our problem, sort of. I like to compare it to taking a spoon of curry and we have to distinguish between flavors. The first thing we did to find the research question was blowing up the sentence ‘women‘s safety in public space‘. We took the spoon of curry apart and checked which spices we could see. What do we define as women and what kind of women are there? What is the definition of safety, for whom and why? What kind of spaces are there, which ones are problematic and what can we use from this? We can tell you now, these questions are more difficult than meets the eye, especially in a country like India… So many spices!

We found out that the subject we are working on has many variables. If separated, flavors might taste different than combined. The taste palette, or the width of our problem is extremely complex and intertwined. Reading in on the Indian culture is not possible overnight, it takes a lot of work and good guidance. Maybe we can start by saying that we are not going to solve this problem on our own? Either way, all the work that we do for the sake of this subject is a step in the good direction and that feels great.

posters

After we figured out how broad each of our aspects were, how wide the spectra are, we started to think about what interested us the most. From this soul seeking on our interest came three main approaches to this subject. Short term: a project or product that can be realized within a short span of time. Long term: the longer term goals that the short term project feeds in. Unifying project: looking at the already existing projects and find ways to connect and unify them. The reason for these three aspects is as follows.

The problem we are facing is incredibly broad and deeply rooted. It does not stop simply at looking at busses or city-squares. The problem is deeply rooted in society and in the attitude of the citizens. It has been around for so long that we figured out that one single action wouldn’t make a big change. With a relatively small action we wouldn’t get to the core of the problem, thus a long term project is required. To really do this, we would have to research the norms and values of the society in general. How do people see each other and in what way do people respect each other? Why do they do what they do, in what ways? Only by doing this we could figure out where we should seek the ‘solution’. Although this seems like a very nice plan it is a little ambitious. Not only because the half of our team is non-Indian and knows little about the culture and traditions, but also because of the many variables at work. Last but not least, there is our limited timeframe in which we have to do something.

Short termed action seems to be a feasible goal within the time we have here. This is something we can finish. Ideally, the short term action feeds into a greater long term goal. How we are going to realize this is not yet clear to us yet.

Then we have the unifying part. This part comes from the idea that there are already many initiatives in this field. There are already many projects about safety, or more specific, on women’s safety. Not only in India but also elsewhere in the world. All these projects would, first of all, be useful for us to study and see how they handle different situations and how we can get inspired by their visions and ideas. Next to this ‘fundamental’ research, we are looking for ways to interconnect these different initiatives to join forces and become stronger as unity. The main focus though, lays on the short term direct action. Different roles within our frame are: victims, bystanders, perpetrators, institutions, institution-representatives and media.

 designbrief-hand

Our calls with the MediaLAB Amsterdam gave us a good insight in how our situation differs from the current situation in Amsterdam. Although we started off with the same ‘question’ or problem set, we immediately saw that team Amsterdam is going in another direction than we are. Amsterdam is relatively safe. The focus of their project, as for now, is more in the perceiving of safety. As for us, it is a combination of subjective safety (if you feel save) and objective safety (if it is safe).

One overlapping aspect we found out is that different groups of people perceive safety in different ways. Lets say that a student, born and raised in Amsterdam, feels relatively safe on the streets of Amsterdam. He or she knows where to go or where not to go. A tourist in Amsterdam might get another feeling; in a new city where you know nothing about anything that is going on there, you might feel less safe. In our case we didn’t focus much on the divide of locals or tourists, more on the social status and cultural hierarchy. How do people from low caste and low class perceive safety compared to high caste and high class?

co-call

In this blogpost we can’t provide you with a definite research question yet, unfortunately. The field of research is still too broad for us to be focussing already on something particular. For that, we can provide you with a focus of the research we are working on right now. How can we make a product/service to get the bystanders to be more alert or assertive? How can we influence the attitude of the Indian society to be more respectful towards women (in the long term)? How can we combine the work that is already been done to make a powerful unit?

