Hackathon Aims to Address “Violence Against Women”

Hackathon Aims to Address “Violence Against Women”

Working with Google Developer Group, The Asia Foundation co-organized the Google Developer Festival (DevFest) in Phnom Penh on October 28th and 29th. The festival, which takes place annually, featured various breakout sessions on the latest technology to students and professionals who are interested in technology and a hackathon competition under the theme “Ending Violence Against Women”.

Mr. Silas Everett, Country Representative of The Asia Foundation in Cambodia, gave an opening remark at DevFest 2016. Photo Credit: Google Developer Group
Mr. Seila Sar, Research Officer at the Asia Foundatin in Cambodia, gave a presentation on the Portray of Violence Against Women in Cambodian TVs during one of the breakout sessions

Tucked away in one room that was separate from all the breakout sessions were IT students and young professionals working on an innovative solution to address a pressing concern in Cambodia’s society today- violence against women.Instead of attending breakout sessions, these young techies worked on a mobile app idea in hopes  “Ending Violence Against Women”. They did not have all the answers, but there were gender and tech experts ready to assist them when they needed help. In less than 48 hours, they were expected to produce a working app to present to a panel of judges consisting of leaders in tech and gender issues.

Participants of the hackathon arrived in the early morning to receive a training on design sprint by Yohan Totting, Developer Outreach Lead for The Asia Foundation and Google Developer Expert for Web.
Some of the faces of the DevFest “hackers”.

Prior to the hackathon day, the teams were also trained in design thinking, a process of developing mobile apps that is also documented in the VXW App Toolkit. The teams were made aware of the existing apps that tackle the issue of violence against women as listed in the App Inventory. Some of their original ideas had changed/been refined after consulting with their mentors. By the second day of the hackathon, the teams had formed concrete ideas and plan, and they were facilitated by professionals with relevant experience in gender issues and app development. They had one more task at hand- preparing for their presentation which would determine the winners of the hackathon.

Judges of DevFest 2016 Hackathon. Photo Credit: Google Developer Group

There were a lot of ideas focusing on various aspects of the issue such as security, consultation, knowledge distribution, and behavioral change. At the end, three winning teams were announced. Each has a distinctive idea and they were evaluated based on impact, technical feasibility, originality, design, and the presentation. The three apps that brought home the prize were:

1. Saffy: an app that helps prevent violence in the family by creating a reporting tool to nearby authorities by the Internet or through an sms if the Internet is not available at that time.
2. Women Assistant: an app that acts as a personal assistant to women who wants to get advice, legal documents, and a social platform in which women can share advice and experiences anonymously.
3. Change: a gaming app that creates aims at behavioral change.For example, a wife can challenge her husband to certain tasks such as not drinking or helping with dishes. The more tasks he completes, the more points the husband will get. He can also compete among other husband/boyfriends to get the “Best Man” title.


Stop Harassing Me Now App “How It Helps Women in the U.S Stops Harassment”

Stop Harassing Me Now App “How It Helps Women in the U.S Stops Harassment”

By Setha Rath

“Almost thirty years ago, I received a voice message from one of my contractors. He did not hang up the phone properly for about 60 minutes, so I heard the sound of him beating his wife. I took the record to neighborhood police and we listened together. They advised me to destroy the tape because they have already helped her and she was totally okay. She even said that she just fell down the stairs. I felt powerless and it stuck with me for quite a long time,” said Brain Rohlfing – the Founder of Stop Harassing Me Now App. Watchdog Creative has created an app and website in October, 2015 to help and empower people to retain evidence if they are being harassed or abused and then they take it to a counsellor, therapist, attorney or family to check in and do something about it. The app easily retains a user-identified harasser’s messages, conversations, and call history to preserve them in the company’s secured cloud and ensure their admissibility in court. Even if a user’s phone is stolen, destroyed, failed, crashed or lost, the app can get past all of these problems. The app’s main target audience is women and children. Kids can use this app to report bullies to school principals by gathering all bullied phone calls and text messages as evidence. This mobile tech initiative helps vulnerable women and children stop all form of violence, abuse and harassment through a secure reporting system.

