More than any other time in human history, the 21st century has seen a breakneck pace in the development of new technologies and the constant improvement and refinement of existing technologies. Almost half the world has internet access now with the rest catching, up as smartphones become increasingly cheap and ubiquitous in even the most remote areas of the world.
Technology cannot end violence against women (VAW) – only people can do that within their families, communities, and cultures. However, technology can be invaluable tools in the fight to end VAW in various ways:
- It is a staple part of the anti-VAW activist’s toolkit to help stop VAW from happening, bring awareness to the issues surrounding VAW, and move society closer to ending it.
- In today’s uber-connected world, technology functions as a magnifying glass for gender inequality and gender-based violence – the Internet, social media and mobile phones put a spotlight on stereotypes, misogyny and harassment.
- Technology can also be a tool of empowerment for women, bringing them education and avenues through which they can tell their own stories. In this way, it can be life changing.
In this 16 for 16 article, we present 16 actionable ideas as a starting point to inspire you to use the technologies available to you to help stop VAW in your family, community, and culture. It is by no means a complete list but it’s a good place to begin.
It’s time to stop violence against women. Together.
Introduction by Anushia Kandasivam and Regina Yau; List curated, compiled, and written by Anushia Kandasivam; Additional content by Regina Yau.
Anti-VAW Tech Use Technique 1: Crowdsourcing Data
One of the most important tools in the fight to end VAW is accurate and comprehensive data about VAW. Data is essential to understand VAW and for education and policy making. There are initiatives and programmes around the world that enable women (and men) to contribute data in the form of testimonials on VAW. This data can be used to shape policy and efficient implementation and develop innovative strategies to build safe and inclusive public spaces. For example, HarrassMap in Egypt collects stories on street harassment, gang abuse, women being assaulted during the Arab Spring demonstrations and more, and also maps where these incidences occur. Global initiative Hollaback also gathers testimonials and maps where they occur.
Anti-VAW Tech Use Technique 2: Education and Training via Digital Libraries
According to the United Nations, 31 million girls of primary school age are not in school and of these 17 million are expected never to enter school. There are 34 million female adolescents out of school. Lack of education keeps women in poverty and makes them even more vulnerable to gender-based violence including domestic violence, child marriage, and forced marriage. Lobbying your local government to provide community centres equipped with digital resources for self-learning and where locals can work together through peer-learning can be a first step to breaking down some socio-economic and gender barriers that challenge women.
Though video games have a dark history of promoting misogyny and violence, there are a growing number of Facebook, computer and mobile games that were created to educate players about VAW, stimulate the experience of VAW, or just start the conversation about VAW. Some games to check out are the interactive Angry Brides, created by matrimonial website Shaadi.com that raises awareness about the tradition of dowry and the impact it has on women in India, and Hannah, where the gamer uses tools to assist Hannah, a victim of domestic violence.
Anti-VAW Tech Use Technique 4: Wearable Tech
Wearable technology is becoming more mainstream now, but most people know it only for its ability to monitor health and fitness, and link you to your smartphone. There are, however wearable technologies that double up as tools to help women stay safe. For example: ROAR For Good’s wearable fashion accessory Athena is also a high-tech rape whistle linked to a mobile app that activates when a button is pressed for three seconds. The user can activate a loud alarm and flashing lights, and trigger Athena to alert local authorities and chosen contacts. The Safelet, which looks like a bracelet, has two buttons that when pressed sends a message to a contact, along with an alert that allows the contact to automatically call an emergency number.
Anti-VAW Tech Use Technique 5: Empowering SMS Services
Not everyone in the world who has access to a mobile phone has a smartphone or access to the Internet, which is why having SMS services that help women stay safe is important. According to the World Bank, if a mobile phone exists in a household, then all members could theoretically use it. This extended access means better dissemination of information. Technologies that connect apps to SMS exist for those who do not always have access to the Internet. For example, you can ask Kitestring via SMS to check up on you in a set time after which Kitesting sends you a text. If you do not reply, it will send a message you created to your emergency contact.
Anti-VAW Tech Use Technique 6: Social Media Awareness
Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have been used for years to spread awareness, tell women’s stories and engage the public. On-going campaigns such as #RedMyLips, #YesAllWomen and #EverydaySexism reach millions of people, attract the attention of mainstream media and get people talking. You can share your stories, experiences and thoughts on VAW and feminism via these and various other campaigns on social media, including #WhyIStayed, #MasculinitySoFragile, #NotBuyingIt and #RapeCultureIsWhen.
Anti-VAW Tech Use Technique 7: Staying Safe with Apps
There are apps for everything nowadays, so it is not surprising that there are numerous safety apps for women as well as apps that educate users about VAW and what they can do to prevent it. For example, Watch Over Me, Circle of 6 and Safetipin are good safety apps that allow users to quickly contact trusted friends or emergency numbers, or instruct the app to contact them in certain situations. The Love is Not Abuse app is aimed at educating teenagers about dating violence.
