On a typically bustling winter evening in Saket, South Delhi, Jyoti Singh and a male friend enjoyed a trip to the cinema to see Ang Lees Life of Pi: Shipwreck with Tiger.
They waited at a bus stop on the way home and then got on a private bus to Dwarka at around 9:30 p.m. But Jyoti didn’t make it home. Six men brutally raped and tortured her while her friend was beaten. On December 29, 2012, Jyoti Singh died after fighting for her life for 13 days.
The gruesome murder of this young woman caused shock waves across India. Thousands of protesters took to the streets across India and South Asia as anger erupted in every corner of the country and spread around the world.
For many, this time around it felt different, as if Jyoti’s cruel fate could trigger significant cultural and legal changes, as if the country might expect India’s traditionalism and inherent values to be insufficient to protect its citizens. Young women were particularly concerned; Many had experienced enough harassment to realize that Jyoti’s fate could easily have been that of a friend, sister, or their own.
Voices that had once fallen silent made themselves felt. Emerging citizen journalism used the internet and social media to gather and disseminate information, to provide a new space for survivors and allies to express their thoughts and unleash their despair, and to surround the world with a growing tumor of discontent and outrage to expose. “Nirbhaya,” the Internet screamed in pain for Jyoti, which means “fearless” in Hindi, a word that quickly became synonymous with the movement itself.
However, speaking out on these issues is a difficult decision that requires considerable courage. Desperation for change and justice can outweigh fear and dwarf risk, but there is no denying that it can transform your life and put a goal on your back.
It changed the life of the journalist Meera Vijayann, who survived sexual violence herself. Meera says in a TEDx lecture 2013 December 29th was a day India “fell into darkness” as people across the country woke up to the “terrible truth” about the treatment of women in the country. When the protests spread across Meera, Bangalore, she made a spontaneous decision. Meera logged on to a citizen journalism platform, posted and posted a video of the scene in her city, and voiced her frustrations and concerns. “I noticed for the first time that my voice is important,” she claims in an interview.
There were, of course, risks associated with speaking. She received hateful comments and online abuse. I asked Meera if she thought that being able to report anonymously or just access support would encourage survivors to speak up and seek the help they need. “As a survivor, I’ve thought about it a lot,” she tells me.
I was silent for many years because I knew there would be consequences if I spoke in public.
“I chose to do this because I knew I had supportive family and friends. Yes, personal stories can endanger violence survivors and their families. I think the ability to anonymously report violence will definitely encourage women to speak up (especially if they are at risk or marginalized), but it makes a huge difference when women share their stories publicly. “
Reporting and documentation of sexual violence
When the internet democratizes information, blockchain helps protect it. Not every survivor seeking access to justice and support wants to be the newest figurehead for rape victims in the media. Nobody is required to speak up before they’re ready or even, especially in cultures where stigma is more common. So how do we ensure that survivors are not faced with the choice of foregoing anonymity or forgoing access to support and justice?
Smashboard, “Your Digital Ally to Smash Patriarchy,” is an app that uses the Ethereum blockchain to create an encrypted area for survivors in India to report sexual violence. Smashboard users can get medical, legal, or psychological support and save information such as photos, video and audio files, screenshots and documents as time-stamped evidence that could prove critical to a case.
The Smashboard website states, “Fighting patriarchy is real and risky work – and technology can make a lot of that work easier.” Smashboard not only helps sexual violence survivors access through connections with legal representatives, emotional and psychological support Getting justice and support, it also provides the ability to create immutable records of evidence and can connect users with feminist journalists who are sensitive to their stories – allowing them to leave anonymous tips without making the difficult decision to speak publicly.
Do you choose your anonymity?
Founder Noopur Tiwari, who herself survived sexual violence, firmly believes that speaking out about survivors is an integral part of empowering others to do the same and pushing people to come forward or speak up, especially before they are ready to be retraumatizing. The app provides an element to choose your own anonymity by implementing a blockchain solution along with a host of additional functions.
