An app to stamp out discrimination

Most people never share their experiences of discrimination, making it a difficult issue to address. But now Copenhageners have a tool at their fingertips to help them do just that, and in the process map exactly how widespread unfair treatment is in the city

Being turned away by a nightclub is an experience most will have the misfortune to suffer. But when a group of young men were turned away from five out of six clubs in one evening, it made newspaper headlines. The reason: they were the children of immigrants.

After Politiken newspaper published the article in 2010, several of the nightclubs were served with fines. The discrimination continued, however, and in a 2012 survey over 10 percent of the city’s residents reported being discriminated against. The same survey – commissioned by Copenhagen City Council – found that only three percent of victims reported their experience to the police.

Stemplet – Danish for ‘labelled’ or ‘stigmatised’ – wants to address the underreported experiences of discrimination. Two members of the organisation, Firas Mahmoud and Eline Feldman, believes they can strike a blow against discrimination and change what it means to be a Copenhagener.

“It is important that people feel that Copenhagen is for them, regardless of who they are,” Feldman says, adding that surveys have found that those who had been discriminated against were less likely to feel at home in Copenhagen, or even call themselves Copenhageners. As a result, discrimination can affect the very identity of a city and undermine the confidence residents have in local government.

“It’s a trust issue. The whole campaign has been around trying to make people think and believe this matters – that their experiences matter. And we’re listening.”

A matter of data
Politiken’s exposé – and the punishment meted out to nightclubs – was made possible because one of the young men, Jakob Sheikh, was a journalist working for the newspaper. Without these resources, it can be hard to prove discrimination has taken place.

“It’s easy for politicians to say it doesn’t exist. There is always a question of proof,” Mahmoud states. “Some politicians really want to work with us, but they need hard numbers to convince other parties as well.”

But while not everyone has a media organisation that can share their experiences, many do have smart phones. So Stemplet launched an app to enable residents to report their experiences of discrimination in the city, and let the local government know where action needs to be taken.

“I have it in my hand, with me. It is a tool. So I am always empowered,” says Feldman.

The app is simple. You start by specifying where and when the discrimination happened. Then you state whether you are a victim or a witness. Lastly, you indicate which type of discrimination was experienced – assault or verbal abuse, for example – and the apparent motivation for the discrimination – ethnicity, religion, sexuality, gender or age. The report is anonymous by default, but you are invited to add further information, such as your contact information and more details about the event, if you so choose.

Mapping discrimination
Once Stemplet receives the report, they have the option to contact the authorities, the owner of the location, or even – if a club or bar is involved – the local government department responsible for alcohol licencing.

Experiences of discrimination are not limited to nightlife, however. In fact, the 2012 study found that people with a majority ethnic background were more likely to experience discrimination when clubbing, while people from a minority culture were more likely to experience discrimination on public transport.

Stemplet’s strength is its ability to map and catalogue incidents of alleged discrimination. If a specific area receives a high volume of reports, authorities and city planners can take a closer look. Maybe the area needs better lighting to feel safer, for example.

Ultimately, the app is not meant to target individual offenders. Feldman argues it is more useful in changing how we think discrimination operates.

“It is not our goal to go out and become the police – we just want to figure out how to make the city better.”

The app has been met with positive feedback since its launch in June and has been downloaded over 1000 times so far. An English version is now available, and the government is developing a nationwide version, which is set to come out sometime in the spring. M


By Nereya Otieno

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