The paper examines how technologies intended for ensuring women’s safety affect freedom of movement and reproduce masculine domination over space.

Since times immemorial, humans have had an innate desire to explore and discover new spaces. However, for women, this desire has often been curtailed, due to the fear of being harassed or assaulted. Women tend to live by the ‘rape clock’; their daily routines, clothes, travel schedules and companions are constantly adjusted according to the location they have to visit. The recent proliferation of safety apps seek to offer a more secure way to travel through neighbourhoods. Inbuilt with safety audits, these apps prescribe the routes that women can take to travel to their destinations. The apps allow users to evaluate their current location in terms of seemingly objective parameters like security, openness, crowd density, lighting and transportation. In addition, the users can proactively determine the ‘safety score’ of the locality depending on how they feel about it and can also share its photos to justify the score.

However, the paper argues, safety apps tend to circumscribe women’s desire to loiter. By recommending routes to travel safely and by constantly prescribing the parameters that women need to keep in mind while venturing out, these apps narrow down the spaces women can access. It enhances the fear of being assaulted and curtails the pleasure of loitering. Secondly, the apps neglect the fact that conceptions of safety vary according to one’s social location. Most safety apps begin with the notion that their users comprise of an abstract, universal category of women. But, individuals hailing from different backgrounds, including class, caste, education, region and religion experience the world differently. What counts as a safe neighbourhood for one may be considered unsafe by another. The subjective evaluations in safety apps tend to present a lopsided notion of safety which may tilt the scales against localities frequented by people hailing from minority communities. This may have other cascading effects such as overpolicing, non-access to goods and financial services, etc. In addition, these apps tend to shift the onus of safety onto the woman. Moreover, the GPS tracking feature of apps is undergirded in the misogynistic logic that women’s movements are to be controlled.

The paper therefore critically analyses intriguing questions — How do safety apps determine what constitutes a safe neighbourhood for women? To what extent do these apps encourage freedom of movement for women? How can safety apps be restructured to accommodate women’s desire to loiter?

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