Anti-VAW Tech Use Technique 8: Helplines and Hotlines
Technology does not always have to be the latest to be effective. In rural areas around the world, phone technology is being used to provide national hotlines to provide counselling, support and advice to women and girls facing violence. In recent years, sophisticated computer systems linking phone networks has meant more efficient operations and more people assisted. In Palestine, the Women’s Protection Helpline and Child Protection Helpline also gather data on demographics of violence in the country. In Afghanistan, some cases handled by the first toll-free family support hotline, locally known as 6464, have seen legal action. You can help your local helpline by donating or volunteering your services.
Anti-VAW Tech Use Technique 9: Connecting Rural Women
Traditional systems of communication and information dissemination, such as radio broadcasts, are still widely used around the world. However, women in rural areas are less likely to have time and space to sit and listen to the radio because of their domestic workload. Innovative digital communication networks can help bring awareness and education to women and girls very rural areas where the majority of them are illiterate and may live without consistent access to electricity, which limits their connectivity to information technology. For example, US-based non-profit Media Matters for Women has initiated a project in rural Sierra Leone that links special radio broadcasting programmes with mobile phones to distribute critical news and information to women and girls about their rights and available support services
Anti-VAW Tech Use Technique 10: Holding Governments Accountable
A lot of the time, evidence of VAW is difficult to impossible to produce, meaning that women and girls are unable to lodge proper reports, bring perpetrators to justice or even escape from violence. Information communications technology can help bridge this gap by enabling organisations to strengthen documentation, reporting and monitoring processes of gender-based violence and use the evidence to put pressure on governments to deliver on commitments to combat and eliminate VAW. The Women’s Rights Programme of the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) partnered with local organisations in Cambodia and the Democratic Republic of Congo to do just this, using free and open source software to post information on an online interactive map.
Anti-VAW Tech Use Technique 11: Stripping the Social Acceptability of VAW
In most places in the world, VAW is not seen as a big problem for various reasons. Street harassment for example, is not seen as a problem and instead seen as ‘harmless teasing’ or ‘something that always happens’. Women do not come forward to authorities because of fear and a lack of proper reporting avenues, making VAW an invisible problem. Technology can go a long way to help bring VAW into the spotlight, from social media campaigns to apps and other software that allows reporting and data collection. HarassMap is one such tech – once a month, trained volunteers forming Community Action Teams go to local communities to talk to leaders about what they can do to stop street harassment, using data collected from HarassMap to inform and assist planning.
Anti-VAW Tech Use Technique 12: Hackathons Against VAW
The tech community plays an important role in developing tech tools to prevent and eventually end VAW. Hackathons, where the community gets together to raise awareness and develop new technology, are great ways to do this. In the past, hackathons have resulted in some innovative tech that have helped fight VAW. For example, in the World Health Organization’s Hackathon Against Domestic Violence, the winning team built an anonymous cyberspace forum for victims to learn from and share their experiences without having to give up their privacy. Other prototypes included a web and SMS-based app to alert trusted friends and family in the case of teenage girls being taken abroad and an SMS- and web-integrated hotline that provides information on gender-related violence and how to report an incident
Anti-VAW Tech Use Technique 13: Responsible Design
There are several ways responsible design can help in the fight against VAW: in the creative design of advertisement – educating the public about VAW or ensuring ads, packaging and other commercial items do not contain sexist or misogynistic messages – and in the design of apps and other tools women use to help them fight violence. One example of the former is the UN Women advertisement campaign that used real Google searches to show how widespread sexism and VAW is. As for the latter, responsible design is important to ensure vulnerable groups are not at risk from using apps and other tools. For instance, safety app Circle of 6 is designed to look like a social app so that you can use it in front of someone who is making you uncomfortable without them knowing what you are doing.
Anti-VAW Tech Use Technique 14: Challenging Stereotypes, 21st Century Style
Software development and programming are among the biggest industries today, so it is no wonder that education in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) are increasingly popular. These are traditionally seen as ‘masculine’ subjects and dominated by males in the workforce but more and more girls and women are challenging these stereotypes and breaking barriers. Organisations such as Girls Who Code bring education and awareness to the public about why it is important to provide equal opportunities in these areas for girls and provide avenues for that education. Global non-profit Girls In Tech focuses on girls and women who are passionate about technology and provides support and training for female entrepreneurs in the technology startup space.
VAW is a burden on healthcare worldwide but at the same time women who suffer from violence generally have little access to healthcare either because they live in remote or rural areas, or they are prevented from seeking healthcare. Mobile healthcare technology has made healthcare access easier for some of these women, and governments are now starting to train healthcare professionals to use mobile health tech to detect domestic abuse. For example, India’s Mobilise! programme trains nurses to identify women at risk of violence and encourage them to disclose their experiences. And in Indonesia, the government mobilised 100,000 midwives by providing them with up-to-date healthcare practices through an SMS programme called Bidan.
Anti-VAW Tech Use Technique 16: A Mobile Education
The mobile phone can be used as a standalone technology to enable girls in schools to improve their education and learning. According to UNESCO, which held its Mobile Learning Week in March, mobile learning can promote inclusion in education. Girls in some countries are unable to go to Internet cafes to access resources for school work, so a mobile phone becomes an essential tool for their education. Mobile learning is still a new concept, so it will take more research and definitely some government policy to develop local content and provide access to enable it to work where it is needed.