Using Technology against Gender-based Violence: Part 1 #16DaysofActivism

Posted on November 30, 2015

As part of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence, I participated in a #tweetchat on Empowering Women in Uganda. Each year, from November 25th (the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women) to December 10th (Human Rights Day), the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign serves as a time to galvanize governments, NGOs, CSOs etc to advocate to end violence against women and girls around the world.  However, at the end of my tweet chat, I still felt a bit clueless on what I could personally do as part of the #16daysofactivism. I began to think about and research how tech can prevent gender-based violence as well as support victims of GBV.

In 2006, then Secretary General of the United Nations stated that “Violence against women and girls is a problem of pandemic proportions. At least one out of every three women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime with the abuser usually someone known to her.” Violence against women can take the form of rape, coercion, harassment, harmful traditional practices, stoning, trafficking etc. In South Africa, Amnesty International reported that about one woman is killed by her husband or boyfriend every six hours. In 2005 study by WHO on women’s health and domestic violence, 50 per cent of women in Tanzania and 71 per cent of women in Ethiopia’s rural areas reported beatings or other forms of violence by husbands or other intimate partners. In Zimbabwe, six out of 10 murder cases tried in the Harare High Court in 1998 were related to domestic violence. In Kenya, the attorney general’s office reported in 2003 that domestic violence accounted for half of all homicides.

GBV presents a uniquely scary case where ill-thought out ideas can have devastating consequences for women. According to a GSMA Connected Women report in 2015, security and harassment are a major barrier to phone ownership amongst women, after cost and network quality issues. Two years ago, a young woman was stoned to death in Pakistan for possessing a cell phone. Technology can be a double-edged sword in the fight against GBV because while ICT can change the ways in which women respond to violence, it can also change the ways in which women experience violence through cyberbullying, stalking, online violence.

Scared yet?

Positively though, the same GSMA research reported that 68% of women felt safe because of their phone. Steeped in the M4D world, I  tend to come from a mindset that mobile phones can solve any problem. As such, as part of the 16 Days of Activism, I will advocate for increased use of technology to prevent GBV in the developing world, through a 3 part series looking at mobile applications, IVR, and digital media.

There are three levels of interventions for gender-based violence. The Rape and Domestic Violence Services of Australia states that “preventing sexual, domestic and family violence means taking action before, during and after violence has happened.” In terms of programs, this means initiating support at any of the following stages:

  • Primary prevention: prevent violence from happening in the first place. This include community based programs to change knowledge, attitudes and practices
  • Secondary prevention: aims to identify early signs of violence and minimize the consequences or reduce the severity. This include shelters, legal services, advocacy efforts
  • Tertiary prevention: minimize the impacts of violence on those who experience it, and to prevent offenders from re-offending. This includes survivor support networks

In this post, I will discuss what IVR is, potential use cases for GBV prevention and any success stories from the field.

IVR or Interactive Voice Response, is a technology that allows humans to interact with a computer using voice prompts and input from a phone’s keypad. Think of the last time you might have called your bank and received a recorded message instructing you to press 1 for savings, press 2 for loans etc. IVR allows an organization to instantly share information with as well as rapidly collect data from end users. This technology is particularly useful in handling large call volumes, cutting down costs and improving the general experience of caller through engaging interactivity. IVR can be coupled with call centers to segment callers based on their characteristics or needs. Back to the bank example, if you clicked on 2 for loans, you would be connected to Loans Specialist. Automated voice technology has a number of benefits over other forms of communication technology such as rapidly scalable nationally, reaches across barriers of literacy, language and logistics, and provides an anonymous, confidential means of communication. IVR does not rely on access to internet or smart phones. 

So, how can IVR be used at the three stages of intervention? I’ve listed some ideas below that could make successful use of voice technology to tackle violence against women.

Reporting

1. Reporting Violence: Simple mobile phones can be used as a powerful reporting tool. Toll-free interactive hotlines can be used by women, witnesses, security forces or health workers to lodge reports on violence in real-time. A user can dial into a toll-free hotline to provide some basic information through an automated questionnaire which can then be used by police, support services, legal services etc. to aid women in need. Phones present a confidential and anonymous means of reporting incidents, and collecting national level data from anywhere in a country.

How would it work?
1. User calls a toll-free number from a basic phone
2. User picks their language of preference
3. User listens to welcome message informing them about confidentiality/anonymity, and instructions on how to utilize IVR questionnaire using their phone keypad and voice options
4. User receives a pre-determined set of close and/or open-ended questions on location, victim, nature of violence, consequence of violence etc.
5. User could receive basic advice on access to resources, legal services, or can be linked to any of the other services listed below.
6. Users hang up once they answer necessary questions

Level of intervention: Secondary prevention

Gender-based Violence 2

Advocacy

2. Mapping GBV: Similar to reporting, IVR can be used to collect data on the incidence of gender-based violence in an area, for purposes of advocacy. Along the same lines of apps such as HarassMap and Safecity , location-specific data can be collected using voice messaging to map out incidence of GBV through national random-digit dialing (RDD) surveys or crowdsourcing, and advocate for action by activists within the government, NGOs, CSOs, service providers etc. This data can provide researchers with a “state-of-affairs” snapshot on a subject that is considered taboo and is often underrated due to fear and intimidation.

