Mobile App Helps Women Report Abuse in India

By Melanie Abzug

Responding to India’s high rate of violence against women and low rate of reporting, a Mumbai NGO recently launched an Android app that enables virtual reporting of incidents by trained volunteers. Part of the Society for Nutrition, Education and Health Actions (SNEHA)’s “Little Sister Project” with UNDP, the app is called EyeWatch. It began operations in Mumbai’s multi-ethnic Dharavi slum in 2014.

In India 43.6 percent of gender-related crimes are committed by a husband or relative of the victim. This fact, along with societal stigmas applied to victims of sexual assault, often discourages reporting. SNEHA’s initiative seeks to encourage reporting while providing complementary training for women and building cooperation with the police. The initiative has trained 160 local women called “sanginis” so far on how to properly identify and report cases of violence. Sanginis can use their mobile devices to record incidents they witness on the spot. In other cases they are approached by survivors or hear about incidents and then approach the women to provide assistance with reporting. Survivors are also connected with trained professionals who offer medical and legal support.

In slums like Dharavi, it can be difficult to deliver public goods and services.  Apps like EyeWatch can help bridge this gap.

In slums like Dharavi, it can be difficult to deliver public goods and services– apps like EyeWatch can help bridge this gap.

In addition, 4,500 police officers and more than 2,100 public hospital staff have been trained to identify domestic abuse. Incidents are stored in SNEHA’s database, which helps the organization map violence assist NGOs to understand the situation in the community.Today, three-quarters of the global population has access to some form of mobile communication, creating new possibilities for solutions to development challenges. Apps like EyeWatch are bringing information about child nutrition to mothers, providing literacy programs to the uneducated, and offering reporting outlets to corruption-ridden communities all over the world.

One example is a partnership among the Indian Academy of Pediatrics, UNICEF, HealthPhone and Vodafone that educates women in rural communities on the prevention of malnutrition in children through videos on mobile phones. Another example is the ipaidabribe app, which allows any citizen to report their experiences with corruption. Today, over $10.3 million in bribes have been reported.

However, mobile technology is not a panacea for development challenges. Of the 345 cases analyzed by SNEHA from July to December 2014, only 19 percent of cases were reported to police. This is unsurprising given low conviction rates associated with gender violence in India.

Before apps can achieve their full potential impact, underlying structural and societal challenges must be addressed. Structurally, mechanisms must be introduced to make reporting of crimes and following through on punishments for offenders easier throughout the developing world. Most importantly, as gender-based violence is often related to societal power dynamics that dictate the roles and expectations of men and women, the root causes of discrimination must be addressed in a systemic way.

Mobile apps may inform and empower communities, but this does not guarantee their desired impact will be achieved. For example, once women in rural communities watch a streamed video about nutrition on their mobile device, how do we insure that the knowledge is applied to their children’s diet? Once a bribe has been reported through an anonymous reporting app, how does this help prevent another similar bribe from occurring?

These are tough questions, and they require informed and local answers. Once NGOs and governments determine specific challenges to progress in communities and incentives for participation in e-governance, apps like EyeWatch can be an important part of operationalizing a solution.

Melanie Abzug is a researcher with the Project on U.S. Leadership in Development.

Photo: “Dharavi Slum” by Jon Hurd – originally posted to Flickr as Dharavi Slum. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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