Back in 2015, while Jasmine George was staying in Dehli, India, a friend asked for her advice on where she could go to get an abortion.
The woman had already tried a private health clinic, but was asked to leave when the practitioner found out she wasn’t married. Not only was she denied the healthcare she needed, she was outright shamed for even asking for it.
The injustice of the whole situation lit a fire inside George.
“I realized that a crucial part of comprehensive sexual and reproductive healthcare is how women are treated and how they feel when they seek healthcare,” explains George in an email.
But George’s frustration went beyond wishing there were more welcoming healthcare facilities. She also wanted to find a way to address the systemic crisis of women’s safety in public spaces across India.
In the wake of “the Nirbhaya Incident,” where a young woman was brutally raped and murdered by a group of men, the country became focused on amping up security and placing more restrictions on women in public places, rather than helping them take control of their own safety.
As a lawyer and autonomous woman, this didn’t sit well with George. She wanted to help women feel safer in their own cities without having to rely on security systems and laws created by men.
So she connected with a couple of fellow Indian feminists, and launched an organization called Hidden Pockets Collective, which utilizes technology, research and the knowledge of locals to help Indian women find the reproductive health services and safe spaces they may need.
“We are trying to find health services that are good quality, affordable and non-judgmental that people can access without fear,” writes George.
Once they established their mission, they started recruiting designers, researchers, techies, and local women who know the major cities in India to help them build an interactive digital map that designates where women can find reproductive health services, transportation, and safe public areas.
“We organize community walks through the well-known and uncommon pockets of the city to help people get to know their city better and to build a close relationship with the community,” explains George.
Currently, their project operates on Open Street Map, which is public, and therefore available to everyone. However, in order to get it set up, they had to become acquainted with the complexities of the data-driven mapping world, and make sure they could utilize it effectively.
What’s more, a lot of the safe spaces they wanted to highlight aren’t actually visible on map resources like Google Maps, so they often had to go out and find the coordinates themselves, which, needless to say, wasn’t always a walk in the park.
Thanks to their tireless efforts though, Hidden Pockets now has digital maps for seven major Indian cities up and running, including Delhi and Jaipur.
While the work isn’t always easy, this intersection of community and technology is helping them create a solution to a major problem that affects women the world over.
And that solution extends far beyond mapping safe spaces. They’re also conducting ongoing interviews with local women about the importance of reclaiming health facilities and “pleasure pockets,” which are public places where women can relax and enjoy themselves while still feeling safe.
This interview process was born out of the initial work they were doing to help spread health access information to locals. They’d translate information on where to find local health services into various Indian languages, then broadcast it via community radio programs. Eventually, they started broadcasting the interviews they where doing with women as well, so the endeavor took on a podcast feel.
And as the project grew and evolved, so too did this idea of audibly sharing community stories about discovering safe spaces.
“We began asking women all around India to map their cities and tell their own stories of how different spaces felt,” writes George. “We are pushing them to see their own city.”
This sharing of women’s stories as they traverse their cities is empowering for the storytellers and listeners alike. Now, armed with this new mapping system, they’ll hopefully feel more confident about reclaiming their public spaces.
“When we share the stories of women walking in their cities, when we share spaces where women have been before, when we share happy perspectives of women accessing services, we are giving hope to a lot of women out there, [reminding them that] they are not alone,” notes George. “Technology can be one of the many ways to connect to each other.”
Obviously we’ve got a long way to go before women’s safety in public places is no longer a concern, but thanks to innovators like George and her collaborators, the path ahead has gotten much, much clearer.