Curating gendered digital lives in Delhi’s urban peripheries
Combining approaches from urban geography, gender studies, software ethnography and Geographic Information Systems (GIS), this ArcGIS mapping initiative is a unique interdisciplinary international collaboration between King’s College London and ‘Gendering the Smart City’ #GSCProject project network societal partners Safetipin and Jagori in India.
The Story Map presents different perspectives of a digital age by young women living in Delhi’s urban peripheries – resettlement colonies, urban villages and border towns. Using visualisations of selected data – participatory maps, photographs (click here for Rohit’s photo essay on his photos included in the exhibition), videos and WhatsApp diaries maintained by these women over a period of 6 months, #AanaJaana curates women’s everyday stories of comings and goings in the city. It explores how women on the margins view, understand, and ultimately navigate the city through information and communication technologies (ICT) accessed from their mobile phones. It provokes us to think what mobility means in a context where social media provides real time information on the dangers and freedoms located in the metro, bus, auto rickshaw, and walkways as well as the opportunity to express this in creative and poignant ways. It also shows us how women living on the urban peripheries negotiate the ‘freedoms’ of moving (aana) in online space with the ‘dangers’ of going out (jaana) into the city, or the constraints of entering (aana) online space with the constant control over their bodies even when they leave (jaana) home for the city.
Watch and share the videos of their performance below:
They performed their ‘#KhadarKiLadkiyan [#KhadarGirls]’ freestyle hip hop rap song accompanied by a choreographed dance on stage before thousands during the event celebrating feminist music, dance, theatre and poetry as part of the international One Billion Rising #VDay day of global solidarity.
You can find out more about the exhibition by exploring our interactive Story Map here and the exhibition information page here.
To celebrate the opening of the exhibition, in the weeks leading up to the exhibition and during the exhibition month, members of the public were invited to enter our #AanaJaana [#ComingGoing] international photo competition by taking a selfie while travelling or using public transport, posting it on Twitter and tagging our competition hashtags #AanaJaana and #GSCProject.
Each photo entry was judged by our international research team based on its relevance to our project themes – women’s rights in the city, urban futures, urban mobility, smart cities, inclusive cities and right to the city, everyday cities and safe cities.
Congratulations to @durkhaima on her winning entry!
Our international research team decided that this selfie photo entry and accompanying text perfectly highlighted the issues related to the research themes our research network team is exploring as part of our project – women’s rights in the city, urban futures, urban mobility, inclusive cities, right to the city and safe cities.
Other Amazing Entries
A big thank you to all those who visited our ‘Art in Public Places – #AanaJaana: Curating Women’s Digital Stories of the City’ exhibition and submitted selfie photos from both the UK and India!
Taking selfies and posting them on social media is often derided as a narcissistic, self-absorbed and attention-seeking practice. Filters come in for particular disdain due to the role they play in reinforcing unattainable beauty standards, by making faces lighter, slimmer and wider-eyed than is natural.
Yet feminist, minority and queer activists have argued that selfies can be a way for people to represent and take pride in their identity, sexuality and gender orientation. And recently, my own experiences researching gender, smart cities and urban citizenship in India have led me to see the value of selfies in a new and surprising way.
As part of a recent research project, my team and I were interested in understanding the lives of young women living in slum resettlement colonies on the outskirts of Delhi’s sprawling metropolis. To that end, we created a WhatsApp group, and asked 11 women to send in diary entries of their daily experiences in the form of images, text, audio or video as they travelled from their homes to the city over the course of six months.
Our participants turned out to be avid selfie takers. But there’s much more to this than a simple rendition of a millennial trend. Their selfies are digital, visual stories from the margins which capture their struggles and accomplishments as they step out from women’s traditional role in the home and navigate the largely male-dominated realm of the city.
Phones for fun and freedom
Getting a personal mobile phone is a significant event in the lives of these women. Families only permit the women to have their own phone after a series of difficult negotiations, as families are anxious that the phones could lead to what families perceive as “transgressive” behaviour, such as disobeying parents, breaking curfew, talking to men, or wearing Western clothes. Our participants convinced their families that having a phone is essential for keeping safe and staying in touch, when they have to go into the city for “legitimate” reasons such as work or education.
