Creating a Resilient and Inclusive Democracy in India

July 10, 2019
10:30 am - 12:00 pm


With the general elections in India having concluded in May, many observers are now analyzing the implications of the electoral outcomes on the world’s largest democracy. Yet such analyses of the country often overlook the ability of citizens, especially women, to participate in politics beyond elections. While multiple factors hinder women’s full participation in the public sphere, the prevalence of sexual violence is among the most significant. Such violence is linked to the low overall status of women in society, which has skewed birth ratios, limited access to education and health, and discouraged women from participating in the labor force and in politics. In order to ensure that democracy in India is resilient and inclusive, it is critical that policymakers and institutions take into account the role that sexual violence plays in preventing women from fully participating in a democratic society. In her presentation, Elsa Marie D’Silva discussed her experiences pioneering the use of “Safecity,” a mobile crowdsourcing application to document stories of sexual violence, as well as how she engaged local communities and institutions through sharing trends in the data. She also examined how such storytelling can help give women a voice, build solidarity to break the silence surrounding sexual violence, and organize women to take action. Ambassador Melanne Verveer offered comments.



Elsa Marie D’Silva, Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow


With Comments From

Ambassador Melanne Verveer, Executive Director, Georgetown Institute of Women, Peace, and Security


Moderated by

Zerxes Spencer, Director of Fellowship Programs, National Endowment for Democracy



Elsa Marie D’Silva is the founder and chief executive officer of the Red Dot Foundation, a Mumbai-based organization that works to end violence against women. She is also the innovator of Safecity, an online platform developed by Red Dot Foundation that uses crowdsourcing to track reports of sexual violence and harassment in public spaces and maps this data to show unsafe areas in cities.  Since launching Safecity in 2012, Ms. D’Silva has overseen the platform’s rise to become the largest crowdsourcing app on the issue in India, Kenya, Cameroon, and Nepal.  For her pioneering work in addressing gender-based violence, Ms. D’Silva received the 2013 Digital Women in Social Impact Award from She The People, the 2015 Female Entrepreneur of the Year Award from Dusan Stojanovic, the Government of India’s 2016 #WomenTransformingIndia award, and Vital Voices’ 2017 Global Leadership Award.During her fellowship, Ms. D’Silva is drawing upon her experience with Safecity to explore how to expand the reach of the application to other countries around the world.

Ambassador Melanne Verveer is the Executive Director of the Georgetown Institute of Women, Peace and Security and the Special Representative on Gender Issues for the OSCE Chairmanship. She previously served as the first US Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues, a position to which she was nominated by President Obama in 2009. She coordinated foreign policy issues and activities relating to the political, economic and social advancement of women, traveling to nearly sixty countries. She worked to ensure that women’s participation and rights are fully integrated into U.S. foreign policy, and she played a leadership role in the Administration’s development of the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security. From 2000-2008, she was the Chair and Co-CEO of Vital Voices Global Partnership, an international NGO that she co-founded to invest in emerging women leaders. During the Clinton administration, she served as Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to the First Lady. Ambassador Verveer has a B.S. and M.S. from Georgetown University and holds several honorary degrees.


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