“The implementation of Smashboard is heavily geared towards zero proof of knowledge,” says Noopur. “This is of paramount importance to us so that users can remain anonymous for as long as they need to and still have access to whatever functionality they want to access. We also felt that the system needed a way to indisputably associate anonymized artifacts with a particular user at any point in time, regardless of whether they chose to remain pseudo-anonymous or not. With blockchain, you can do this – it gives users the secure convenience they need. “
The pseudo-anonymity that a blockchain solution offers was a crucial element for Noopur. “I’ve been through the ups and downs, the insecurities of reaching for help. The most important thing to fear is that you will lose your agency, ”she explains. “You want to control how you make contact. Sometimes you don’t even have the energy to ask for help. So how can we reduce the effort the survivor has to put into telling and speaking their story? Just this little one.” The consolation of pseudo-anonymity can go a long way in helping the survivors. “
For Noopur, there is another value proposition of the blockchain that is more ideological than technological. She explains, “We have found that the disruptive nature of the blockchain can actually find synergy with feminist values. The whole idea of decentralization at the center of the blockchain appeals to us, because patriarchy works because of the abuse of power and the centralization of power. The disruption of central networks appealed to us as feminists. ”
Decentralization as a feminist doctrine
The idea of blockchain and decentralization as feminist doctrine is associated with a touch of irony. Noopur isn’t the first woman in the room to hint at blockchain ‘tech bro’ issuesMen represent the industry disproportionately when it comes to high-ranking positions, lectures and investments.
Noopur makes a very clear claim that Smashboard rejects such a culture and reports how Smashboard’s original project was torn to pieces as a result of working with the wrong people. “We tried to work with the tech brothers,” says Noopur. “If you thought our project was something worth doing, we thought why not?”
But the collaboration was unfortunate and short-lived. She continues, “It turned out that the way they work, how they communicate, was terrible for us. It was almost traumatic. They were extremely patriarchal. We ended up having to stop working with them and we lost all of our code for the first app. Our entire project was ready to go online and the day we wanted to start our collaboration with these tech brothers broke down – the way they were acting was just not acceptable to us as feminists.
“We asked them to give us the job they’d been doing for a long time on our job and we didn’t succeed. So we started over and this time we decided not to work with tech brothers. And of course it’s harder because there are more men who know the technology. “Building a digital feminist community where survivors and their needs are central is at the heart of the smashboard ethos. This means that things are done differently and a little slower than the average crypto start-up.
“We are fed up with misogyny online,” says Noopur.
We want to build trust, we actually want to be able to show that it is easily possible not to punish people with marginalized identities in digital space.
“It is the people who stand behind these digital spaces or who contribute to the existence of the digital space, who have to work on feminist principles.” One of the ways Smashboard accomplishes this goal is by building a business model that doesn’t rely on collecting data that could be lost, hacked, or eventually sold.
Bearing in mind Smashboard’s commitment to holding space and putting the needs of survivors first, I asked Noopur how the project approaches the challenge of trust. Many users would probably not know how the underlying technology that provides them with pseudo-anonymity works and therefore may be concerned about the exchange of sensitive information.
Noopur is pragmatic; Smashboard is not intended to eradicate sexual violence, nor is it intended to help each and every survivor. The benefits of citizen journalism as a “Strength in Numbers” lead to building a robust digital community, and Smashboard’s approach does not include the impossible task of reaching out to every potential user of the app to convince them and explain the technology to building a community feminist influencer for whom survivors stand up independently for the platform and the trustworthiness of the blockchain element.
Smashboard is just one way that sexual violence survivors in India can make the lives of other survivors a little easier and help them move forward without being unnecessarily retraumatized.
Technical solutions to social problems?
Niki Kandirikirira, Program Director at Equality Now, a nonprofit committed to ending sexual violence, recognizes the potential benefits of smashboarding while recognizing the broader social change that is needed to make a difference at the macro level. She said to me:
India’s criminal justice system has largely failed survivors of sexual violence. It is estimated that over 90 percent of rape cases go unreported, with stigma, pressure from family members to remain silent, and blame for all victims.
“Even when cases come to court, conviction rates for crimes against women are miserably low and it is extremely difficult for victims to get justice, especially if they come from marginalized communities.”