Smart phones usually come at a price which their families cannot afford, so when women start working they often spend their first salary to get one of the cheaper Android devices and pay off the full cost in monthly instalments. Data is affordable and connectivity can be instantaneous. Having a personal phone gives women the ability to leave the home and communicate with others away from the gaze of the family, so they see it as giving the gift of freedom.
Women celebrate this freedom using the phone’s front-facing camera. Of course, they take selfies for fun, using filters to transform their faces with amusing and outlandish templates.
WhatsApp me aana, facebook me jaana, yeh hai smart zamaana – translated as ‘coming on WhatsApp, going to Facebook, these are the smart times’. – WhatsApp diary entry, 2018.
But they also take selfies to record their visits to different places, celebrate their friendships and mark their coming of age as smart, connected young women, enjoying urban life – even when poor network connectivity means phones frequently crash and apps fail.
The city at arm’s length
Our participants didn’t really regard taking selfies as a political act. But when you consider how, when and where they take selfies the images are a barometer of their social, economic and political exclusion from the city. They speak to the paradoxes experienced by women living in Delhi’s urban peripheries, as both technology – and the city itself – can be at once liberating and dangerous.
In some ways, the selfies show that being in the city is liberating for women, as they represent a new-found freedom outside the home and the constraints of traditional gender roles. Through these selfies, women curate the city at arm’s length, placing themselves in the centre of the frame as they stage their own arrival in many different public places.
But by recording women’s presence at a particular time and place, these selfies also give away what, when and where the women cannot be. For example, selfies are mostly taken during the day, or when they are with a group of friends, in places where there are fewer men, or in familiar neighbourhoods where they feel comfortable and confident. Very rarely do these women take selfies when they travel alone, – because sexually predatory male attention remains a constant feature of their journeys.
Uploading selfies to Facebook also exposes these women to the dangers of online and offline stalking, harassment and bullying. A disturbing picture entry in the WhatsApp diary, captioned “my selfie in a bus full of men”, evoked the Nirbhaya case of 2012 – when a young woman was fatally gang raped on a bus – and suggested that the selfie is also a way for these women to witness and record danger in their everyday life.
Phones between the home and the city
Selfies inside the home are largely absent in the WhatsApp diary entries. Although home is valued by their families as private – and therefore safe for women, our participants often viewed it as a place of confinement.
Home is where the women’s daily struggles with poor infrastructure for drinking water, sanitation, waste collection and transport take place. More significantly, family control over women’s bodies – through strict curfew hours and restrictions on where they can go – highlight older and younger generations’ very different understandings of freedom and danger.
While older generations who grew up without mobile phones are mainly concerned about women’s physical safety, the young women in our research have to deal with daily invasions of privacy, sexual harassment and abuse both at home and in the city, online and in real life. Their selfies tell a story about what it’s like to navigate the journeys between home and the city, as the boundaries between public and private, freedom and danger become increasingly blurred in these “smart times”.
On Monday 28th January 2019, we had our ‘Gendering the Smart City’ research network project team findings and impact feedback meeting with our Advisory Board consisting of Professor Katherine Brickell (Professor of Human Geography, Department of Geography, Royal Holloway, University of London), Dr Melissa Butcher (Reader in Social and Cultural Geography, Department of Geography, Birkbeck, University of London), Professor Cathy McIlwaine (Professor of Development Geography, Department of Geography, King’s College London) and Dr Katharine Willis (Associate Professor (Reader), School of Art, Design and Architecture, University of Plymouth).
Find out more about our Advisory Board members here.
Check out all of the Tweets from the UK-India network team member work package presentations and Advisory Board feedback discussions from the day below:
Project Principal Investigator Dr. Ayona Datta and Co-Investigator Dr. Padmini Ray Murray were invited to give talks at the Digital/Visual Publics ‘Visualising Digital Heritage, Futures, and Other Temporalities’ public lecture organised by Digital | Visual | Cultural which took place on January 7th and 8th 2019 at St. John’s College Auditorium, University of Oxford, UK.
