Johannesburg - Technology is being used in the fight against Gender-Based Violence (GBV) and femicide to provide assistance to survivors.
The use of Chomi, the new chatbot for GBV victims comes ahead of the Presidential Summit on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide, being held today (Tuesday) and tomorrow (Wednesday) at Gallagher Estate in Midrand, under the theme, ’Accountability, Acceleration and Amplification.’
The technology was created by non-profit company, Shout-It-Now, which in August this year, launched its new free WhatsApp-based chatbot service, Chomi – an engaging, easy-to-use bot that provides information, expert backed advice and service referrals to GBV survivors and those looking for help in similar situations.
Chomi is a unique multilingual GBV chatbot, currently offering assistance in English and isiZulu. Setswana and isiXhosa are under development and are scheduled to launch in November 2022.
This technological platform also aims to bring together civil society and government departments to assess the efficiency of the current GBV response in South Africa, Shout-It-Now Strategic Advisor Cristianne Wendler explained.
Meanwhile, more than 640 messages are built into the chatbot to empower GBV survivors, and friends of survivors. This is through cited knowledge and anonymous support.
Wendler said for Chomi to be accessible to people from all walks of life, the chatbot is conversational, easy to understand and offers practical insights via nine streams:
– Emergency assistance
– GBV information and FAQs
– Reporting violence
– What to do if I have been raped
– Counselling support
– Legal assistance
– Safety planning
– Women’s shelters
– Connect to support services
She added that each stream was carefully crafted according to a psychological formula that begins with empathy and affirmation, actively lifting the blame from the survivor’s shoulders. The intention of the chatbot is to put information and options in the hands of the survivor and to facilitate prevention wherever possible.
“It’s incredibly difficult for people who have or are experiencing abuse to know what their options are, where to get factual information or who they can talk to, Wendler said.
“There’s a lot of misplaced guilt, blame, shame and fear – many give up on ever finding the help they need.”
She says that Chomi puts that help within their grasp, safely and anonymously.
“People need to be empowered with information, access and options, and they need to know that they are not to blame and they are not alone.”
A matter of urgency – new solutions for a new generation
Recent statistics show that one in three women in South Africa still experience physical and/or sexual violence – despite the government’s efforts to address Rise-Up Against Gender-Based Violence organisation’s “24 Demands”, which were issued to the President at the first Gender-Based Violence and Femicide Summit in August 2018.
“The shocking 1-in-3 statistic excludes other forms of mental and emotional abuse, which are often undermined and swept under the rug,” Wendler said.
She added that physical, sexual, emotional and economic abuse all had a devastating impact on the survivor’s life.
“Beyond bodily wounds, abuse affects mental well-being, day-to-day performance, and basic life prospects for the survivor. It doesn’t just hurt one person; it hurts entire communities. A multi-pronged approach is needed if we hope to build a GBV-free society in South Africa.”
Wendler questioned the traditional methods of dealing with GBV which place the onus on the survivor to report their abuse. “The reporting process is often riddled with paperwork, red tape and survivor shaming.”
In contrast, Wendler said, that Chomi meets the survivor where they’re at, on their terms, when they’re ready. “Chomi does not judge. Chomi does not tell a person what to do or how to feel. Chomi does not require a person to report. Chomi simply allows a person to explore options, feel supported and, if they choose, connect them to the help they need,” she said.
Wendler added that this survivor-centric approach was easy to use for a person of any age or gender. “It is specifically designed to target young people who are tech-savvy and receptive to new approaches,” she said.
She also believes that young women are disproportionately affected by GBV, yet they were often afraid to access traditional service delivery channels, so alternative options were essential to truly reach survivors.
“This is not expensive, cutting-edge technology we’re talking about,” said Wendler. It’s a WhatsApp chatbot. And yet, amidst the archaic, paper-based protocols forced on the public health sector, Chomi is an example of the innovative use of technology to provide proactive and preventative health services. We need to see more of this, in all areas of public health.”
Meanwhile, youth empowering non-profit company Shout-It-Now will attend Tuesday’s Presidential summit, to impart their vision of tech-driven health solutions to the Departments of Health and Social Development. This while also rallying behind the demands of civil society.
Wendler urged attendees to the Summit to save Chomi’s number, engage with it on WhatsApp and share it with friends, while inviting increased funding for further development of the app.
Founded in 2007, Shout-It-Now, an innovative social enterprise, provides free integrated, mobile, community-based HIV prevention and other sexual and reproductive health services, gender-based violence services, and life skills programs in hard-to-reach communities in Gauteng and the North West provinces.
Shout-It-Now’s comprehensive offering is for men and women aged 12 to 49 years. However, with adolescent girls and young women disproportionately affected by both gender-based violence and HIV, a new membership group called Eyakho Mo’ghel has been created specifically for females aged 15 – 24 years. This group rewards and celebrates healthy behaviour through resources, information and support.
Shout-It-Now works in partnership with the Departments of Health, Basic Education, and Social Development, and is mainly funded by PEPFAR (the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) through the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The GBV chatbot, Chomi, was made possible through the generous contribution of Grand Challenges Canada.
To use Chomi, simply save +27 (0) 82 229 6251 to your mobile and message ‘hi’ to start a conversation on Whatsapp. Follow the prompts to access the information you need. For more information, visit www.shoutitnow.org