[Guest blog post by Shehzaad Shams, co-founder of Bijoya crowdmap]

‘Bijoya’ means ‘Victory’ in Bangla language.  A ushahidi powered crowdmap called Bijoya was launched on the 16th December 2011 to coincide with the Victory Day of Bangladesh to see victory for women and girls in that country  against social evils such as dowry, rape, harassment, fatwa, eve teasing, acid throwing etc. Till now 208 reports had been published covering 476 locations in Bangladesh.

Myself and another Bengali colleague of mine had been working in digital communications in an international human rights organisation to devise innovative and relevant techniques to use technology to uphold and protect human rights. We had been thinking hard and fast on how we can do something for the country where we come from i.e. Bangladesh, as part of our CSR (Citizen Social Responsibility). We considered the booming mobile phone penetration in Bangladesh, the density of population, the male-female ratio and we thought to combine our love and belief in crowdmaps and user generated content to target a key social evil present not only in Bangladesh but almost in every society – violence against women. Thus Bijoya was born from our desktops and the free instance of crowdmap.

We would like the general public of Bangladesh to use easy and affordable technologies available to them (such as SMS) to report any incidents against their sisters, wives, friends, mothers, fellow female citizens. We would like to use Bijoya to identify the most vulnerable locations in the country where incidents against girls and women are on a rise. More importantly we would like authorities concerned to use this map, in conjunction with other established sources of information and evidence, to take preventive measures in order to ensure security and safety of women. Finally we would like NGOs, women’s organisations to use this map in their development work for women and girls.

We are still at a very early stage in terms of letting people know our intentions and aspirations. Many NGOs in Bangladesh do appreciate our effort but are treating us as one of their competitors thinking we are also an NGO and may eat away donations destined for them by foreign donors. Some of them are also wary of upsetting local government authorities by allying with a citizen movement which may expose deteriorating law and order situation in certain areas of the country, thus making the local authorities look responsible. I think it is very early still for organisations, even newspapers to wake up to the fact that ordinary citizens in home and abroad can still initiate and sustain a social network for social good by virtue of simply cognitive surplus, good will and technology – to bring about social change. A form of organisation and structure helps, but may not be necessary.

To roll things out in ground, we would like to have a team of 10 volunteers to start with from every district of Bangladesh. They will become the sensors on behalf of their district to make sure that incidents against women and girls in their district don’t go unnoticed and authorities concerned take measures to punish the culprits and prevent recurrence of similar events. We want to call these people District Bijoyis (District Victors) following closely the model of the SBTF.  Similarly we want to label incident free districts as Bijoyi Districts (Victorious Districts) to instil a sense of achievement in the community that at least their district is free of social evils – it is important to install a peer to peer check on social issues and crowdmaps can play a vital role here.  Finally we want to create Bijoya cells in schools/colleges/universities hoping to make youngsters our early sensors against the social evil of violence against women. We want to inspire young minds to take charge in arranging workshops in their respective institutes, families and neighbourhood so that the message of Bijoya is ingrained in the root.

The experience of the last 4 months had been interesting. Mainly from the interactions in the Facebook page and from a presentation we gave during a Software exposition earlier this year, it seemed that there were more male participants who wanted to get involved with the initiative. A lot of thought provoking observations had been made by well-wishers in relation to usage of technology to report domestic violence. Many women think that by reporting such incidents to a crowdmap, it may aggravate the threat of being a victim of abuse and may put not only herself but also her family members in danger. Many expressed their opinions that women are the main threat against fellow women. Some journalists and local authorities are doubtful about the process of verification and authenticity of the reports being published and treat such efforts as unreliable or as a threat to their own credibility.

To gain more winds behind our back, we have joined hands with similar initiatives in other countries – harassmap in Egypt had been the key inspiration for the Bijoya concept. We also have maps4aid in India, Zanala Bangladesh who has agreed to sponsor our web hosting, an ICT4D company called BIID, a women’s portal called Maya – have all came forward to partner with Bijoya to bring about a combined social change.

I always thought that ‘crisis’ in the context of mapping – can be of two types – God made and man made. We are aware of many crowdmap instances in the context of God-made crisis such as earthquakes, cyclones, floods etc. What we are more interested in is the man-made social crisis which shapes up over a period of time – corruption, gender violence, general crimes etc. I hope Bijoya will set up an example in the context of Bangladesh in that how a crowdsourced initiative with the help of maps can be made sustainable to deal with at least one key social evil – incidents against women.