Uncovering and counseling domestic violence victims through the My Plan app

Uncovering and counseling domestic violence victims through the My Plan app

‘Has he threatened you with a gun?’ Is one of the questions a woman will be asked when she’s downloaded the domestic abuse counseling app My Plan.

“This scenario is more common on college campuses than we’d like to believe,” said the app’s co-founder, Nancy Glass.

Glass, who is a professor and associate dean for research at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing in the U.S., founded the app after 20 years of witnessing women navigate complex, potentially fatal, safety decisions with minimal formal help.

It was developed in partnership with the One Love Foundation, an organization that aims to eradicate relationship violence. The group was founded by Sharon Love, whose daughter, Yeardley, was murdered by an ex-boyfriend in 2010.

The tool, which has been piloted on U.S. college campuses, asks women a series of questions about their situation. Then with input from professionals via a live chat function, shows a woman how to consider possible choices for action, developing a tailored safety plan and linking her to local resources.

“She could get help to move accommodation, and she may get a protection order, among other things. Often people just aren’t aware of the help out there and how to access it,” says Glass, who is a also professor at the Bloomberg School of Public Health.

According to the United Nations, at least one in three women will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, mostly by an intimate partner.

“The questions in My Plan start women thinking about what constitutes a healthy relationship; to look at jealousy and controlling behavior. Women tell us that by using it their concerns have been validated, they’ve understood how dangerous their situation is and that things could have ended very badly if they’d not found the app,” she says.

Since launching at the start of 2014 in partnership with the One Love Foundation, My Plan has been downloaded nearly 15,000 times via iTunes and Android platforms – with nearly 6,000 of those happening in the first few months of 2016.

A study, with a sample of 725 U.S.-based users over 12 months, showed that it had assisted high-risk women with the resources they needed to safely leave their abuser, reducing their exposure to sexual and psychological intimate partner violence.

“It’s very different to just googling what’s out there,” says Glass. “In our pilot, we compared the difference for a woman using the app as opposed  to searching online and using domestic violence and safety websites. Women using the app, of all ages, reported more clarity and understanding of their core values and priorities and felt more equipped to make decisions. Most importantly, those that left their partner, were able to do so safely, which isn’t always the case.

My Plan has so far been launched in Canada, Australia and New Zealand as well as the US. But, knowing that gender-based violence is a monumental problem globally, undermining peace, equality and healthy lives, the app has been designed to be easily adapted for new populations and settings, as resource become available.

As a finalist for the Womanity Foundation award, Glass and her colleagues are hoping to win the US$300,000 prize money, plus support from Womanity’s networks and knowledge-base, to branch out to new countries and communities.

They are currently developing My Plan in Somalia and Kenya’s refugee communities, through a partnership with the International Committee for the Development of Peoples (known as CISP).

The Italian NGO has deep experience in working with gender-based violence in East Africa.

“We are interested in speaking to development organisations in diverse settings in low and middle income areas around the world to grow this,” says Glass.

There are some barriers in Somalia, she explains. Certain terrorist groups have cut access to 3G. But there are other potential wifi options and the team is looking at using clinics to house wifi hotspots.

Francesco Njagi Kaburu, regional program manager for protection at the CISP East Africa Office, says the app has promising potential as part of a drive to de-normalise gender-based violence in East Africa.

“The first thing is to convince someone about the importance of such an app,” he explains. “Many times social workers tell us women are not aware of how bad a situation was or could become.

“In Mogadishu, where we’re looking to first trial the app, the level of capacity for self assessment is very, very low. Domestic violence is taken for granted – women think that if their husband doesn’t beat them he doesn’t love them; that it’s a positive form of discipline.”

To achieve scale, the two organisations are working with the Somalian government to ensure its early acceptance of the project.

As time goes on, CISP staff will also work with the country’s Ministry of Health so that My Plan can be run through health clinics. The aim is then to take the app to as many difficult and low resourced settings as possible around Africa and around the world.

Featured Image: One Love/
Source: TechCrunch

There’s an online soccer game used to fight gender based violence

There’s an online soccer game used to fight gender based violence

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In a scene that might have been plucked straight out of Grand Theft Auto, the online game BREAKAWAY culminates with a girl being abducted, forced into a locker and left there after continual bullying and abuse.

But the game is not glamorizing gangs, instead it’s trying to teach boys and girls between the ages of 9 and15 what constitutes –- or doesn’t constitute — a healthy, equal attitude towards girls and women.