And we're off! @dvcultural is bringing together academics and practitioners in digital and urban technologies. Today, we're talking pollution sensing, public participation, urban screens, and urban tech futures. If you can't be here, there will be summary podcasts soon. https://t.co/VB8wcjtBZJ
.@AyonaDatta on Government 2.0, a new form of tech. enabled governance, transferring the burden of security of the individual citizen onto the citizen him/herself, which is predicated on the smart city working smoothly and efficiently in tandem with technologies of surveillance
Datta flags up how colonisation seen through the lens of time leads to the tension between the "slowness" of tradition and the "speed" of modernity; the gendered experience of time, temporality determined by the quotidian rhythms determined by the expectations held of poor women
really interesting question from the audience @dvcultural re: how citizen-driven endeavours to respond to environmental damage & change actually elides neoliberal responsibilism, and might not be as impactful on policy as desired, which ultimately is an exercise in power.
Tomorrow is the big day. Digital Visual Publics commences tomorrow at the St. John’s College auditorium. Just uploaded the annotated programme to the event page, which you can access here. Have a look if you’re in Oxford and still on the fence:https://t.co/G53oCYXkvP
Had a very engaging and thought-provoking couple of days at the @dvcultural Digital Visual Publics event in Oxford. Gave me so much to think about regarding temporality, participation and meaning-making with digital media. Many thanks to the organisers and all involved! pic.twitter.com/21XU8n6X2N
Curating Digital Lives for a Feminist Urban Future
13th December 2018, India International Centre, New Delhi
This workshop seeks to establish an alternative framework for curating the smart safe city. It aims to engender current smart city agendas through young women’s everyday experiences of navigating the city. It will present different perspectives of mobility and safety generated by young women through participatory maps, photographs, videos and WhatsApp diaries maintained over a period of time. In doing so, it explores how women on the margins view, understand, and ultimately navigate the city through information and communication technologies (ICT) accessed from low-cost (and often low-tech) mobile phones. It provokes us to think what safety means in a context where social media provides real time information on the dangers and freedoms located in the metro, bus, auto rickshaw, and walkways as well as the opportunity to express this in creative and poignant ways. It invites us to think how women living on the urban peripheries negotiate the ‘freedoms’ of moving in online space with the ‘dangers’ of going out into the city, or the limitations of engaging via digital technologies with the freedom of stepping out of one’s home. Through a convergence of artistic practice, digital media and architecture, this workshop will demonstrate the potential of a new kind of visual language of safety that is co-produced with the women. It will reveal the capacity of this language to move beyond existing data on gendered violence to highlight the gendered and socio-economic patterns of inclusions and exclusions brought about by a digital urban age.
As part of the United Nations #16DaysOfActivisim, we launched a hip hop song ‘Khadar ki Ladkiyan’ [Khadar Girls] co-written and co-produced with our participants at the event. See our Story Map of the process here.
Explore the event Wakelet with all of the Tweets before and during the workshop here.
Watch our workshop videos featuring our #GSCProject team members and workshop participants – project societal partners, academics, experts, practitioners and community stakeholders – who joined us on the day below:
Read the workshop report by Project Research Assistant Arya Thomas here.
