ElsaMarie D’Silva is an ardent activist against sexual and gender-based violence, and the founder and CEO of the Red Dot Foundation, which was initially launched as Safecity (a tech platform launched in December 2012). It is “a service product that powers communities, police, and city government to prevent violence in public and private spaces.” The organization was registered as an NGO in India, in November 2014 and then later registered in the United States in 2017. ElsaMarie has partners in Kenya, Malaysia, Trinidad and Tobago, Nigeria, etc, and is also a Rotary Peace Fellow.
“The Shadow Pandemic”
Violence against women, especially sexual violence, is something that plagues every society and has especially gotten worse during the coronavirus pandemic. And, it is being referred to as “the shadow pandemic.” To combat it, ElsaMarie’s approaches include creating safe spaces such as Safecity, for victims to anonymously voice their experiences. In her words, “it is important to create a safe space for conversation and dialogue and not confrontation. And by breaking their silence and sharing their stories”, they increase their chances of getting justice and break the stigma around topics considered taboo, such as sexual and domestic violence. This, however, is not an easy thing to do, as she pointed out that even when victims of gender-based violence do break their silence, they are often met with pushback and blamed for what happened to them. So, it is society’s duty to encourage victims to speak up. By doing so, they also prevent future abuses from happening, thereby saving others.
Safecity gathers evidence-based data through its crowdsourcing platform- through a global app, miss-called facilities, and “talking boxes.” These talking boxes are mainly for places where community members do not have access to devices or technology. And through partnerships, collaborations, and advocacy campaigns, victims are encouraged to anonymously share their stories. Victims don’t have to sign up so as to make them anonymous and make it easier for them to share their stories, without the fear of repercussions. The information gathered is then plotted on a map and solutions are suggested with stakeholders such as the police and municipal corporations. This way we make “the invisible visible”, as there are so many untold stories.
Prevention Through Community
ElsaMarie places heavy emphasis on establishing early warning systems for combating sexual violence and harassment and wants to start a pilot program in some cities. And as she put it “We all know what the problem is. I’m more focused on the solutions.”
ElsaMarie has a certificate in Peacebuilding and Conflict Resolution from Chulalongkorn University in Thailand, obtained in 2016, and this is where her mediation skills come in. As her organization focuses on gender equality and justice, when having difficult conversations around those topics, “it helps that you have mediation skills, when talking to survivors, potential perpetrators, and also general society.” This program would use a data set as described above, which would be useful for tracking reported incidents, as it gives more insight into incidents. The police would work with communities in this project, but the initiative will mostly be community-based, as “the solutions often involve the community, and the police may or may not be the solution.”
A very effective way of preventing sexual violence is uncovering the root causes. This includes the environment such as the location and the time of day. This can then be used to inform the program. She wants to partner with other organizations interested in doing this work or already doing it. Another way of ensuring effective prevention is by engaging men in society. Patriarchy dominates the world, and thus, gives men a greater advantage over women. So, even if some men are not perpetrators of sexual violence, they are obliged to speak against perpetrators and for victims.
ElsaMarie was invited to the organization by S. Martin, and she eventually became a member. He trained her and her Rotary Peace fellows in online facilitation. She has since helped several programs for Rotary organized by MBBI, as well as its running charter facilitators. One of the programs she has been involved with is the Police Community Relations Working Group, which “focuses on strengthening the connections between local communities and its police.”
Article by Jainaba Gaye, MBBI Writer