During the interview, Brain shared us one of the success stories of Stop Harassing Me Now App. A woman was threatened by a contractor who had all the money she paid for the construction project. He talked to her on phone and said if she did not pay him more money, he would not come to finish the remaining work. While speaking on a phone, she told the contractor that she used Stop Harassing Me Now App and everything he said, had been recorded and sent to the cloud. He started feeling nervous and said sorry to her and promised to send her money back. This has been a success as women feel more empowered to stop all forms of harassment and inform the counsellor and attorney to do something about it.

On the other hand, this app has a unique story of user testing. Instead of inviting potential users to test the app, Brian invited his colleagues and friends to the party. He intended to use this party as user testing for app in a real time situation. His colleagues and friends were not aware of that. Some people were told to download this app in advance and use it if harassment occurred during the party. Brain observed people using this app and how they reacted to it, in order to gather feedback.

Having carefully thought about the app, its name is associated with sensitive connotation which could provoke the perpetrator to destroy the evidence. Brian told us through the interview that Stop Harassing Me Now will be rebranded to Pyngby real soon. Pnyby is drived from Chinese language which means shield for the harassed and abused. Brian believes that this new version cannot be recognized easily by perpetrators. Regarding this new version, it will allow people to test it on Facebook, specifically gathering Facebook calls and messages as evidence. What is more, users will have the ability to record face to face conversation by pressing the home screen to activate the app. One of its new features is to send messages to family and friends quickly attached with the location that users are in.

Based on the statistics on www.pewinternet.org, nearly two-thirds of Americans are now smartphone owners, and for many these devices are a key entry point to the online world, therefore leveraging mobile technology may contribute to reduce harassment, bullying and abuse. More functions and features will be added to the new version of the app in order to ensure that it is highly secured and safe for users. Users will have the ability to hide the app as well as billing information as necessary. This prevents the abusers knowing that they are using this app. Developing Android app is much easier than iPhone app as it allows more flexibility within the design. During the app development process of the new version, the team is committed to making the app very simple since the current version is not very user friendly, as told by Brian. He added that even though Watchdog Creative is a for-profit company, they still provide app to those who cannot afford the services. “Money is not the big problem for us, because we created this tool to help people who are in need of support,” Brian added. Watchdog Creative has been working with a few non-profit organizations such as Megan Meier Foundation, Lydia’s House and Avenue Counselling Center to ensure that every aspect is included. He hopes that in the future he can engage more independent therapists and lawyers to represent vulnerable women and reaching out to those in need across the border. Up until now, the app has a growing number of users and available to download for both iOS and Android. Check it out and stay tune for its new version, Pnyby!

Setha Rath is a Program Officer at The Asia Foundation. She can be contacted at setha.rath@asiafoundation.org.

An App to Screen Abusive Relationships, 1 In 3 Be Free

An App to Screen Abusive Relationships, 1 In 3 Be Free

By Setha Rath

Is it okay if your boyfriend checks messages in your phone periodically? Or prevents you from talking to other men? These are signs of emotional abuse. The term Abusive relationship does not only refer to physical violence, but also emotional, economic, psychological and sexual abuse. Violence against women is a global issue. In New Zealand, 1 in 3 women experience an act of physical and/or sexual violence from a partner or ex-partner in their lifetime, according the statistics of New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse Organization in 2015. As the statistic suggests, women in both developed and developing countries are vulnerable to various types of violence and ranging in severity. However, all women need education and support to help them better understand their relationships and seek help from support services in their areas.

