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Missed Opportunities in Using Tech to Fight Violence Against Women

By Guest Writer on August 5, 2015

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Technology is a key piece in preventing and ending violence against women. As the number of women with access to the Internet and Internet-enabled devices increases, so does the potential for social impact of “tech for good” projects. Access to Internet-enabled devices has been found to be key for ensuring gender-equality in the long run (No Ceilings). Of the women with access to Internet and phones, 30 percent report earning additional income, 45 percent report searching for jobs, and 80 percent report improving their education.

As tech for good becomes mainstream, not only are key opportunities to utilize existing technology being missed, but so are opportunities for utilizing the niche emerging tech that could be saving lives. There are seven key areas those in the tech for good sector should invest in to maximize their impact:

1. Responsible Design & Optimization:

More and more, organizations are using human-centered design to create and implement products and services. But from useless apps to slow websites not designed for mobile use, there is a plethora of underutilized opportunities and solutions putting survivors of violence at risk. Apps are great for storing information offline and can be extremely useful.

However, they are also easily discoverable and can put survivors at serious risk if their abusers find them. Browsing history, on the other hand, can be quickly and easily deleted. Just like service design, responsible design is critical to ensure vulnerable groups are not at risk from using the product. Choosing the right technology for a solution will yield better results for both the organization and the user. For instance, HarassMap is a SMS-to-web solution which means women can anonymously report sexual harassment they face in Egypt by sending a simple text that is then displayed on a public map on the website.

2. Open Data:

Traditionally, there has been an acute lack of data collection regarding women and the challenges they face. In recent years, thanks to the efforts of World Bank, UN, and the lobbying of donors and the third sector alike, more data is being collected to shape policy and innovation. Unfortunately, a lot of this data is still siloed, as the raw data is locked within these organizations.

Open data sharing between governments, public bodies, think tanks and the nonprofit sector could unlock opportunities for learning, analysis, and invention that could lead to better policy and implementation. The World Bank’s Gender Data Portal is a good starting point to see the best practice in producing and sharing open data on women.

3. Libraries:

According to Right to Education, 31 million girls globally are out of school and two-thirds of illiterate adults are women. In developing countries, adolescent girls are more likely to drop out of secondary school than boys, particularly in rural areas. Libraries can help address these issues and should not be overlooked as an antiquity. With 230,000 libraries in developing countries, we have a great opportunity to train women in accessing digital resources.

In the absence of traditional schooling they may be able to use these resources to self-educate, train and ask for help when needed. Community spaces such as libraries can facilitate the provision of educational and training services for adults. These services can be held as community activities, encouraging locals to work together through peer-learning, breaking down some of the gender and socio-economic barriers that keep communities siloed.

4. SMS:

SMS is, in my opinion, the goldmine of the tech world in terms of making impact. It’s a medium that reaches people with access to phones, irrespective of where they are based and whether they have a smartphone or not.According to the GSMA, global mobile connections passed the 7.2 billion mark in 2015 as projected by the United Nations.

Importantly, the World Bank highlights the difference between mobile users and subscribers: “If a mobile phone exists in a household, then all members could theoretically use it, thereby extending access […]”. Senegal has a subscription penetration of 57 per 100 people in 2009, but household penetration was estimated to be 30 points higher at 87. The Indonesian government mobilized 100,000 midwives in the country by providing them with up-to-date healthcare practices through a SMS program called Bidan. SMS-to-web reporting is now becoming a trendy civic tech initiative to empower women to report things from potholes in the street to sexual harassment. These are very encouraging initiatives and are paving the way for more innovative approaches and solutions.

5. Games:

Games are a powerful medium that can be used as educational, campaigning, and preventative tools — but only a handful of organizations are engaging with them. Cancer Research UK is one charity leading the charge for using games for good. Not only are they engaging with a wider audience through their games, they are solving real problems with it by helping researchers find new treatments for cancer. A must see is the “Zero Tolerance” by Peng Collective spam bot that targets trolls on Twitter and sends them a series of constructive videos, and motivational tips on how to become a better person.

Similarly, Amnesty New Zealand’s eye-opening “Trial By Timeline” allows users to see how they would be punished in different countries for simply living their current lifestyle. Imagine if games like these were played in virtual reality, building even greater empathy and allowing people to relate to the trials women face in day-to-day life.

6. Wearable tech:

The jury is still out on wearable tech and whether it provides good value for the cost, but there is no denying that in the next five years the Internet of things and wearable tech are the two frontiers of innovation within technology. ROAR For Good’s product “Athena” is a wearable fashion accessory that also acts as a high-tech rape whistle. By holding down a button on the device for three seconds, the user can activate a loud alarm and flashing lights and trigger ROAR’s app to alert local authorities and loved ones. Stiletto by Secure Couture does the same. Could wearable tech be used to tackle other problems faced by women in cities?

7. Drones:

Women on Waves sails women’s health providers to just outside the territorial waters of countries where abortion is illegal. Women on Waves provides sexual health services, including medical abortions. They’ve held successful ship campaigns in Ireland, Poland, Portugal, and Spain. The Women on Waves program provides an innovative and mobile solution to help a vulnerable group — much like many tech-focused solutions.

With medium-range drones becoming as cheap as £100, Women on Waves initiative is now in the process of testing an “abortion drone” this summer which will deploy WHO-administered pills to women in impoverished areas. This is a breakthrough and raises the question of whether rural areas in developing countries could be reached by drones to educate, provide medicine, and record human rights violations.

The Womanity Foundation is committed to supporting organizations making impactful change in the fight to prevent and end violence against women. This year, the Womanity Award will highlight programs that are adapting new technologies to prevent violence against women and support expansion of this work with professional services, learning opportunities, and relevant resources. The call for nominations is open. Submit your nominee here by August 28, 2015 and follow along on Twitter #ICTforWomanity.

Hera Hussain is the Founder of Chayn, a social enterprise using technology to empower women against violence and oppression through platforms, toolkits and hackathons. You can follow her on twitter at @herahussain.

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