“Investing in technology like Smashboard provides an opportunity for feminists to socialize and for survivors to use support systems, store evidence safely and hopefully improve their access to justice. But what we ultimately need to invest is effective legal action that will end impunity and prevent men from rape and harmed women and girls. In India, most perpetrators of sexual assault are not held accountable for their actions and can go with impunity. Much more needs to be done by the government to improve the criminal justice system, including better implementation of existing laws and reform of procedures, and to ensure that more resources are allocated to address gender-based violence. “
Of course, these issues are not unique to India, and the current COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating and exacerbating physical and sexual violence against women and girls worldwide. In a press release from UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of the organization, quoted: “Since the lockdown restrictions, domestic violence has multiplied and spread across the world in a shadow pandemic. This is a critical time for action, from prioritizing essential services such as shelter and support for female survivors, to providing the economic support and stimulus packages necessary for a wider recovery. “
LACChain, a regional program run by IDB Lab, the innovation lab of IDB Group, an organization focused on improving life in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), has looked at the problem in a different way, trying to find the solution in blockchain find the shape of the BlockchAngel challenge.
“Via BlockchAngel, we are looking for blockchain solutions to stop violence against women, children and the elderly,” explains Itzel Nava Valdez, organizational coordinator at LACChain. Organized by IDB Lab, LACChain, and the nonprofit Everis Foundation, the challenge has been closed to entries and a subsequent winner will receive “free, open, priority access to LACChain-sponsored infrastructures” and support from IDB for funding.
Itzel continues: “The challenge can include entrepreneurs, companies, startups, NGOs or foundations that can present their proposals either individually or in consortia. The projects can be in the prototype phase or at an advanced stage of development. “While this challenge is currently focused on solutions for LAC, it might be possible to extend the reach or extend the networks themselves. Itzel continues: “We believe that there are [solutions among those submitted to BlockchAngel] which could be adapted to other countries. The question is whether or not [the solutions] comply with other legal regulations. “
Other blockchain-based initiatives for women in crisis
UN Women itself is no stranger to researching the uses of blockchain technology to improve the lives of women in crisis situations.
The organization previously identified money transfers using blockchain to promote the financial inclusion of women and use the technology in a humanitarian setting. In cooperation with the World Food Program (WFP), a blockchain project between agencies, “Building Blocks”, was tested. The pilot focused on Syrian refugee women in the Azraq and Zaatari camps in Jordan. A case study on the project describes one possible use case: “A Syrian woman will soon be able to scan her eye to claim money back under the WFP contract with supermarkets. The scan is linked to your account on the blockchain, and the amount of money spent is automatically sent to Building Blocks. “
The fact that UN Women and WFP validate each other’s transactions over a common blockchain network translates into improved security and accountability. This reduces risks and costs and at the same time promotes greater harmonization of aid measures.
Other toes dipped into the waters of blockchain by UN Women include a four-day hackathon in January 2018, in which seven blockchain companies took part from UN agencies, permanent missions to the United Nations, technology communities, humanitarian workers and academics Presented humanitarian solutions to researchers. The strongest of these pitches were asked to submit proposals for field tests. In addition, a private partner of UN Women developed a blockchain solution for mobile wallets that was piloted in the Kenyan refugee camp Kakuma. The challenges with these pilots and hackathons could be developing promising seedlings into scalable, adaptable programs.
The most dangerous place on earth to be a woman
Violence against women and girls, and sexual violence in particular, may not be confined to India’s borders, but a country like India has unique challenges with conservative laws and values, an oppressive caste system, and a set of archaic laws that disproportionately punish women and girls .
It is true that the violent rape and murder of Jyoti Singh and the ensuing outrage and protests meant a shift in public perception, but over time the momentum may fade. We are all guilty. Think of every headline that has filled you with hot anger, tears in your eyes, and feeling sick in the pit of your stomach. Eventually the cases of chyrons fade, the raw wounds become encrusted and the worldliness of everyday life engulfs us.
India is still the most dangerous place on earth to be a woman. There is coverage of sexual violence estimated at only 1 percent, This may be due in part to the fact that married rape remains legal across the country Every third man admits to having raped his wives.
Nirbhaya, #MeToo, those moves went towards more challenging taboos, but the ephemeral rage of an inflammatory message or the fleeting engagement of a social media post just doesn’t last.
Just like Noopur Tiwari’s realization that projects like Smashboard don’t change the world or eradicate sexual violence and the culturally ingrained problems and belief structures that allow it to thrive, we can also recognize the limitations of blockchain as a humanitarian aid tool. Intentions aren’t always pure, risks aren’t always fully accounted for, and blockchain shoemaking as the buzzword for its headline clout leaves a bad taste in the mouths of those fighting for real change.
However, sometimes it is worth looking at the smaller picture. These solutions can change the whole world. For a person.