Now, in New Zealand, women can screen their relationship status through a mobile application which helps them to identify if their partner (boyfriend, husband or ex) is using abusive behaviours. This app called 1 in 3 Be Free – an app to screen relationship for abuse, initiated by Inner City Women Group, an organization that provides support and education to women affected by violence. This app has series of questions to determine what kind of situation a woman is in. It has a power control wheel’s user interface (as you can see in figure 1) which allows women to identify if any of the various types of violence are present in her relationship.  The questions are based around examples of behaviors an abusive man might use. When users finish answering a series of questions the App provides them with the result and links them with support services in their area. What is more, women can learn about domestic violence through a variety of educational videos. More importantly, this app is highly secured with data encryption, security code and panic button to activate if necessary.

Power Control Wheel

Figure 1. Power Control Wheel

In order to gain more understanding about the development process and lessons learnt of 1 In 3 Be Free App, an interview with Ms. Deborah Mackenzie, Agency Manager at Inner City Women Group was conducted. She mentioned that for most women in New Zealand it is hard to work out if they are in an abusive relationship or not because information about the dynamics of abuse are not easily available, especially if physical violence is not present. For this reason, this app can be used as a tool to raise women’s awareness of intimate partner violence, evaluate their relationships and connect them with support services earlier to increase their safety. “We wanted to use mobile technology because we can reach more women in a simple, fast and safe way”, Ms. Mackenzie added. A lot of young people nowadays can get access to smartphones and internet, so we should leverage mobile technology for social good and it is free.

It took about 18 months to 2 years to develop this mobile application through the hard work of a wonderful techy team at Omnispex – A creative digital agency specializing in website development, branding and digital media (as you can see in figure 2). The team did all the design and coding for Inner City Women Group. During the app development process, women’s safety and security was carefully considered and integrated into the app. For example, every user has a pin code in order to access the app, the information provided by the user is confidential and the visual icon is discreet. An extra level of encryption was also included, thus the user does not have to worry about an abusive partner being able to break into her phone and access the answers to her questions. Inner City Women’s Group wanted to ensure the app responded to user’s needs and concerns and so user testing was conducted with domestic violence survivors several times and their feedback was incorporated throughout the process. For instance, one survivor mentioned they wanted to have more information once they got to the results section of the app and so educational videos which were very generously given to Inner City Women’s Group by DAIP in Duluth Minnesota, to use were loaded into the app as a tool for women to explore more about intimate partner violence.

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Figure 2. Omnispex Team

Inner City Women Group has worked with young techies and volunteers who are passionate about the issues as well as the survivors of domestic violence in the development of the App. Ms. Mackenzie stated that prior to the project, she had limited knowledge of mobile technology, thus she thought she would depend heavily on the app developers. Due to the Omnispex team’s patience and commitment she has a very positive experience and has been able to learn about some of the innovative ideas of app development. In return those app developers have gained more knowledge about domestic violence and are committed to making a difference for victims. During the app development, one of the critical lessons learnt for the team is the impact the size of the video files can have on the App. Ms. Mackenzie mentioned that the team was trying to shrink down the video’s size, so that the app could be static. However, this could not be easily done. In the end, all users need internet access to watch the videos. Using mobile technology is another way to help change the experience of abuse. Most victims of domestic violence have been isolated due to the abuse. Their abusive partners make it very difficult and sometimes dangerous for them to be connected with the outside world. Given that most women are able to have access to smartphones and internet, the 1 in 3 Be Free App is a wonderful tool to link them support services and help them understand they are not alone and the abuse is not their fault.

Download the app on Play Store now! You can still demo the app, even though it is designed specifically for women in New Zealand. You can also try out the App through the 1 in 3 website.

Setha Rath is a Program Officer at The Asia Foundation. She can be contacted at setha.rath@asiafoundation.org.

