Violence Against Women (VAW) is a global problem. as you know, an estimated 35% of women globally have experienced violence or abuse. How do we reach out to these women? How do we prevent others from becoming victims? how do we protect victims that are unreachable? Different strategies have been used in the past and as much as there have been progress, the reality is a lot still needs to be done to end widespread VAW, especially so in remote areas of the globe. As I write this piece, a woman is enduring abuse; violence is being committed against another, while one will die as a result of a violence committed against her. It is because of these reasons that I am suggesting that organizations working to end VAW consider using WhatsApp.
According to internet world statistics, as of June 2014, there is an estimated 3 billion internet users in the world with a 70% usage in Europe, 87.7% in North America and 26.5 % in Africa. As of December 2014, WhatsApp was the most popular mobile messenger apps in the world with an average monthly usage of 600 million.
In Qatar, a 2014 study by the country’s ministry of information and communications technology shows that WhatsApp is the leading social media network used by people with a usage of 87% of Qatar’s total internet population. Out of eight services studied, WhatsApp emerged as the leading with a total of 97% usage by all Qataris online. In the same vein, a 2014 global Webindex study shows that WhatsApp was the most popular mobile application in India with a market share of 52%. Sexual violence is considered to be the most common form of VAW in India. Isn’t it time to use this application to protect another woman from violence?
As we already know, one in three women still experience physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner. Because this violence is perpetrated by the persons they love, it makes it difficult for women to come forward to report. Moreover, the fear of repercussions from perpetrators and stigma from families and communities also pressure victims to keep quiet. Yet, women and children suffer abuse especially in rural communities. And it is because of this that I believe copying and bettering the case of the BBC WhatsApp information service for Ebola by organizations will be a very useful tool to ending VAW.
The BBC setup this service in September 2014. As the vastest chat application in Africa, the BBC thought it could provide adequate public health information. I think organizations working to end VAW could do the same to halt this inhuman act against women.
Local people were key to understanding the nature of the epidemic and the interactive nature of WhatsApp enhances this possibility. According to the BBC apps editor Trushar Barot, “We quickly realised that a lot of the questions users were sending in were practical concerns that we hadn’t really understood in our broader coverage of the story”. Organizations can collect valuable information including questions from women who experience or have experienced VAW and this can help in planning programmes for victims of VAW, prepare campaign tips on signs of abuse. These information can also help in advocacy with governments and international agencies to ensure policy changes, since victims will be feeding in firsthand information on how, when, where and why it happens.
The BBC service provided a bilingual service; in English and French to cover its coverage area. This is important in allowing people to freely communicate in ‘vernacular’ languages unlike in other social media forum where they could feel intimidated by fluent English or French speakers. This is a strategy organizations can tap on to provide the right message for indigenous people. Many rural women in developing countries are uneducated; therefore audio and or video messaging in the language they understand best will be most appropriate. They can also send audio messages once they witness violence or realise someone is being abused.
WhatsApp is a good platform for crowd-sourcing. For instance the BBC used personal, real life and witnesses stories that enhanced their coverage on TV, radio and online. Barot states that they“.... received many messages that gave us real insights into what it was like living in the region and the difficulties and challenges people faced.” Campaigns and advocacy against VAW could be expanded to reach the wider public and yet keeping it private and anonymous. This service could include, getting alerts when abuse occur, teach women what to do when it happens and how they can teach other women.
However, the BBC service could not upload video clip on the consideration that the files may be too big for subscribers’ data limits. This is a very good consideration organizations should take on board. Hence if any organization decides to use WhatsApp for their daily updates to subscribers, they should be aware that unlike other social media forums, providing too many updates in a day could put subscribers off. Information and campaign tips and advice should be short, succinct and to the point thereby keeping subscribers interests. For example the BBC Ebola service focuses on three types of contents: text messages, pictures/visuals and short audio clips. In the case for VAW, it can be broaden to include video.
A Reuters Institute digital news report stated that a good number of young people in the America and Europe relied on their smart phones for daily news updates. Organizations working against VAW should collaborate with media institutions to involve campaign tips to their daily news updates on WhatsApp.
WhatsApp processes about 50 billion messages from its 450 million users daily. This shows that the application is a real contender in the information dissemination business and thus should be embraced to enhance currency, efficiency and effectiveness of campaigns against VAW.
This service can be used by the Police and all organizations and institutions working to end VAW. Organizations could fashion it to meet with their functions towards ending VAW. For instance a campaigning organization can collect reports through their WhatsApp service which they could share with the police. I believe this will go a long to help prevent more women suffering violence.Voices Against Gender-Based Violence