Any suggestion about concepts, existing projects or insight on this matter are more than welcome. In the meantime, we’ll keep busy!

 

 

Are Indian streets safe for women?

After I read Marissa and Bauke’s thoughts about their first day, being one of their ‘private city guides’, I felt I should try to answer that unasked question – why were their private city guides swinging from tenterhooks? Here’s an attempt:

I walk, mostly alone, and like walking alone. In my blog (rarely updated nowadays) there are many entries describing footpaths, the trees that grow in them, and shrines that greet you unexpectedly in corners. So, I have a fair idea of what streets are like. Are they safe for women?

 

Before I answer that, take another place where I have spent a fair amount of time – trains of Mumbai. I spent many years aboard the Mumbai local trains. Many intense conversations with a close friend of mine, whom I shall call A., happened as we waited for trains on crowded platforms. My strongest memory is of her eyes gleaming beneath those glasses, arguing passionately with her black rucksack hanging in front of her chest, like an adjustable kangaroo pouch.

 

We all did that – hold our bags in front of our chest. An armour of canvas beefed with books. Who had told us about this armour? I don’t know, I just remember holding bags in that fashion. Did it work? For the most part. Did that mean we were groped every day? No. Is that ‘normal’? No. Did that mean we were groped some days? Yes.

 

So, are Mumbai local train platforms safe for women? Are Indian streets safe for women? Is a market in Bangalore safe for two young and enthusiastic visitors from Amsterdam?

 

It was a time when my Facebook feed was furiously debating this: http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-1023053. The questions that were flying faster than you could press refresh – is India safe for foreign tourists?

 

I did not find the American student’s account dissonant. But I wish there had been a footnote or a paragraph that said this violence was not just directed toward her but toward women in India too. It could have then shielded the piece from being reduced by some to a white woman versus brown man frame – a reductive dismissal that doesn’t help anyone.

 

Overall, I was worried. I did not know how to answer that question, and I didn’t want to find out otherwise later. And so when we trotted off to city market, while soaking in the colours of chemically treated sindoor, scents of freshly washed flowers, and smiling at birdcages made of discarded fruit boxes hanging above, I kept watch. I watched all the men around, their eyes, where they went, where they strayed, whom they locked into, and what they said, and what they did not say.

 

What I saw made me relieved, and mildly surprised. What made me relieved is most of the looking was just that, looking. It was as if these vendors of flowers had chanced upon an exotic species, so they took their time to see, observe, smile, and ask questions. It was curiosity that was friendly. Some gave me flowers, these plump roses, and beckoned to me that I should give it to my newfound friends. One vendor took a pomegranate and sliced it open and thrust it into my hands. It was for my friends, his smile told me. These wares were given without any price tags, more importantly, without any strings. Never in my life would I have been given anything for free here, but here I was, my hands laden with freebies. As I said, I was mildly surprised and amused.

 

But then there were those eyes.  Two pairs. That did more than just look. They gazed, they rested awhile, took their time to stray, stop, and stare. When they had finished taking their full, they moved on and stopped when I came into view, at the end of the line. And when I locked my eyes into theirs, they looked away, like boys caught scribbling obscenities on the school wall.

 

Perhaps, these two men would not have done that if I shopped in this market every day. I too was a stranger, not someone who laughed with them over the price of onions. If were a familiar face those two men would have thought twice; those boys would not deface walls in front of their schoolmate.

 

Overall, we had a pleasant morning. Was my worry then misplaced? Is a market in Bangalore safe for two visitors from Amsterdam? Are Mumbai local train platforms safe for women? Are Indian streets safe for women?

First day in the city: who watches whom?

On the second day of our stay in India, August 27th, our brand new colleagues took us out to Bangalore’s city heart. Their goal was to introduce us the different sites of the city and, especially, the inherent changing ambience of those sites at other times of the day. But apart from that, questions with a more fundamental background were the incentive of this day’s site seeing.