Good Men Campaign, Changing Men’s Attitudes and Behavior towards Gender Equality through Mobile Technology

Good Men Campaign, Changing Men’s Attitudes and Behavior towards Gender Equality through Mobile Technology

By Setha Rath

To all men, do you want to know how a good man you are? There is now an app that can help you answer this question and the process is fun. You can now download Good Men Quiz from PlayStore and start playing. Good Men Quiz is a mobile app game designed to influence men’s attitudes towards gender equality. It challenges and measures how good a man the player is, as far as gender equality and gender based violence are concerned. The app is part of a Good Men Campaign, a national campaign aimed at reducing violence against women through transforming gender norms. The campaign was meant to challenge and question gender norms that perpetuate violence against women, promote understanding of meaningful ways of “being a man,” and encourage changes in attitudes and behavior towards gender equality. This app is available only in Khmer language.

The campaign was implemented by Paz y Desarrollo (PYD) Cambodia, a Spanish NGO in partnership with the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. According to Ms. Kim Thidakallianey, a former Communication Manager of PYD Cambodia, the main motivation behind this campaign was to bridge the knowledge gap on gender between men and women. Generally, gender initiatives focus solely on empowering women. Gender shall, nonetheless, be treated as shared issues of both men and women. It is, therefore, equally crucial to engage and educate men about gender norms since most perpetrators of violence and abuse tend to be men. Good Men Campaign was implemented through a number of means including mass media, social mobilization at the grassroots level, institutional mobilization with policy makers at the sub-national and national level, and interpersonal communication using a mobile app game called “Good Men Quiz”.

“More and more young people now have access to smartphones. This project chose to create a mobile game because we wanted to educate men with something fun. If they like this game, they will definitely share with friends and challenge one another,” said Kallianey. The app’s concept shared a similar form with “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire Game” – a quiz competition in which contestants attempt to win a top prize of $1,000,000 by answering a series of multiple-choice questions. In the Good Men Quiz, the player has 60 seconds to answer each multiple-choice question. At the end of the game, the total score determines the level of a good man the player is. During the initial stage of the app design process, a survey with users was carried out to understand what it means to be a man and what types of content should be included in the app. And, during the design process, the app was tested a few times to ensure that it is corresponding to users’ needs.

Content, based on Kallianey’s experience, was one of the challenges of designing an educational app. Formulating questions that reflected gender perspective required extensive knowledge of the matter and critical analysis of the norms. The game was intended to educate men in a way that they could relate to their every day’s life. For instance, a good man shares the responsibility of doing housework. The other challenge related to how to market the app to target audience. To overcome the challenge, Good Men Campaign team worked hand-in-hand with their partners to promote Good Men Quiz to men aged from 15 to 49 in both urban and rural areas. Besides, the team worked with mobile phone stores to install this app to their customers. “Mobile app is not a silver bullet. This stand-alone app cannot completely change men’s attitudes and behavior towards gender equality,” she added. For this reason, Good Men Campaign also integrated other types of inventions such as promoting good men concept through mass media, raising awareness on gender perspective to community, and educating local authorities and police to be the good man models.

Play Good Men Quiz now to test your knowledge regarding gender equality and norms. It is available on PlayStore and can be downloaded at https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.osjastudio.goodmen.

Setha Rath is a Program Officer at The Asia Foundation. She can be contacted at setha.rath@asiafoundation.org.

5 Things to Know When Designing an App for Ending Violence Against Women

5 Things to Know When Designing an App for Ending Violence Against Women

By Setha Rath

One year ago, the Cambodian government officially launched its second National Action Plan to Prevent Violence Against Women (NAPVAW), reinforcing its commitment to eliminating violence against women. Back in the early 1990s The Asia Foundation broke ground with a landmark study on the underlying causes of domestic violence in Cambodia. Despite some areas of progress, violence against women is still an endemic issue in Cambodia, with a quarter of all women having experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence. Further, as rapid socio-economic development and poverty reduction increase opportunities for women and girls, new vulnerabilities arise. Not only is violence against women a severe rights abuse, the costs of violence constitute a major impediment to Cambodia’s further social and economic development.

