Gender-based violence is a global problem, and, in many ways, new media and technology have provided new paths for perpetrators. From social media to GPS tracking, abusers have used technology to monitor, harass, threaten, intimidate and stalk victims, and this online violence against women and girls is rising around the world. But efforts are also being made to use emerging technological tools to respond to the pandemic of gender-based violence, most commonly by providing information and services to survivors.
In the U.S., Latin America and beyond, innovators have been working with trained professionals, like social workers, psychologists and legal experts, to design mobile applications and products to help women and girls escape abusive relationships, notify loved ones if they feel unsafe and help them reclaim their lives after violence.
Below, find some tech startups operating in the U.S. and Latin America that aim to reduce violence against women and help survivors lead safe and healthy lives.
According to the United Nations, a woman is abused in Brazil every 15 seconds, making it one of the most dangerous countries for women and girls in the world. In 2016, Gabriela Corrêa was harassed by a driver while using a taxi-hailing app in São Paulo. Upon dropping the young woman off at her destination, the driver told her, “I will wait for you outside, because you will be drunk later and I will take advantage of you.” Terrified by the experience, and the stories of other women who had encountered intimidation and violence while using public transportation, Corrêa was inspired to create LadyDriver, a Brazilian car-hailing app that only accepts women passengers and hires women drivers. With tens of thousands of drivers and hundreds of thousands of downloads in São Paulo, the app has been welcomed among women in the city. It has also inspired another similar all-women service in Brazil, FemiTaxi.
Across Latin America, similar women-only taxi services exist, including LauDrive in Mexico, She Taxi in Argentina and She Drives Us in Chile. In the U.S, ride-hailing apps like SheRides (available in New York) and Safr (operating in Orlando) are also popping up, and they’re centering vulnerable populations. For example, while Safr has temporarily stopped providing rides and deliveries amid the Covid-19 pandemic, it is still offering its services to battered and abused women through partner institutions.
2. Háblame de Respeto
In El Salvador, femicide, the murder of a woman because of her gender, occurs about once every 24 hours. In 2017, a national study found that 67% of women have suffered some form of violence, like sexual assault or family abuse, in her lifetime. Violence is so prevalent that the Central American country is the only nation in the world to have a law against “femicide suicide,” the crime of driving a woman to suicide because of abuse. With up-to-date government data around the problem of gender-based violence in El Salvador hard to come by, a group of journalists looking for responsible management of this information took the matter into their own hands in 2014 when they created Háblame de Respeto. Using data journalism and storytelling, the group of reporters, under the Latitudes Foundation, created a portal and platform to study violence against women in El Salvador and make the information accessible to everyday people in the country.
Intimate partner violence is a public health crisis in the United States. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, nearly 20 people are physically abused by a partner every minute. Data shows that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men experience some form of intimate partner violence during their lifetime. One of the biggest reasons women stay in abusive relationships is because of financial dependence. In fact, when survivors leave their violent partner, they often have little to no cash, credit cards or bank accounts in their name. Learning about this financial abuse and instability, Sonya Passi created FreeForm, a startup that financially empowers survivors by helping them get compensation for their most pressing needs, like medical bills and property costs, and teaching them money and entrepreneurial tools to obtain financial independence.
4. No Estoy Sola
Ciudad Juárez, a city in northern Mexico, has long been called “the capital of murdered women.” From 1993 to 2005, more than 370 women were killed in the border town. An app called No Estoy Sola is hoping to protect the vulnerable population. The application, which acts as a panic button, can be downloaded on mobile devices. Whenever someone feels unsafe, they can shake their phones or click on a button that will alert their emergency contacts, which they set up ahead of time, with a message saying they are in danger along with their location. The same message is sent out to the contact every five to 10 minutes until the user deactivates it.
5. Não Me Calo
Back in Brazil, another app, Não Me Calo (I Will Not Shut Up), is encouraging women and girls to use their voices in order to keep others safe. The mobile app, which was created by Brazilian girls and won the Global Fund for Women’s International Girls Hackathon, ranks how safe users feel in certain establishments. Its primary goal is to warn women to avoid certain clubs, restaurants or businesses where they experienced harassment, intimidation or violence. However, the founders also hope that a bad ranking on the Yelp-like app can motivate business owners to take steps to alleviate the problem.
Like the No Estoy Sola mobile app in Ciudad Juárez, Revolver is essentially a panic button. However, this U.S.-founded gadget doesn’t require a cellphone. An oval-shaped clicker, Revolar can attach to a set of keys or can clip onto jeans or undergarments. The two-setting device sends out an alert to designated contacts when the user feels unsafe. A yellow alert, for instance, will send a message to their contacts with their location and a note expressing concern. A red alert, however, will indicate that the user needs serious and immediate help. The app was created by Colombian-American Andrea Perdomo, whose grandmother was kidnapped in the South American country, and Jacqueline Ros, whose sister was assaulted twice.
While Paladin wasn’t created to serve survivors of gender-based violence, the startup is helping women in major ways. A justice tech company, Paladin is a portal that brings together legal teams looking to run more efficient pro bono programs with hotlines and organizations that help vulnerable communities gain legal representation and support. According to co-founder and COO Kristen Sonday, who’s part-Puerto Rican, the portal has been particularly helpful to communities amid the Covid-19 pandemic, especially for domestic violence survivors who were forced to isolate with abusers.
Like Paladin, Mediconfia wasn’t created with the objective of helping survivors of gender-based violence; however, the digital platform, which connects individuals in Colombian cities like Cali, Medellín and Bogotá with gynecologists and allows them to rate their experience, has proven beneficial to women who have experienced sexual abuse or intimate partner violence and need a trustworthy health professional to confide in.
9. Vantage Point
While Vantage Point doesn’t directly help survivors, it does provide a solution to workplace harassment. According to the Pew Research Center, 69% of women have been sexually harassed in a professional setting. However, about 72% of survivors never report the harassment. Vantage Point is a sexual harassment training solution for corporations that uses virtual reality to educate employees on the identification of sexual harassment, bystander intervention and response training. For example, using photo-realistic characters, it immerses trainees in experiences where their personal space is being invaded or they are talked to or gazed at aggressively. The startup, founded by Morgan Mercer, a biracial woman of color who experienced and witnessed racial microaggressions, also uses emerging technology to communicate the nuances of diversity, equity and inclusion.
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