BAJELO ALACOSO: SMS FOR SAFE RIDES
Innovation Type: Institutional Pioneer
Quito, Ecuador’s most populous city, is a bustling metropolitan area with a rich history and cultural heritage. However, women’s safetyon public transport has been a major issue, with a 2014 survey revealing that 81% of women using public transport claimed to haveexperienced harassment in some form. The issues range from lack of reporting due to fear of backlash to limited convictions for suchcrimes due to lack of a proper policy framework. The prevalence of sexual harassment led to the normalization of this behaviour,reflected in the fact that 8 out of 10 people witnessed some form of sexual harassment on public transport and failed to act or reportthe incident. Considering that over half of public transport daily users in Quito are women, there was a latent need to improve safety andimplement gender-inclusive policies.
In 2017, a group of city officials first launched an application, and now an SMS-based platform, that enables riders to report harassmentcases they witness or experience on a real-time basis. The SMS is received by the EPMTPQ – Quito’s Transport Authority – controlcentre, who immediately calls the person reporting to learn more about the situation. Simultaneously, the bus driver is notified of theincident, and an alarm is triggered on the bus unit, alerting all passengers that they should be especially vigilant. In addition, the policeor security personnel of the EPMTPQ are made available to intercept the victim and/or aggressor at the next station.
Quito’s SMS initiative was prompted by data collected in 2014 showing alarming rates of sexual harassment on public transport andother public spaces. The Mayor of Quito then declared an emergency in the Metropolitan Public Transport System. In 2016, the city firstlaunched the Quito: Safe City for Women and Girls programme, which received support from UN Women to adopt and monitor strategiesto address sexual violence against women in public spaces. City officials, inspired by personal experiences and the city’s commitmentto addressing sexual harassment, conceived the idea of a free platform that works as a direct channel of communication between localauthorities and people who experience or witness sexual harassment on public transport. Multiple municipal offices, including themayor’s office, the EPMTPQ (Quito’s Transport Authority) and the Municipal Board of San Jose – a public entity in charge ofimplementing social policies in Quito – worked together to launch the project. In March of 2017, the solution was first launched as anapplication and then as an SMS-based platform to facilitate access. The platform was integrated into a comprehensive strategy toinclude a gender perspective into the city’s public transport system planning. In the first two years of the initiative, over 2800 caseshave been reported and registered, more than 9200 people received training, and more than 2200 public transport buses are part of theplatform. New administrations retained the initiative and continue integrating it into their gender-inclusive public transport policy.
Quito’s SMS Initiative has had continued support from local officials and has been well-received by public transport users. Project datamonitoring from 2019 shows 74% of total public transport users and 90% of women knows about the strategy, while 98.7% of publictransport users considers it a useful approach to prevent sexual violence. These results suggest good dissemination of the initiative,especially among women, who also saw a 6% decrease in their perception of public transport unsafety.
- Integrating the initiative into a comprehensive strategy for long-term change. The platform was introduced as partof a municipal strategy to tackle sexual harassment against women in public spaces and include a genderperspective on public transport policies. The provision of a comprehensive strategy created a safer environment forwomen whilst mitigating the normalization of sexual harassment, encouraging a behavioural change in thecommunity.
- A programme supported by concrete government actions. The ability of city officials to translate Quito’s WomenSafety Programme into the SMS-based platform was backed by their policy environment. Having a reliable legalframework, a system of social sanction, and local stakeholders’ support created the ideal conditions for the initiativeto materialize.
- Monitoring and continuity are key. Ongoing monitoring of the initiative’s results allowed policymakers to measurethe impact and continue refining the platform to make it more inclusive and accessible. In addition, the continuationof the platform by the new local administration has led it to have an ongoing impact in the community.
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