Inspired by Cambodia’s  rapid adoption of technology and social media (a recent Asia Foundation research report found  94 percent of Cambodians now own a mobile phone, with smartphone growth at 30 percent) local activists and the international community have begun pursuing innovative online and mobile solutions as part of  broader efforts to combat violence against women. With support from the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) six months ago, at the culmination of a process driven and designed by local activists at the Cambodia Young Women Empowerment Network for communities most impacted by violence against women, The Asia Foundation launched the first mobile applications to help combat violence against women (explore the initiative at www.VXWAward.org) in Cambodia. The applications offer features including legal information, peer support, anonymous reporting, and personal network alerts.

The method we used to support the activists was at its essence a process of trial and error of Human Centered Design (HCD).  We started by working with committed activists who had come up with the idea for an app after meeting with women in rural areas who confirmed just how prevalent domestic violence is.  We then adopted a  design toolkit from IDEO.org, and engaged a skilled design facilitator to help us fill in gaps in our app expertise.  The results of our work produced not only four new apps, but an invaluable set of learning points.

From this intensive process we developed the first-ever one-stop-shop for mobile solutions to end violence against women, which includes a step-by-step guide and set of recommendations for those embarking on designing apps for improving the safety and security of women and girls.

Here are five key takeaways when designing a mobile app for EVAW:

Mobile Apps Are Not a Silver Bullet: Whether an app focuses on prevention, protection, or response, there are complementary interventions required to combat violence against women.  (See the Learning Product). While apps can be a powerful tool, especially in countries with high mobile penetration rates, other interventions are essential, including, for example: peer-to-peer education, counseling, and alcohol abuse reduction programs. In addition, apps are not value neutral.  There are unique privacy concerns.  Data stored in the apps could potentially be accessed by a perpetrator, or even the visible presence of the app on the phone itself could  be used to threaten the user and increase the risk of abuse.

Using Human Centered Design (HCD) Does Not Guarantee Instant Success for an App:  HCD is a framework for designing solutions that are responsive to the unique needs and aspirations of the people they are meant to serve, and it is a common methodology for designing solutions. Based on our experience, HCD is an invaluable methodology to help ensure that the voices of the end users are included in solutions for EVAW. But in order for the process to be as powerful as its potential, it requires a firm commitment to engaging end users throughout the design process.  Understand the time, resources, and user-involvement requirements before starting to design an app will help sustain commitment (see the step-by-step guide).

Be Prepared and Get Your Users on Board:  Like many applications, EVAW apps require investments to maintain complex backend systems and websites.  Allow time to conduct in-depth  research into potential providers of these services and the exact costs associated with them. Often there are hidden costs. Also, if an app is driven by  content that needs to be updated regularly, ensure reliable systems are in place to do so.  It is important to note that apps for EVAW get downloaded and updated less frequently than the industry average, and some very rarely (See Summary Report).  If your goal is to assist  an organization or an individual activist, it is critical that they understand, trust, and buy into the process and time requirements.

Other Solutions May Already Exist: Examine  existing apps to see if anything  resembling your solution already exists (see App Inventory) or if it would be possible to  adapt what already exists rather than creating a whole new app.   If a particular app does not yet exist, could an existing app or intervention be adapted to serve that function?

The App May Become a Challenge Unto Itself: “Given the speed with which these technologies are developing, it is perhaps unsurprising that there is little evidence regarding their effectiveness” – STATT Report (2014). The most complex design challenge is likely to be promotion and sustainability of the apps themselves. The more specific the app is for EVAW or a subset of users, the more challenging the app will be to get sufficient uptake to sustain the app moving forward.

Ending violence against women in Cambodia is both crucial and complex, and requires a multipronged approach. While technology solutions alone won’t solve the problem, we can significantly lower the barriers to bring mobile technology closer to the front lines for those who are combatting violence against women.

Setha Rath is a Program Officer in The Asia Foundation’s Cambodia office. She can be reached at setha.rath@asiafoundation.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and not those of The Asia Foundation or its funders.