Editorial 7th September, 2016

Hackathon for Gender Equality.

The last weekend (3-4 September, 2016) was an exciting one for all of us here at Breakthrough. Breakthrough has consistently used media, pop culture and technology in order to raise awareness about the issue of violence against women.

One of the recent ways we have been exploring, in our attempt to engage technology with gender issues, is a hackathon. The intention was to get people with diverse skill sets such as designers, illustrators, researchers, writers, techies (app developers, web developers etc.) under the same roof and produce content which is interesting and can be widely and digitally disseminated. Our focus for this hackathon was data visualisation.

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What is a Hackathon?

What is data visualisation? What is the purpose that it serves? There is a lot of data that is collected which is valuable quantitative research and is integral to understanding certain issues. However, how can we make this data more readable? To address this question, we provided the participants with data sets covering various gender issues and the ask was for them to find a way to visually represent the data sets provided to them.

Some of themes of the data sets made shared with them included themes such as gender gap, sexual health, crime data, literacy, street lights, toilets amongst others. Basically, we tried to include every factor that impedes the creation of gender inclusive safer spaces. Let’s remember that this hackathon was also a part of our larger ongoing campaign, #StandWithMe

The Raw Materials

An interesting data set which was provided to the participants was a survey conducted by Breakthrough itself. This survey helped give form to our ongoing campaign #StandWithMe. The campaign aims to get conversations going about creating gender inclusive safer spaces posing a stance that if such spaces exist, cases of sexual harassment will reduce. The survey results depicted how aspects such as inter-generational dialogue, a stigma free environment are essential for creating a safer space. We hope to use the content generated by the participants of the hackathon across our platforms for the same.

To give shape to this project which was presented by Facebook and organised by us, we teamed up with various partners like The Bachchao Project and Hacks/Hackers India. The Bachchao Project helped out with critical issues like outreach and finding datasets that would be the backbone of the visualizations conceived by our participants. Hacks/Hackers brought in knowhow about outreach and technology.

Coming Together

The Mentors also had a huge role to play in this. We had several mentors who are veterans of open source and open data. Guneet Narula gave his pep talk about open data and gave our participants (who were mostly college students) a look at what visualization meant. Neha Vaswani, our design mentor talked about the importance of design. Nasr Ul Hadi, Shobha SV and Chinmayi SK also talked about the process and were immensely helpful in helping the participants come up with ideas.

Before the presentations, a representative of Facebook gave us a presentation on how to be safe on Facebook. Since a prominent theme of our campaign, #StandWithMe was online safety, the timing of this presentation could not be better. This was of particular importance because the audience was actually comprised of people Facebook and we wanted to engage with.

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The Products

While the end result of the Hackathon was fantastic, we believe that the outcome of the hackathon cannot just be assessed on the basis of the final outcome. Each step of the two day event was a step towards making a bunch of young people think, question, engage with gender. Majority of our participants were engineering students. Their motivation for coming to the hackathon varied. While for some it was to get an experience of a hackathon or further build up on their exposure to such events, for a few it was the combination of a hackathon with the theme of gender which sealed the deal. From a total of about thirty participants, only three were women. A figure which speaks volumes about the lack of representation of women in the field of technology and how that directly impacts the knowledge creation in this particular field. We’ll be uploading the products online soon!

The Long Road

Ideation was a step which took the longest time. After the participant’s came up with an initial plan, there was a discussion which followed where mentors raised concerns and tried to initiate a dialogue around it. Some of these concerns included aspects such as the correlations the participants wanted to establish using certain data sets. The challenge was to represent the data in a way which is not a reflection of our own assumptions, biases rather a correlation which raises questions and is indicative of the multiple variables which determine a particular trend.

The topics taken up by the various groups included some very interesting data sets. The visual representation of data sets enabled several tough questions from the audience who within the short span of the discussion were able to draw some very insightful inferences. Some of our most interesting projects included interesting maps, bar graphs and concentric pie charts. One of the projects included a representation of how a survivor knows the perpetrator in 95% of rape cases. It cut right through our assumptive trope of a shady man lurking in the dark and nabbing women.

Another one was a representation of the number of married women using contraceptives in a bar graphs that was correlated with the literacy rate of the state. While no apparent correlation appeared, it was an insight into certain very important aspects about human development. Other projects dealt with streetlights and statistics related to crimes against women. All the projects will be under a creative commons license and can be used by anyone who wants to use it.

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The Big Picture

In conclusion, this was a hackathon that was very different from traditional hackathons. Traditional hackathons are primarily about tech. There is no room for political and social discussions. There is very little room for a larger conversation. Here, the tech aspect of it was inspired and informed by social and political issues. Social and political conversations were the larger tapestry in which everything else converged in.

We liked it all the more because we got to have conversations about gender, sexuality and crimes against women with people in engineering colleges, where there is usually very little room for such conversations. We hope to do this again soon. And hope to reach out to many more people and tell them that there is a world out there to help build, and that if they are informed and engaged and use their skills to solve these critical issues, they can share in that load.

 

 

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