In the Dharavi slum in Mumbai, India, young girls are tackling challenges head-on. They’ve been given laptops by a filmmaker in the region, Nawneet Ranjan. He’s also tutored them in technology.
“Girls and women suffer the most in a slum, as they often have no resources and are not aware of their rights,” says Ranjan, who studied filmmaking in the US before returning to Mumbai and founding a charity to help young girls climb out of poverty.
The girls are learning to build apps that will allow women to send distress messages, should they find themselves in threatening situations in the dark and dangerous slum. The apps will also connect young people in the area, to mobilise them to help clean up garbage and to share water resources.
This project is a far cry from those taking place in modern high-rise office buildings or technology-infused campuses elsewhere in India. Instead, the Dharavi girls (their numbers have sprung from 15 to 200) work together in a simple spare room in the slum, where people live beside open drains and with no sanitation.
Of the girls, Ranjan says: “They see so much every day – domestic violence, drug abuse, child abuse, poverty. Their parents are taxi drivers and domestic workers, and these kids are usually the first in the family to go to school.
“But every family has at least one smartphone, and that’s why I thought of using technology. Technology is such a leveller, and it gives them such confidence.”
Working in groups of four and using open-source software, the girls are addressing a number of issues that affect their daily lives. “It’s frugal innovation at its best,” says Ranjan.
In slum conditions, attacks on women and girls are common, and apps designed to send distress messages need to work fast before phones are stolen. There was no app to help a 16-year-old girl when six men and a boy gang-raped her in a poor neighbourhood in west Rio de Janeiro on 21 May, whilst posting pictures and a video of the incident on Twitter.
Cristiana Bento, lead investigator in the high-profile case, has asked for the arrest of all seven people charged. Along with four men authorities believe were directly involved in the attack, Bento has asked for charges to be brought against two other people for allegedly helping to circulate the videos online. She is also seeking charges against a gang leader in the slum where the rape took place, for allegedly giving the attack his blessing.
The attack – and the fact that it was posted online – has caused international and national outrage and is a problem for the Brazilian government, as the incident occurred close to the start of the 2016 Olympic Games, which is being hosted by the country. The government hastened to assure the international community that Brazil was still a safe place to visit.
Hundreds of thousands of Brazilians have expressed their outrage over the attack online. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, United Nations under-secretary general and the executive director of United Nations Women, wrote in a statement in response to the attack: “This one case throws into stark relief the daily discrimination and intimidation experienced by women and girls, not just in Latin America, but all over the world.
“The intensity of protest in Brazil trending through social networks reflects the deep anger against the unrecognised or undeclared abuses that have suppressed or extinguished so many women’s lives.”
Category: Spring 2016