Participants start arriving with tea and coffee served
Project Outline and Findings Chair: Kalpana Viswanath
Dr. Ayona Datta (Principal Investigator), Reader in Urban Futures, King’s College London Gendering the Smart City: Curating Gendered Digital Life in the Margins
Dr. Padmini Ray Murray (Co-Investigator), Digital Humanities Course Leader, Srishti School of Art and Design, Bangalore Sharing and Making Digital Knowledge: Using Wikipedia
Arya Thomas (Research Assistant)
WhatsApping and Rapping with Young Women in Delhi’s Peripheries
Rwitee Mandal, Safetipin (project societal partner) Gendered Safety Maps of the Unmapped Peripheries
Q & A
Break for coffee and tea
Right to Urban Technologies Chair: Padmini Ray Murray
Sarita Baloni, Researcher, Jagori (project societal partner) Working with Youth and Technology in the urban peripheries
Swati Janu, Senior Designer, mHS CITY LABS and Lecturer in Architectural Design, School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi Memory Cards and Vernacular Media
Krishna Menon, Professor, School of Human Studies, Ambedkar University Gender and the Smart City
Nayanatara Ranganathan, Manager, Freedom of Expression programme, Internet Democracy Project Surveillance-As-Safety in Hi-Tech India
Q & A
Curating the City with Art and Architecture Chair: Ayona Datta
‘Khadar Ki Ladki’ launch of music video and Q & A with participants and sound artist Sunayana
Kruttika Susarla, Graphic Designer and Comic Artist The Personal is Political
Shveta Mathur, Visiting Faculty, School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi and Coordinator, Urban Design Studio Student Design Interventions in Khadar
Sameera Jain, Filmmaker, Editor and Course Director, Creative Documentary program, Sri Aurobindo Centre for Arts and Communication, New Delhi About My Own City
Q & A
Break for coffee and tea
Roundtable Discussion on Gendering the Indian Smart City: Contexts, Challenges and Future Directions Moderator: Kalpana Viswanath, Co-Founder and CEO, Safetipin Janaki Abraham, Associate Professor in Sociology, Department of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi Anjilee Aggarwal, Director, Samarthyam Sohini Bhattacharya, President and CEO, Breakthrough Mriganka Saxena, Founder, HTAU (Habitat Tectonics Architecture and Urbanism)
Final reflections and moving on to next phase of project Ayona Datta and Padmini Ray Murray
Funded by: Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), UK
Co-convened by King’s College London and Safetipin, Delhi
Local partners: Jagori and School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi
Spin the globe to India and you’ll see it’s lit up like Diwali: the #MeToo movement is rising, and – like its US predecessor – is largely being played out on social media, with very real consequences for well-known public figures. The campaign is not confined to large cities; among the top areas searching the term are small towns across India.
This moment has been a long time coming. The public accounts of violence shared by women using the #MeToo hashtag stretch back to memories of growing up, entering the workforce, walking on the streets, using public transport and other settings typically encountered throughout the course of life.
Recently, the Indian state attempted to use smart technologies to deliver safe cities for women. The strategies used to address both online and offline violence include installing surveillance systems such as CCTV cameras, facial recognition, license plate recognition and social media monitoring. What makes these strategies “smart” is that they are integrated into centralised police command and control centres, to monitor and increase response rates.
Yet one of the flagship smart safety apps, Himmat – launched by the Delhi police in 2013 to enable women to alert police control centres of the location of violent incidents in real-time – had only 30,000 users in a city of 19m, and was declared a failure by a parliamentary panel in 2018.
A right to technology
Clearly, technology has divergent outcomes: it can escalate a global movement for gender justice, but it cannot be taken as a panacea for deep-rooted social problems such as violence against women. This raises further questions about who has access to technology, and how it can be used to document violence.
In India, these questions are significant because 26% of the population has access to the internet, compared to the US and the UK where it is 88% and 90% respectively. The demographic of people who use the internet is also skewed in terms of age, gender and geography: 75% of mobile internet users in India are aged 20 to 30, while only 5% are over the age of 35. What’s more, 89% of mobile internet users are male, and only 27% live in smaller cities.
A recent study highlighted that although more people of different ages and incomes are starting to use mobile phones across India, there are still barriers to access: currently, only 45% of people in lower income groups have a mobile phone.
Working women often use mobile phones which belong to male household members, and can be used to monitor their movements. The lower purchasing power of these families means that they mainly have access to older models bought secondhand, with little capacity to download data-intensive apps and other web content.
When they do use the internet, working class women often do so for practical purposes – searching for employment, transport options, childcare and so on. Mobile phones themselves can even be seen as harmful mediums of violence against women, by means of abusive texts or cyberstalking – as #MeToo has shown.
Speak, witness, curate
We three academics are part of a larger group of researchers and social organisations, who have been examining the links between access to digital technology, urban infrastructure and violence against women in India, as well as considering how women themselves speak about and document these connected issues.
