Government Launches An SOS Safety App For Women. But Where Does That Leave Women Who Don’t Own Smartphones?
Women’s safety has taken a serious hit in the recently years and is a major concern in India right now. Thankfully, the government has been taking the necessary steps and flagging off programmes and initiatives like all-women police patrolling unit, self-defense workshops and helpline numbers to ensure women’s protection. The recent one to add to this list is an SOS safety app that women can access on their smartphones for when they find themselves in an unfortunate circumstance.
The 112 Emergency Response Support System (ERSS) helps get women in distress assistance with the help of a mobile app. The 112 app can be downloaded on any smartphone and a distress call can also be sent by pressing the power button three times or dialling 999 or 555. Union Minister of Women and Child Development Smriti Irani shared this information with the Lok Sabha.
While this is obviously great, there is a major loophole in this safety app. And, that is, not all women own smartphones in India and thus this initiative largely excludes women from the weaker sections of the society and remote areas who actually could benefit from an emergency assistance like this. In a country where even the basic necessities are a luxury for a vast majority of population, assuming a smartphone app would be benefit women nationwide is a rather bold move. If this was a basic mobile safety feature and worked without the internet, it would have been more helpful and inclusive of women across the societies and nation.
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— Femina (@FeminaIndia) September 20, 2020
It’s a nationwide emergency safety app but studies show that only about 38% of women in India use smartphones so really, this app is of no assistance to women who don’t use smartphones which is more than half of the female population. Even if they do, most of them can’t afford internet service, more so now when there is a financial crisis going on due to the pandemic. Plus, pertaining to the gender norms and backward mindsets women, especially young girls and unmarried women, are not allowed to have smartphones in remote villages and towns. But do they face sexual harassment in public places? Yes! Probably more than the women from upper classes of the society and urban areas. So, where does this leave safety of women in rural areas with no smartphones?
Mobile-based safety services are a great help for women on streets and secluded places where they often feel unsafe and vulnerable. Street harassment is a serious concern and a panic button on your phone could help you avert a mishap, given that your phone is charged. This emergency safety app too will get you (you with the smartphones) prompt assistance on a press of a button. It has 24X7 response service available including volunteers and emergency services like police, health, fire & disaster management. It tracks your location and sends help to you and also calls 112 to the state emergency control room. It has been launched in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Andhra Pradesh, Chandigarh, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu, Delhi, Goa, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Mizoram, Nagland, Puducherry, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand only for now but is supposed to expand to other states and union territories as well in the future. While this has got covered women who have smartphones and can access the app country-wide, the only concern is the safety of women with no smartphone to seek help.
— The Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) October 14, 2016
While I am aware that not every government initiative cannot be inclusive of all women from all sections of society and areas, I strongly feel it should take into consideration the vast majority while coming up with such safety programmes. Crimes against women are skyrocketing and protecting less than half of the population with a tool that’s inaccessible to others just seems unfair.
A smartphone app is only helpful for women who can afford mobile and internet services and leaves the other needful women in distress. Plus, this comes at a time when we have been coming across the news of how children are struggling to take online classes because they don’t have access to smartphones everyday. I am sure women are not buying a smartphone in the times of financial distress for the sake of their safety. This will fail the security of women at large and nothing will ever change.
Here’s an appeal to the government to make a basic mobile safety feature for women across India that doesn’t require internet or smartphone but ensures safety and protection with a panic button just like this one.
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