The game has been played in 185 countries since it was created by students and staff at the Emergent Media Center (EMC) at Champlain College, USA, six years ago. It has also led to real life football camps promoting women’s rights in places including El Salvador and the Palestinian territories.

The latter location is especially boundary-pushing as it saw boys and girls playing soccer together for the first time in Hebron, challenging social norms in the West Bank. 

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Throughout the game, the player is asked to make positive or negative choices around sexist behaviors via a series of soccer and cultural challenges.

Their actions have impact and affect how well they score in the game.

The development of BREAKAWAY was a huge team effort, with over 150 US and international students shaping it. Funding came from the United Nations Development Programme and extra support from behaviour change experts, the Population Media Center.

The BREAKAWAY database so far shows that 86% of people playing the game end up making more positive than negative choices around how to treat girls and women. Those who make the positive choices win the game.

Research in 2013 and 2014 by Dr Hua Wang, from the Buffalo State University of New York, demonstrated that the game had a profound impact on participants’ awareness and attitudes, and also indicated behavioral change.

To grow the reach of the game, the team plans to work with international sport for development organization Grassroots Soccer (GRS) – set up by four professional soccer players in 2002. GRS has reached more than one million young people around the world with its HIV and gender-based violence prevention programs, using soccer-based behavior change activities and community soccer clubs.

Image of girls playing the BREAKAWAY game. Photo courtesy of Champlain College.

Image of girls playing the BREAKAWAY game. Photo courtesy of Champlain College.

The partnership hopes to win the Womanity Award 2016 – meaning a prize of US$300,000, to develop a mobile version of the game and a localized narrative, specifically for South African townships. 

As well as running camps, it hopes to offer tablets and equipment for locals to experience the game, and to modernize the technology used for a more tech-savvy generation.

Calming levels of gender-based violence in a hugely patriarchal society such as South Africa is a big task. A woman is killed by an intimate partner at least every eight hours in the country, according to a 2013 study. This was double the rate of such murders in the United States according to the study.

Another study in 2010 by the same council saw 37% percent of men in the country’s Gauteng Province admit they had raped a woman.

Shockingly, interviews with 511 women and 487 men for the study, also saw 87% of men and 58% of women agree that “a woman should obey her husband”.

BREAKAWAY and Grassroot Soccer believe they can play an important part in shifting the prevalent, harmful gender norms in South Africa among a new generation of young people. The task is urgent and we believe the universal language of soccer could play a vital role.

Source: TechCrunch

Tactical Technology educates women’s rights advocates on online safety

Tactical Technology educates women’s rights advocates on online safety

Progressive women’s advocates doing controversial work are often at risk of physical violence and online harassment because of their online presence. 

In order to help those advocates navigate social media safely, Tactical Technology launched to ensure that, in an increasingly digital age, they don’t end up more vulnerable than ever.

“For some women who are politically active and vocal, there may be intimidation online, for others it may be more serious – like threats to kill their children,” says Maya Indira Ganesh, director of applied research at Tactical Technology, a Berlin-based organization supporting and educating human rights defenders on how to use technology safely.

The group helps women like Nataly, who works for a women’s rights organisation in the Caucasus, on the border of Europe and Asia. Her organization provides safe spaces for women who are fleeing abusive situations.

As her organization moved towards using more social media and online outreach, their progressive work generated controversy locally, and after setting up a series of campaigns on Facebook, the members began receiving threats, and in some instances were the victims of physical violence.

Things moved offline to street protests with the organization being accused of disrupting family values because of its untraditional opinions about women’s rights.

The team quickly tried to find out how to use some basic digital, as well as physical security protocols. “We started exchanging information and doing things that are obvious, like changing passwords, thinking about what to put online and what not to, how to deal with comments on Facebook and how to monitor ourselves more,” says Nataly.

They worked with other local women’s groups who were being threatened and set up a secret Facebook group to document attacks. Tracking incidents together enabled them to find common patterns in the behaviors of their harassers, trace who was responsible, and reduce the attacks.

That’s only one example of aid Tactical Technology provides. In 2014, the group set up a global Gender and Tech Pop Up Institute –  a mainly virtual gathering of feminists and human rights defenders who teach each other protective cyber tools and tactics so they can continue their work.

“There is a huge risk of women’s voices being silenced as they censor themselves online, fearing for their safety,” warns Ganesh.