 

In this first blog we will therefore report our personal experience of the city as a non-Asian visitor, but also address the local’s response on our presence as white foreigners in their native environment.
Starting around 11am, the City Market gave us a relatively quiet first impression of the city. The market appeared to us as a place of the people, where the authentic locals meet one another. No ‘white’ or ‘western’ person was around, which made us very explicitly the odd ones out. But despite our awareness of our odd appearance within the crowd, we didn’t notice the gaze of people around us. Captured by all the colourful scenes at the Market, we had no eye for the ones that did had eye for us.
But on our way to another site of the city, our private city guides expressed their astonishment on the staring of the crowd. It appeared that this gazing didn’t occur in the extreme fashion as they expected it to happen in advance. On the contrary, they were pleasantly surprised by their kindness and had never witnessed the friendly gesture of vendors giving away freebees as a welcoming sign to their city.

 

Stip

Using public transport introduced us to more busy places of the city at that time of day. We took the bus from Shivaji Bus Depot, an already more crowded and chaotic environment. The vehicle itself was pretty packed, though more passengers kept entering the bus at every stop. Nevertheless, it was something else that struck us more.
In the bus, all the women were sitting in the front, all the men on the back. A strict division that, at first, seemed just a funny coincidence, but soon got a more serious tone when we noticed every new passenger obeying this code. This way, the public transport trip confronted us as Dutchies with the division between men and women for the first time. Separation in sex, division in restrooms apart from this, and the differences in the constructed gender roles never occurred to us that much, certainly not in The Netherlands but until then neither in India. And however there was barely time to think about this phenomenon with all the bustle around us, questions started to pop up in our heads. Why is this division necessary? And why is this habit absent in our culture? Unconsciously it triggered our attention.
Though, during the rest of the day, it was the cautiousness and caretaking of our personal guides that caught our eye: continuously checking if we were still following, if that homeless man wasn’t bothering us and if we had our backpacks safely closed. The whole day they looked after us and made sure that we were feeling comfortable and safe on the streets and in public spaces. By the end of the day we have had a fantastic city tour and a marvellous first impression of the city without any bad experience of people responding inappropriate to our presence. Unfortunately, our guides were exhausted and their obvious relief with ending the day without any trouble couldn’t be unseen. A remarkable sign, that suddenly shed another light on the question of how the Indian locals respond on our presence as white foreigners in their native environment.

 
Familiar with all the current circulating worrisome stories questioning the safety of India’s public environments, we didn’t expect a pleasant first impression. However, though it became clear that our presumptions were proved utterly wrong by our true experience, who would have thought that this preconception would be shared by our own caretaking colleagues? Who would have thought that the ones being most surprised by all Bangalore’s kindness would be our private, Indian city guides?

MediaLAB in Bangalore

On the 26th of August we, Marissa and Bauke, left for Bangalore, India. We are former students of the MediaLAB Amsterdam. Last year we were working on the ‘Sound.it.is.’ project and the ‘LightChallenge’ project. In the end of the last semester, MediaLAB Amsterdam gave us a wonderful opportunity to work on a project in India, as an internship. This would be a mirrored project with the MediaLAB Amsterdam; the Amsterdam based team will be working on the same topic as us. We took our chances and without a doubt started packing our bags!

 

Here in Bangalore, or Bengaluru, India’s Silicon Valley, in the southern part of India, we are working on a project about women’s safety in public space. We are part of the research society Fields of View, located at the campus of IIIT-B. Our team in particular is 5 headed: Yashvanth, Daksh, Vikram, Marissa and Bauke, passionately coached by Sruthi. This blog will also be mirrored with the MediaLAB Amsterdam’s blog.

 

We have been here now for 3 weeks exact, already entering our fourth. We’ve been doing a lot and met many interesting people. Here is a short introduction-video we made last week. Enjoy, more posts are coming and we’ll keep you updated!