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Girls & Women

India is introducing a panic button to protect women on all mobile phones by 2017

India has announced a new regulation mandating all mobile phones sold in the country to have a panic button to help protect women from harassment and assault. The new rules will take effect in 2017. They require all phones to have an emergency call function as well as built-in GPS navigation.

The Indian Ministry of Communications and Information Technology issued the mandate last week as part of an effort to improve safety for women. India will also have its first national emergency number, 112, within the next few months, similar to ‘911’ in the US and ‘999’ in the UK.

Communications and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the new GPS system will help to “pinpoint location in the event of harassment or distress."

India's government started exploring more ways to protect women following a high-profile gang rape and death of a young woman in Delhi back in December 2012. The men convicted of the crime were sentenced to death but the government was criticized for not taking enough measures to prevent violence against women.

The case has since resulted in a tremendous increase in women reporting rapes in India, as well as greater public awareness and scrutiny of violence against women. According to government data, a rape occurs in India every 30 minutes, although this number could be higher since rapes are widely underreported crimes.  This is not just a problem in India. Amongst developed nations, the US has the largest number of annual rapes (a woman is raped in America every 6.2 minutes).

In India, all cell phone manufacturers, including Apple and Samsung, must comply with the new rules. Indians will be able to hold down the numeric keys 5 and 9 on feature phones (older models with actual keypads) to make emergency calls, while smartphones will have a new button or feature to send emergency alerts. A person can also push the on-and-off button three times to make an emergency call.

Uber India was the first to implement a panic button on its app in February 2015 after sexual assault allegations against an Uber driver. But this is the first time any nation has issued a country-wide mandate.

Maneka Ghandi, India’s Women and Child Development Minister, helped develop the national panic button along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the course of two years.  Gandhi also plans on releasing another feature that will immediately alert the 10 nearest people whenever the button is pushed.

Gender-based violence is a global concern that requires cultural change as well as institutional efforts to combat violence. While creating a truly effective emergency response system is a long-term effort, the new phone requirements are a good start to address institutional challenges in protecting women.