Based on our research, we see the right to technology as a key means of fighting gender injustice, in all its forms, in the 21st century. A right to technology means developing women’s capacity to speak about violence. More than simply giving women the freedom to speak via mobile phones, a right to technology would expand their use safety apps and global hashtags to include text messages, pictures and videos shared between private support groups.
It also means developing the potential of low-cost, lightweight mobile technologies to enable women to speak of violence, giving them the confidence to locate their violence – in the home, street, buses, workplace – and name its perpetrators, whether that’s family members, colleagues, friends. The purpose of this speech? To be believed, to not be shamed, to remove their perpetrator or to claim justice through the courts.
A right to technology is also about developing a society’s capacity to witness violence through technology. This means expanding how violence is seen and heard, from the #MeToo hashtags to the range of social, legal, policy and infrastructural blindspots which enable violence to continue on an everyday basis and be perceived as normal.
It means seeing violence in the absence of safe spaces, lack of access to safe and reliable public transport, safe drinking water or public toilets. It means perceiving violence in stories of everyday struggles with mobility, unemployment and education. It means witnessing violence in women’s inability to speak without a #MeToo movement, or even despite a #MeToo movement.
A right to technology also means building women’s capacity to curate violence through a variety of media. This means women can actively select and present a variety of personal stories of violence in their daily lives – monsoon rain floods, waiting for public transport, moments of panic in buses filled with men and restrictions on mobility.
The maps and pictures shared by women living in the urban margins show the mundane ways in which violence against women and other forms of injustice are interwoven in their everyday lives. This bottom-up viewpoint disrupts the Google worldview of #MeToo trends, seen from a global perspective, and allows women who are too often overlooked and excluded from urban technology to curate their experiences of violence, within or without the #MeToo movement.
We welcome submissions for the 2019 American Association of Geographers meeting in Washington, DC April 3-7. This large interdisciplinary conference regularly attracts 6-8,000 attendees across a broad spectrum of disciplinary homes.
Gendering the Smart City: Towards just and feminist urban futures
Organisers: Ryan Burns, Ayona Datta, Nabeela Ahmed, Max Andrucki
The critical smart cities research agenda continues to develop insights into evolving relations between the digital, the urban, and socio-political process. Attention has broadened from taxonomies and ontological questions, to ideal-types and dominant epistemologies, to interrogating the “actually-existing smart city”. This trajectory has brought to the fore variegations and fissures in the politics of the smart city within which elements of social justice can appear, where smart city visions can adapt to and address low-tech infrastructures and where populations can contest the smart city’s often business-friendly, empiricist, governmentalizing, and neoliberal tendencies. Researchers have, indeed, recently illuminated smart city models that…
Project Principal Investigator Dr. Ayona Datta gave a keynote talk entitled ‘Fast Urbanism: Speed and Time at the Margins of the Indian City’ at the 50th Conference of Irish Geographers (CIG) from 10 to 12 May 2018.
Maynooth, 10 May 2018
Speed is fundamental to shaping visions of the modern city and of contemporary urban life. Notions of speed and the acceleration of time have produced distinct conceptualisations of rapid urbanisation as a rush towards progress and modernity. In India, speed is shaping new vocabularies of the future (fast forwarding, future proofing, leapfrogging, race against time), new urban tropes (smart cities, safe cities) and new domains of state rule (streamlining bureaucratic and regulatory processes, efficiency measures, egovernance, Big Data). In this paper, I argue that speed is also fundamental to the conceptualization of ‘new solutions’ to ‘old urban problems’ of Violence Against Women (VAW). By examining the trope of the ‘smart safe city’ this paper examines how speed is conceptualized in the rolling out of safety apps and what this means for those living on the margins of both smart city and safe city in India. Taking India’s recent national initiative to create 100 smart cities I will argue that the focus on the smart city as a strategy of gender safety is a co-optation of women’s bodies and spaces within the logics of a ‘technological fix’. This paper will examine how transformations of ideas of speed and time in the smart safe city shapes practices of measuring, visualising and representing violence, how those on the margins encounter and negotiate the spatio-temporalities of violence, and what this tells us about how we create gender just urban futures.
Have a look at the Wakelet of the event by clicking below: