Student Develop GBV App to Stem Rising Cases of Abuse. 5/8/2016

Published by AWCFS

Dr. Damaris Parsitau, Director of the Institute of Women, Gender and Development Studies at the Egerton University

The
rising cases of physical and sexual violence in Kenya have inspired
students at Egerton University to develop an anti-GBV application called
‘Bonga’ meaning ‘Speak Up’.

The seven Computer Science students have collaborated with varsity’s
Institute of Women, Gender and Development to develop the app which is
available on Android phones and constitutes of both educative and
preventive features.

The educative platform includes information on monitoring danger
levels to GBV, how to be safe and get help from the police and health
officers as well as counselling.

The Institute of Women, Gender and Development was involved in
identifying the relevant information and packaging it into usable form.
The app also provides hotline number used to reach the Gender Recovery
Centre and one can easily call directly from the platform.

The preventive feature offers creation of an emergency contact list
called safety circle. These are the people the user can urgently reach
out to using a ‘Please Call Me’ message or chat request when in danger.

“Those selected receive messages to notify them that they have been
selected to be his or her emergency contacts and so when they receive
notifications from the user, they surely know it is urgent and must
respond quickly,” explained Cliff Moturi, the lead student.

Access

Moturi said the app uses GPS to locate the person in danger and sends the details to contacts in the safety circle.


Cliff Moturi, the lead student in the development of the Bonga app

“It can be used on offline mode. All one needs to have is credit but
that should not be a problem since these days data bundles come with
free texts,” he said.

“Furthermore, the emergency contact needs not to have an Android
phone or download the application. But his or her phone must be able to
receive texts and chat requests which are sent as short messages,” he
explained.

The students now join the league of non-state actors, development
partners, researchers, scholars, feminists and gender activists devoted
to reducing the high prevalence rates of GBV in Kenya.

Worryingly is the fact that students in the higher learning
institutions are falling victims of the violence indicating a need for
collaborative efforts to tackle the vice. In the past five years, at
least five students from local universities have been reported in the
media to have died from either form of the GBV.

“We must be able to talk about it. I have witnessed cases of physical
abuse and I am aware of sexual assault incidents not only in the
university but also where I come from,” said Moturi.

Target

They came up with Bonga with the students being their main target but Moturi says its impact best fits the local and international community.

“We were looking at the university students whom we have realized are
at the high risk of GBV and fall within the age bracket which studies
indicate are more vulnerable to the violence,” said Moturi.

“However, GBV is so rampant in the local communities and our plan is
to work with the community leaders to sensitise the people and encourage
them to use it,” he added.

At least 38 percent of women aged between 15 and 49 report physical
violence and 14 percent sexual violence based on the 2014 findings by
the Kenya Domestic Household Survey.

However, men are too fast falling victims as indicated by the National Crime and Research Centre.

In its 2015 release on GBV figures, the entity shows that men have
higher prevalence rates than women standing at 48.6 percent against 37.7
percent for women.

Even so UN Women notes that women are more exposed to gender based violence due to their high levels of poverty.

Technology is the new dynamic option for addressing issues of gender
based violence in the Kenyan society, argues Dr. Damaris Parsitau,
Director of the Institute of Women, Gender and Development Studies at
Egerton University.

“I believe technology is the solution since we can reach people at
every corner of this nation. Majority of people now own mobile phones,”
stated Dr. Parsitau.

Support


Screen capture of the app’s homepage. Photos: Glady’s Obiria

She says the app would go a long way in reducing the incidents of
violence and offering psychosocial assistance to the victims since their
privacy and confidentially is guaranteed.

The chats and messages sent from the app are encrypted and no other person can access them except the intended recipient.

“The people who have gone through GBV find it so difficult to talk
about it. I receive a lot of cases of that nature and sometimes it takes
a lot of cajoling for someone to open up,” she said.

“Bu the app offers that anonymity and confidentiality that the victim
feels secure as she or he gets the free counselling,” said Dr. Parsitau
while noting that the university’s chaplain and counsellors from
Counselling department will be involved in offering the psychosocial
support.

Although there have been significant improvement in handling of the
GBV cases within the police and medical service, more push for gender
mainstreaming and responsiveness is needed to create a safe environment
for women and men, she said.

She said they will be working with other partners in the anti-GBV fight to promote use of the app in both urban and rural areas.

Forms of GBV are outrightly outlawed in Kenya through the Sexual
Offences Act and Protection Against Domestic Violence Act, reinforcing
the rights of women as equal beings as grounded in the Convention on
Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.