Using Technology against Gender-based Violence: Part 3 #16DaysofActivism

Posted on December 10, 2015

It’s the last day of 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence and is Human Rights day. It commemorates the day on which, in 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. After these past 2 weeks, I’m very curious as to what impact, if any, these past few days have had on bringing to light the issues around violence against women. In this post, I look at what possibilities exist for protecting women using smartphone applications.

1.Alerts to trusted contacts: One of the most famous apps against GBV that gained traction is Circle of 6. The app developer Nancy Schwartzman describes the app as, “The user creates a circle of six trusted friends and send them alerts if, for instance, you’re on a first date that starts to get uncomfortable. You find a way to excuse yourself and send a notice that asks one of in your circle to come meet you. There are also links to resources about healthy relationships and also a ‘panic button’ mode that can call two pre-programmed national hotlines or emergency numbers of your choice.” The app claims that two taps lets your circle know where you are and how they can help. While the app was first developed for use on college campuses in the US, it quickly became popular in India as well following the horrific gang rape of a 23 year old student in New Delhi. Other similar apps notify contacts of GPS locations.

2.Mapping harassment and unsafe areas: Apps such as HarassMap, Safecity and HollaBack! can be used to map areas of harassment and bystander intervention, to alert fellow women but also to advocate for improved security in these areas. They also crowdsource stories of sexual violence and abuse with the aim of providing support.

3. Female-friendly services: Taxi hailing app services around the world are pushing for female drivers as a safer option for women to travel. Meru Eve, TaxShe and Viira Cabs are examples of such lines of taxis to be driven by women. The cabs are monitored by GPS with panic buttons, for the driver’s safety.

4. Counselling and Decision Making: Some apps aim to provide personalized resources and information for women in unsafe relationships. One such example, MyPlanApp, assists women and their friends to determine if a relationship is unsafe and helps create an action plan to leave safely. The app helps identify red flags in relationships. There is a lot of potential for creating personalized counselling apps for women in difficult situations, especially in the case of intimate partner violence.

5. Health worker case management: Oftentimes women do not report incidents of violence against them, for various reasons such as fear, resignation, lack of choices etc. Dimagi, through the CommCare platform, has developed a GBV screening tool for healthcare workers to determine if their patients are showing warning signs of GBV. If Intimate partner violence is identified for a patient, the healthcare worker refers the patient to other services and can provide information on counseling, shelters, and legal services. The app is facilitated with media to provide audio-visual information. Such use cases can be extended to other public sector services such as the police forces, to assist women showing warning signs.

6. Documenting acts of violence: With the growth of citizen journalism, verifying the authenticity of footage has become a challenge. Sometimes, genuine content as evidence are dismissed from courts of law and are not reliable upon to hold perpetrators accountable. Apps such as eyeWitness and InformaCam use the app records and metadata such as date/time/location/editing at the point of capture enables the data to be verified for its authenticity.

7. Education: Apps are a great media to teach young boys and men about violence against women, especially through gamification. An app called Moraba was developed in Kenya to teach youth about issues related to gender-based violence “including what constitutes unwanted advances and how to report and give testimony for violent and inappropriate acts”.  Apps can also be used to educate girls on safety, prevention of GBV and access to resources. 

This post brings my 3 part series to an end. As GBV continues to grow to pandemic proportions, it is my hope that we can find solutions that work against cultural and societal norms, using mobile tools or not.

Photo cred: Dharavi Diary


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