July 7th, 2021
By Asra Haque & Hassan Raza
In order to make public spaces safer and accessible for women in the Punjab province, the Punjab Safe City Authority (PSCA) has developed Women Safety, an application that allows users to send an alert to the police or to a family member with just one tap.
Why was this app launched?
They noted that many women calling the Punjab Police emergency helpline 15 were unable to identify or give details of their locations, resulting in a worrying delay in response. Women Safety is one solution to the problem, whereby calls made to 15 through the application would also send the caller’s coordinates and urge a much quicker response.
“The app was launched some two years back,” related PSCA Chief Operating Officer Muhammad Kamran Khan. “Initially it was confined to just the 15 emergency number, but as various issues with the app came to light and women users, various government departments, and local and international organizations like UN Women and UNFPA, we were advised to increase the scope of the app.”
Women Safety later expanded to include helplines for Rescue 1122, the Punjab Commission for Status of Women (PCSW), the Punjab Highway Patrol and Motorway Police. The latter two were incorporated in the application following the September 10, 2020, motorway gang-rape incident which highlighted an inherent failure of the relevant departments to coordinate as well as an incredibly dismal response time.
“The purpose of the app is to gain coordinates to provide a directed, targeted response to an emergency,” Kamran elaborated. “But this is neither the sole nor a complete solution to the problem. Women in rural areas, women without smartphones or in areas with lack of quality internet access… in case of an emergency, the primary mode of action should be directly dialling 15.”
How does the app work?
Women Safety requires the user’s phone number, city and district while all other fields, including the name and CNIC, are optional to allow users the option to maintain complete anonymity for their safety. Once the necessary details have been inputted, the app displays an emergency alert button for the Punjab Police helpline 15.
Depending on the nature of the complaint or emergency, users can also call Rescue 1122, the Punjab Commission for Status of Women (PCSW) on 1043, the Punjab Highway Patrol on 1124 and the Motorway Police on 130 with a single tap on their screen. If for any reason users are unable to speak to an officer, they may instead opt for a live chat and authorise an officer to place a call to the relevant department on their behalf.
The app also provides information on crimes against women and children, such as child labour, sexual harassment, honour crimes and acid attacks, as well as laws addressing these issues.
Women Safety also allows its users to review different public locations in terms of safety. Green pins indicate the location is safe for women, orange means the area is partially secure, while red signifies that the location is unsafe. The map allows women to plan their route ahead and avoid troublesome spots. Furthermore, it offers valuable data to the Punjab Police so they may increase patrols or carry out investigations as to why certain areas are being repeatedly reported as unsafe by women.
What obstacles need to be addressed?
In terms of actual complaints, Kamran estimated that some ninety percent of all calls or texts are inquiries regarding the application itself or simply irrelevant. The purpose of the apps and the numbers listed is to respond to immediate emergencies.
“Some women call to ask for advice for a domestic issue,” he explained. “For example, if someone is a victim of domestic abuse but the abuse has not recently occurred or is happening at the moment, then 15 is not the number for such a situation.”
He further provided that PSCA instead advises and redirects the complainant to the relevant response team to tend to their concerns. With regards to the ten percent of calls that were serious in nature, Kamran stated that the PSCA tended to their needs.
Women Safety has been downloaded some 40,000 times through a concerted outreach campaign that had to be stalled due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Installations have been gradually increasing since then,” he added. “We expect that once summer vacations are over and education institutions reopen, we will resume our outreach activities so more women can know about and download this app.”
The PSCA Women Safety App is free to download on iOS and Android.