How would it work?
1. User calls a toll-free number from a basic phone or receives a call through RDD
2. User picks their language of preference
3. User listens to welcome message informing them about confidentiality/anonymity, and instructions on how to utilize IVR questionnaire using their phone keypad and voice options
4. User receives a pre-determined set of close and/or open-ended questions on their location, incidence of violence in their surroundings etc.
5. User can be linked to any of the other services listed below.
6. Users hang up once they answer necessary questions

Level of intervention: Primary prevention

3. Community Journalists: Mobile phones allow for the democratization of news, in combination with community radio stations, web-based platforms or by creating forums within an IVR platform. IVR allows citizens from anywhere in a country, urban or rural remote regions, to record stories that are important to their communities through an audio portal. Radio stations can then incorporate the audio pieces into their news stories, or audio files can be made available online. Additionally, it is possible to set up an entire news outlet within an IVR system, whereby any callers can listen to and respond to stories recorded by citizen journalists.

Using IVR eliminates the need for citizen journalists to have access to smartphones or the internet. Citizen journalists can bring out stories of harassment and violence in their communities, but can also help to educate communities against GBV or harmful practices and how to seek support when experiencing violence. In Morocco, there was an incident whereby a young woman forced to marry her rapist, had committed suicide. It was local citizens who reported the story while the professional media, who feared official reprisals, remained silent. In Sierra Leone, Media Matters for Women (MMW) trained local professional journalists and tasked them with developing a weekly 10-minute radio program on topics that affect women using mobile technology tools. While the project ended up using laptops, cell phones and blue tooth technology, it is a good example of how IVR could simplify the entire process.

How would it work?
1. Citizen journalist calls a toll-free number from a basic phone
2. User records their story into a 3-5 minute recording
3. User listens to story to confirm recording, or re-record story
4. Radio station accesses audio files on web-based dashboard, and edits it for a radio program
5. Community listens to radio station and hears local news stories

Level of intervention: Primary, secondary and tertiary prevention

Information

4. Legal Aid and Access to Resources: IVR platforms can be set up to store legal information or information on access to resources that can be accessed through toll-free hotlines. This could include information on laws and rights related to GBV, where to seek services and support, what action to take in violent situation etc. Content can be recorded in several local languages so as to cater to as many groups as possible. 

How would it work?
1. User calls a toll-free number from a basic phone
2. User picks their language of preference
3. User listens to welcome message informing them about confidentiality/anonymity, and instructions on how to utilize IVR questionnaire using their phone keypad and voice options
4. User receives audio content through a pre-determined logic. Example, Press 1 for information on women’s rights, press 2 for information on where to seek help as a victime of GBV etc.
5. User navigates through the messages using their phone keypad
6. Users hang up once they access the necessary information, or can listen to audio files again

Level of intervention: Primary, secondary and tertiary prevention

Gender-based Violence 3

5. Decision support and psycho-social counseling: IVR logic can be used to guide girls and women through decision support through interactive hotlines. Through a pre-determined set of questions and answers, women can be guided through content aimed at counseling them. SAWA in Palestine has developed a Women’s Protection Helpline with a sophisticated system for filtering and monitoring incoming calls. They provide counseling and support to victims of sexual, physical and psychological violence. IVR counseling can provide vital psycho-social services to women who oftentimes do not have access to mental health providers, legal services etc. In the case of Uganda, there is only one psychiatric hospital, with only around 0.07% of the total health budget spent on mental health.

How would it work?
1. User calls a toll-free number from a basic phone
2. User picks their language of preference
3. User listens to welcome message informing them about confidentiality/anonymity, and instructions on how to utilize IVR questionnaire using their phone keypad and voice options
4. User receives audio content through a pre-determined logic.
Example, Have you been a victim of violence recently? Press 1 for YES or Press 2 for NO.
If user responds YES, Have you reported the incident? Press 1 for YES or Press 2 for NO.
If user responds NO, Report the incident to your nearest police station. Have you sought out health care? Press 1 for YES or Press 2 for NO.
5. User navigates through the messages using their phone keypad
6. Users hang up once they access the necessary information, or can listen to audio files again

Level of intervention: Secondary and tertiary prevention

Training

6. L&D among security/health professionals: IVR can be used to provide continuous education and training to police, lawyers, healthcare professionals, NGO/CSO workers etc. Similar to online MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), which are courses that are available online, aimed at unlimited numbers through open access on the web, IVR can provide short courses via audio files on a myriad of topics. In this case, staff phone numbers can be acquired and content can either be pushed to their phones at set intervals, or can be accessed by calling into a hotline. For example, health staff can be trained over several weeks or months on how to identify victims of violences, how to direct them to appropriate services, how to take down reports and so on. This platform could also be used to train ordinary systems to become community volunteers, counselors and activists.

How would it work?
1. User calls a toll-free number from a basic phone, or receives a call to their phone
2. User receives audio content on a learning topic
3. User can answer quiz questions to gauge learning and any changes to practice
6. Users hang up once they access the necessary information, or can listen to audio files again

Level of intervention: Primary, Secondary and tertiary prevention

7. Engaging males through interactive content: IVR is great tool for engaging audiences through interesting content and interactivity. Primary prevention of violence at a population level is key to stopping gender-based violence. By working together with role models (who are often entertainers), it would be possible to put together content that builds awareness among boys and men on topics related to GBV. Entertainment-education, or edu-tainment, is an especially successful strategy to shift norms among younger people. IVR can be used to collect pledges from men, to record their stories of standing up against GBV and to assist them in becoming champions against violence.

How would it work?
1. User calls a toll-free number from a basic phone
2. User picks their language of preference
3. User listens to welcome message informing them about confidentiality/anonymity, and instructions on how to utilize IVR questionnaire using their phone keypad and voice options
4. User receives audio content from their favorite celebrity advocating against GBV.
5. User navigates through other similar messages using their phone keypad
6. User can take interactive quizzes and win incentives for appropriate responses
7. Users hang up once they access the necessary information, or can listen to audio files again

Level of intervention: Primary prevention

Thanks for reading through! Stay tuned for part 2.


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