PI Ayona Datta at the World Urban Forum 2020

Established in 2001, The World Urban Forum (WUF) seeks to address the pressing issues of rapid urbanization and its impact on communities, cities, economies, climate change and policies. WUF, convened by UN Habitat, is a high level and inclusive platform used to address challenges that are brought about by sustainable urbanisation. This year’s theme of #WUF10 is Cities of Opportunities: Connecting Culture and Innovation, in line with #SDG11 and #Innovate4Change.

As mentioned on their website, WUF aims to do the following:

  1. Raise awareness of sustainable urbanisation among stakeholders and constituencies, including the general public.
  2. Improving collective knowledge on sustainable urban development through open and inclusive debate, sharing of lessons
  3. Promote collaboration and cooperation between different stakeholders and constituencies engaged in the advancement and implementation of sustainable urbanisation
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Principal investigator, Prof. Ayona Datta was invited by UN-Habitat to speak at the fourth dialogue plenary session on “Frontier technologies and Innovation for Inclusive, Sustainable and Resilient Smart Cities”.

Some questions addressed during the plenary are as followed.

  1. What are frontier technologies and how do they relate to cities?
  2. How can technologies and innovation benefit small and medium-sized cities and cities in the Global South?
  3. What initiatives are required to close the digital divide?
  4. What are the risks related to frontier technologies vis-à-vis protection of human rights?
  5. Which technologies hold the most promise for achieving SDG11 and the New Urban Agenda?

At the aforementioned dialogue session, “Frontier technologies and Innovation for Inclusive, Sustainable and Resilient Smart Cities”, UN-Habitat’s new flagship programme Frontier technologies and innovation for inclusive, sustainable and resilient smart cities was launched at this session. As well as that, a global discussion that delved into the intersection between urban technologies, smart cities, inclusion and human rights was carried out. As part of the New Urban Agenda, which represents a shared vision for a better and more sustainable future, calls for an adoption of a smart-city approach that makes use of opportunities from digitalisation, clean energy and technologies.

Digital developments in technologies are playing an imperative role in shaping cities and lifestyles of city-dwellers. This includes, the internet of things, platform economies and tools for urban management as well as autonomous mobility. Over half of the world’s population is now connected to the internet. There also have been more mobile phone subscriptions than there are people. In order to mitigate threats such as rising inequalities, emissions and the endangerment of human rights, appropriate policies and regulations are required in regards to digital transformation and new technologies. These threats have been highlighted as frontier issues by The UN System-wide strategy on Sustainable Urban Development. Ayona addresses the assumption behind automatic empowerment through plain access to technology and the power dynamics at play.

“Technology is not neutral. The digital divide is a gender divide. Access is more than just numbers. It is about reducing barriers”, said Ayona, as she shared about the interconnectedness between physical, digital and social infrastructures. Bringing attention to how we think of smart cities as inclusive, when in reality, many women are excluded. She also elaborates on the need to go beyond networks and physical infrastructure in order to make technology accessible to all in reference to our project, Gendering the Smart City.

Gender inclusive smart cities understand the differences in the way the male and female population access digital space. “Access to technology is much more than just numbers.”, said Ayona. She elaborated that access to technology is not merely putting the technology in the hands of the poor but more importantly, how easy it is for them to access critical knowledge and information. Additionally, she adds that Smart cities need to work with marginalised communities such as women in poverty, in order to co-produce and co-create participatory and bottom-up solutions. Such examples of inclusive technologies include voice-based services (to support people with low levels of literacy) as well as gender inclusive surfaces that pay attention to visual design, language and navigation.

Our project team has been working on co-producing community platforms for low digital capacity basic mobile phones, as opposed to smartphones, which are staple to accessing smart city technologies and applications. Through using a feminist approach – one that considers how technology can be an exclusionary tool to those who have been historically, socially and politically left out, more inclusive, sustainable development can be achieved.

#AanaJaana [#ComingGoing] Exhibition Story Map

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.

⬇ PLEASE CLICK HERE TO EXPLORE OUR STORY MAP.

Screen Shot 2019-02-12 at 01.21.00
#AanaJaana storymap by Ayona Datta

The Story Map contains data that has been collected in collaboration with our participants, the ‘Khadar Ki Ladkiyan [Khadar Girls]’ living in Madanpur Khadar JJ Colony (one of Delhi’s many slum resettlement colonies on the urban peripheries), and follows on from our #AanaJaana [#ComingGoing]: Curating Women’s Digital Stories of the City‘ exhibition funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), UK and hosted in partnership with our societal partners Safetipin and Jagori, institutional partners King’s College London and the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi. The exhibition was part of the ‘Art in Public Places’ initiative led by India Habitat Centre and Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) and was shown from 1-31st January 2019 at Mandi House Metro station, New Delhi.

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.

#MeToo has arrived in India, and it’s changing how technology is used to fight injustice

File 20181026 7053 1i71nq5.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Shutterstock.

Ayona Datta, King’s College London; Nabeela Ahmed, King’s College London, and Rakhi Tripathi, FORE School of Management

https://metoorising.withgoogle.com/embed

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.

Mobile internet users: mostly male.Lidear21/Shutterstock.

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.

A woman captures an image of a space where she feels unsafe, using a mobile phone.Project participant/Gendering the Smart City, Author provided

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.


Read more:

India: why collecting water turns millions of women into second-class citizens

 


Woman captures the intimidating and time-consuming experience of taking public transport, using a mobile phone.Project participant/Gendering the Smart City, Author provided

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.


Read more:

Indian women confined to the home, in cities designed for men

 


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.

A woman’s mental map, marked with the points on her route where she felt unsafe or was harassed.Project participant/Disconnected Infrastructures and Violence Against Women, Author provided

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.The Conversation

Ayona Datta, Reader in Urban Futures, King’s College London; Nabeela Ahmed, Postdoctoral Research Associate, King’s College London, and Rakhi Tripathi, Associate Professor in Information Technology, FORE School of Management

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.