Meet The SHEROES - Elsa D'Silva
How many of us have experienced been pinched, touched or groped in a crowded train or bus? How many times have we been stared at and commented at, making us feel uncomfortable and insecure? Women harassment in India is in its peak.
Gender based violence is a global pandemic. According to UN Women, 1 in 3 women around the world experience some form of sexual assault at least once in their lifetime. Most of these assaults occur before the age of 16. Yet 80% of women and girls do not choose to report these incidents officially - for fear of bringing shame to themselves and their families, fear of dealing with the police and fear of the lengthy judicial process for justice.
In fact, for most women and girls they do not even understand what constitutes sexual violence as it has become so “normalised” over a period of time. On a daily basis we tend to ignore the verbal and nonverbal forms of sexual violence - staring, commenting, ogling, catcalling as we think they are too “trivial” when in fact they could be extremely debilitating for many. So we tend to remain silent and accept it as part of daily life.
This underreporting and under communication of the issue has led to a situation where the official statistics do not reflect the true nature and size of the problem, thus making it invisible.
That’s where Safecity comes in. We encourage people to anonymously report their personal experiences of sexual violence in public spaces on our crowd map. This is collated and aggregated as location based trends and visualised on a map as hotspots. The idea is to raise awareness of the issue through personal sharing, encouraging people to break their silence whilst connecting them to each other and increasing situational awareness regarding a location’s safety. Knowing that you are not alone, might make you more willing to share your story. Knowing that a particular location is the comfort zone of a perpetrator, might want you to take action either through individual action or with the help of your community. It might also give you the information you need to drive the police to increase vigilance or municipal authorities to do a better job with street lighting and providing safe infrastructure like public toilets.
We have several success stories where young girls have felt confident and returned to school after participating in our workshops and campaigns. After one of our awareness workshops on child sexual abuse, a 9 year old came up to me and described how her uncle had been molesting her. She then went on to say that she could now go home and tell her mother what her uncle had done to her because she now knew that she had done nothing wrong. Listening to that child, I knew I had found my purpose.
We use the online data that women and girls share to identify factors that lead to behaviour that causes sexual violence and help us think through strategies to find solutions. We partner with other NGOs, citizen and student groups who work in a local community, to create awareness and collect information on sexual violence. The data highlights trends and we then mobilise the community to rally around the issue using the data as the base.
For example, our data helped us identify a hotspot in an urban slum in Delhi. It was on a main road near a tea stall. Men would loiter there while drinking their tea and intimidate women and girls with their constant staring. When asked what they wanted to change about their neighbourhood, the young girls said that they would like the staring to stop. So we organised an art workshop for them and they painted the wall with staring eyes and subtle messaging that loosely translates in English to - Look with your hearts and not with your eyes. It’s been 8 months since the wall mural was painted and the staring and loitering has stopped and the girls can walk comfortably, with no stress, to school, college or work, without fear of being intimidated by those men.
Changing cultures of violence are partly about policies, but it’s also about giving people a voice. By making it easy for people to share their stories and report, and thus transparently showcasing data we can hold institutions accountable. We have several examples where on presenting the data police have changed beat patrol timings and increased patrolling, municipal authorities have fixed street lighting and made safe public toilets available. And together with a partner organisation in Nepal, we pressured the transportation authorities to issue “women only” bus licences.
Stories such as these inspire and motivate me to push the boundaries in making a better world for women and girls.
It also reminds me that I have had a very fortunate and privileged life. My parents have always treated my sister, brother and me equally, allowing us to choose our career paths and always encouraging us to push boundaries. The constant support for my life's choices - education, career, lifestyle, etc has defined me as a person and often it is a shock when I find other women and girls may not have had such a liberating experience as I have had.
Growing up, I wanted to travel the world and so I joined the aviation industry after graduating in English Literature. Travel is not only an equaliser but a great teacher. I have been to almost 70 countries, some several times and it is always a thrill and joy to discover something new or return to something familiar. I love exploring places, discovering new things, learning new things and expanding my mind. I have friends all over the globe and it helps me put things into perspective.
I have always been focused about living my life according to my own rules and paving my own way. I decided early on that my life would not be conventional and I have no regrets. Finding my own potential has been my life’s mission. From starting my career as a flight attendant, I rose up the career ladder taking up several roles - Flight safety instructor where I instructed pilots and cabin crew on safety and emergency procedures, a fast track career progression which led me to Revenue Management, Pricing and Network Planning. My last portfolio was Vice President Network Planning & Charters where I was responsible for planning over 500 daily flights at Kingfisher Airlines.
After a very successful corporate career, I decided on a career switch to launch Safecity after the horrific gang rape of Jyothi Pandey in Delhi. I had to learn, unlearn and relearn a lot of things but the journey has been fantastic. I love what I do and it is immensely satisfying that I am positively impacting the lives of so many people.