CNBC Disruptor 50

Billionaire couple launch the Women’s Safety XPrize challenge to tackle sexual violence

Indian members of NGO 'Aastha' hold placards during a protest in Mumbai for better safety for women following the rape of a student in the Indian capital.
Punit Paranjpe | AFP | Getty Images

Some global crises go unchecked because no innovator puts a stake in the ground to find a solution that can actually be adopted by the masses. That's the case with women's safety, an issue the world has turned its back on — until now.

Recognizing the dilemma that plagues society, Anu and Naveen Jain — technophilanthropists and the co-founders of such legendary companies as InfoSpace and Intelius/Inome — launched the $1 million Women's Safety XPrize on Wednesday to challenge teams from around the world to develop an affordable technology women can use to rapidly respond to threats.

The winning team's solution, to be announced in June 2018, must be able to trigger location-accurate alerts in emergency situations even in areas without Wi-Fi and broadband connections and transmit alerts to a network of responders and provide a response to the user within 90 seconds that help is on its way. It would also have to cost $40 or less, so it is affordable.

"The goal is to kick-start a movement to turn the tide on this global epidemic that puts women and children most at risk," says Anu Naveen. "It's time to use technology to solve this problem. We need to develop response networks which do not exist in much of the world."

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Violence against women — particularly sexual violence — is not only a major public health problem; it is also a violation of women's human rights. Global estimates by the World Health Organization indicate that 1 in 3 women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.

Sexual assault knows no borders, and victims are of all ages and walks of life. In the United States the hidden threat is not often spoken about. The U.S. Bureau of Justice estimates that 1 in 5 women will experience rape or attempted rape during their college years. Even more disturbing: 1 in 4 girls will be sexually abused before they turn 18.

Anu and Naveen Jain: technophilanthropists tackling a global crisis.
Source: Anu Jain

The situation is dire, especially in developing countries, because many nations do not have a universal emergency access number (like 911 in the United States) that victims can call to report a crime. Basic emergency reporting and response networks do not exist.

This epidemic has alarming ripple effects: It has stymied the growth of women in society and led to gender inequality and discrimination. Just as important, it has increased health problems among women. There are also economic costs when you consider each rape costs approximately $151,423 in the United States.

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