News reports point towards a new epidemic. In March, the online security firm Norton found, in a survey of 1,000 Australian women, that online harassment of females is at risk of becoming “an established norm in our digital society.”

Nearly half the respondents had experienced some form of abuse or harassment online. Among women under 30, the figure jumped to 76%. 

In the same week, Honduras saw one of its prominent feminist activists and environmental defenders, Berta Caceres, assassinated. She had known her life was in grave danger.

The Institute is ensuring more and more women are equipped in the fight against this epidemic. In 2015, Tactical Tech reached over 5,000 human rights defenders, activists, journalists and others directly through trainings, workshops, talks and cultural events. Online resources were accessed 2.5 million times.

Anyone can download many of the tools recommended, such as Security In A Box and Exposing the Visible to find out how to use privacy enhancing tools and tactics.

The organization is now looking to link up with the Just Associates Network, which has substantial reach in Central America. It’s a new but vital territory and significant hot spot for the Institution. Patriarchal norms are rife and El Salavador, for example, has the highest rate of femicide of any country in the world. ()

Technology used tactically can and will advance society towards a more equal and peaceful place, we deeply feel this. Tactical Tech is enabling the brave women of our world who are risking everything to make earth a better place for us all, to do their work as safely as possible.

Source: TechCrunch

Digital and visible this is a new era for women online

Digital and visible this is a new era for women online

At the end of 2014, Facebook, Twitter and Youtube were all given an ‘F’ grade for the way they dealt with – or rather, didn’t deal with – online violence against women. Sexism, abusive language and death threats were all included.

The social media platforms were found to be lacking in transparency and accused of only taking such issues seriously when media picked up on the situation. But a growing movement of women is challenging global technology companies and empowering themselves and each other to be safer online.

Take Back the Tech! (TBTT) is an expanding group of women active in 16 countries. They are set on reclaiming online space, making the net safer and more representative, as well as a place for women to thrive and change the world.

They’re making progress in a number of areas. Facebook and Twitter agreed to offer more protection for women’s freedom of speech, and freedom from violence, TBTT’s Pakistan partner Bytes for All has become a Twitter safety partner.

Small but significant wins for TBTT, founded by the Association of Progressive Communications.
Social media and the opportunities it offers for revenge pornography, cyberstalking and surveillance, are only one part of the problem, however.

Across the world there are 200 million fewer women online than men, meaning men have more chance to present their own perspective online and hold even more power over women, according to the group.

Part of TTBT’s work is to get more women online and trained in new technologies so they can have a louder voice. It also seeks recognition for women’s achievements in ICT and in all areas of life, and for these achievements to be fairly documented on Wikipedia history pages.

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Over 16 days of campaigning in 2015, TBTT’s Latin American campaign reached 1.5 million people on Twitter to raise awareness of tech-related violence against women.

At the same time, 70 women took digital rights and online security workshops in Colombia and 26 women took the first Women Rock IT five-day training on technology and violence against women in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, nearly 5,000 students were trained in privacy and tech-related gender violence.

There is a huge amount of work to plough on with. In particular, it will next deepen its work in Latin America. The organisation will be seeking positive cultural change in societies where violence and disrespect for women are ingrained. El Salvador, for example, has the highest femicide rate of every country in the world according to a report in 2012.

TBTT will work with La Sandia Digital, which runs popular weekly feminist internet TV program Luchadoras, and supports women in Latin America to produce their own films documenting experiences around sexism. Films such as Living in Darkness which show how women are criminalised for not fulfilling oppressive roles around marriage and motherhood.

TBTT has urgent work to do to get women equipped and ready to create a more inclusive, fairer and peaceful future. The internet is shaped constantly by making and sharing content. Occupying this from a feminist perspective amplifies women’s narratives, according to La Sandia.

“Violence against women and girls online is increasing,” says Lulú V. Barrera, founder of Luchadoras. “We want to break down stereotypes of women.”

Sarah Baker, TBTT coordinator is buoyed to see social media platforms starting to listen, but they’re only just scratching the surface, she says. “Simply expressing an intention to make changes is often followed very, very slowly by actual policy or mechanism changes. And then some seem to move backwards. Google, for example has recently hired the founder of 4chan, a site that is notorious for online abuse.”

As technology changes by the second, there is a long and persistent journey ahead, but knowing that such organizations are relentless in their efforts to free girls and women from oppression can offer some comfort. It is essential that this peace-building work continues with full speed.

Source: TechCrunch