Coffee Break Podcast: On Fighting Gender-Based and Sexual Violence




Civil Society, Gender Equality, Human Rights and Migration

In this episode of the GDL Coffee Break Podcast, host Khaldun Al Saadi speaks to Elsa Marie D’Silva, social entrepreneur, founder and president of the Red Dot Foundation (Global), about sexual and gender-based violence. Her project Safecity, a platform that crowdsources personal experiences of sexual violence and harassment in public spaces, has gathered data about abuse all over the world in order to combat this issue more effectively.

Elsa worked in the aviation industry for 20 years before she found her calling in working to fight sexual and gender-based harassment. She is an alumna of the US State Department’s Fortune Program and a BMW Foundation Responsible Leader and has been listed as one of BBC Hindi’s 100 Women. On top of that, she has won the SheThePeople’s Digital Woman Award in the category “Social Impact”.

The project discussed in this episode of the Coffee Break Podcast is Safecity, an application available free of charge on Android and iOS systems and via the website. It is a platform for reporting sexual and gender-based harassment anonymously. The app does not gather any personal data, including the reporter’s IP address, to enable anyone to report the harassment or violence they have experienced without having to worry about anyone finding out or tracing their experience back to them.

The idea for the project came to Elsa in 2012, after reports of a horrific gang rape in Delhi led to what she calls India’s very own “George Floyd Moment”. One in three women worldwide experiences sexual or gender-based harassment or violence during their lives, yet many do not have the courage to speak up about their experience. Elsa came up with Safecity to create a safe space to allow people of all genders to open up and report their harassers.

The main goal of Elsa’s work is to educate and raise awareness about this issue that affects so many people. Sexual and gender-based harassment affects mostly women, yet men find it more difficult to report their experiences when they are harassed. Moreover, non-violent and non-sexual instances of abuse are often normalised in everyday life. With her work, Elsa hopes to provide people with the means to recognise abuse and learn how to talk about what has happened to them. By collecting data and encouraging people to report the abuse that they have suffered, Elsa hopes that people in India and all over the world will become aware of the underlying causes of harassment and work for a safer tomorrow.

Through the data provided, Safecity draws heat maps of especially dangerous zones so that hotspots of harassment and violence can be avoided. All data is available free of charge in an open-source format, enabling anyone to use it to take measures against harassment. Elsa hopes, in particular, to involve local communities in preventative work and believes that providing the data necessary for this will empower people to take action against violence.

Last but not least, Elsa shared some useful tips and strategies for coping with her taxing work. She says that social change is slow and that there is only so much a single person can do to help bring it about. Accepting that doing one’s best is enough is what keeps her going.

On a more practical note, Elsa likes to colour-code her calendar for easy orientation and sort her email by urgency to stay organised. She never leaves emails unopened and does not procrastinate on any assignments. This helps her to stay on top of her tasks and minimises stress. She also advises anyone to keep things simple and well organised, so that tasks can be delegated to others or completed more quickly in the future.

Through collaborations and exchanges with GDL members, Elsa has been able to learn new strategies for how to deal with her stressful work and remain motivated to keep going. Gaining new insights and learning from the perspectives of other GDL members has helped her improve her own work. Together with GDL member Stefan Cibian from Romania, Elsa’s work has helped to make a strong case against human-trafficking in the Eastern European country. With the help of Croatian GDL members, the Safecity app was translated into Croatian, making it even more accessible for non-English speakers.

If you or anyone you know is suffering from harassment or violence, please report it and reach out to others. Help is just one step away.

New episodes of the podcast are released every three weeks. Host Khaldun seeks to get an inside look at the perspectives of young diplomats, experts and activists on the vast array of global challenges we face today by sitting down with them for a virtual cup of coffee.

To learn about the answers please make yourself a cup of coffee and listen to the new episode on  Spotify or Apple Podcasts!


About the authors:

Khaldun Al Saadi is a project coordinator with strong experience and interests in the fields of immigration, equality, integration and radicalization prevention.

ElsaMarie D’Silva is a social entrepreneur with interests in the fields of social and personal development, peace, aviation and mental health, and she is also the founder of the Red Dot Foundation (Safecity), a platform that crowdsources personal experiences of sexual violence and abuse in public spaces.

Published on May 18, 2022.

Visual credit: Julie August

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