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26 November 2020

Sexual Violence in India: Blockchain’s Role in Empowering Survivors

Sexual Violence in India: Blockchain’s Role in Empowering Survivors

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Young women were especially concerned; many had experienced enough harassment to recognize that Jyoti’s fate could have easily been a friend’s, a sister’s, their own.

I asked Meera if she thought the option to report or even just to access support anonymously would encourage survivors to speak up and reach out for the assistance they need.

So yes, personal stories can put survivors of violence and their families at risk.

Nobody is obligated to speak up before they are ready or even at all, particular in cultures in which stigmatization is more prevalent.

Smashboard, ‘your digital ally to smash patriarchy’, is an app that utilizes the Ethereum Blockchain to create an encrypted space for survivors in India to report sexual violence.

As well as helping survivors of sexual violence access justice and support through connections with legal representatives, emotional and psychological support, and offering the ability to create an immutable record of evidential material, Smashboard can connect users with feminist journalists sensitive to their stories — and enables them to leave anonymous tips, without having to make the difficult choice to speak up publicly.

Founder Noopur Tiwari, a survivor of sexual violence herself, is a strong believer that while survivors speaking out is an essential part of empowering others to do the same, pushing people to report or speak out particularly before they are ready can be retraumatizing.

And blockchain allows you to do that – it affords users the secure comfort that they need.”.

She explains: “We found that the disruptive nature of blockchain could actually find a synergy with feminist values.

The whole idea of decentralization at the center of blockchain is something that appeals to us, because patriarchy is something that functions due to misuse of power, and the centralization of power.

“If they thought that our project was something that deserved their labor, we thought, why not?”.

But the collaboration was ill-fated, and short-lived.  She continues: “It turned out that the way in which they function, the way in which they communicated was terrible for us.

They were behaving in ways that were extremely patriarchal.

Our entire project was ready to go online, and on the day we planned to launch, our collaboration with those tech bros fell apart – the way in which they were behaving was just not acceptable to us as feminists.

Noopur is pragmatic; Smashboard isn’t taking on the task of erasing sexual violence, nor does it aim to help every single survivor.  The ‘strength in numbers’ benefits of citizen journalism translate to the building of a robust digital community, and Smashboard’s approach, rather than setting about the impossible task of reaching out to every potential user of the app to convince them and explain the technology, is to build a community of feminist influencers whom survivors independently advocate for the platform and the trustworthiness of the blockchain element.

Smashboard is just one way that survivors of sexual violence in India can make other survivors’ lives a little easier, and help them move forward without being needlessly retraumatized.

Niki Kandirikirira, Director of Programs at Equality Now, a charitable organization that works to end sexual violence, recognizes the potential benefits of Smashboard while acknowledging the wider social change needed to make a difference on a macro level.

Of course, these issues are not unique to India, and the current COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating and intensifying physical and sexual violence against women and girls globally.

Violence against women and girls and sexual violence in particular may not be confined within India’s borders, but there are unique challenges in a country such as India with conservative laws and values, an oppressive caste system, and a number of archaic laws that punish women and girls disproportionately

Just like Noopur Tiwari’s acknowledgement that projects like Smashboard won’t change the world or eradicate sexual violence and the culturally-ingrained issues and belief structures that allow it to thrive, we can acknowledge blockchain’s limitations as a tool for humanitarian aid as well

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