A smartphone app to help women identify if they are in an abusive relationship and safely leave will be launched in some African countries next year, its developer said.
myPlan – an app developed by researchers at Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing – has about 10,000 users in the United States. There are also versions in Canada, Australia andNew Zealand, but it is not available in Africa.
Nancy Glass, a professor heading the myPlan project, said positive feedback since launching in 2016 coupled with the information gap on partner violence in Africa, made it obvious to expand – first into Kenya, and then Ghana and Somalia.
“I have worked in multiple African countries on violence prevention and response programs and have seen many of the same challenges for women and girls with accessing resources and safety for their relationship,” said Glass.
“The feedback from users is mostly of how it is helpful in understanding their relationship is not healthy and the need to reach out to services in their community. We have even had some women tell us that using the app has saved their lives.”
About 30 percent of women globally experience physical or sexual violence from their partner, says the World Health Organization (WHO).
Intimate Partner Violence is when a partner or ex-partner causes physical, sexual or psychological harm, such as beating, rape, insults or controlling behaviour, says the WHO.
Abuse can go on for years with victims too afraid to speak out. They can lead to death – 38 percent of murders of women globally are committed by a male partner, it adds.
While there are countless smartphone applications on women’s safety, most focus on emergencies – such as to alert a friend or family member when in danger.
Glass said myPlan is more “a safety decision tool” to help women to learn about healthy relationships, recognise any ‘red flags’ in their own relationship and assess the risk of repeat and severe violence.
“For example, has the abuse increased in frequency over the past year, has your partner threatened to kill you,” she said.
Based on these inputs, the app provides a personalised safety plan, connecting women to local helplines, shelters and counsellors without being “judged or stigmatised”, Glass said.
Her team is working with charities, survivors and college students to better understand the local context.
In Kenya, where almost 40 percent of women have been beaten or sexually assaulted by their partners, according to UN Women, the extended family can be essential in ending abuse, by mediating or providing shelter, she said.
The Kenyan version, which will be translated into Kiswahili, is expected to be launched in 2019.
“We are writing for funding and working to gather support, but we want to make sure that it is based on evidence from the community and supports the needs of the women and girls and increases safety before making it public for use,” said Glass.
This article was written by Nita Bhalla who covers disasters and conflicts, development, womens rights, climate change and governance for the Thomson Reuters Foundation and edited by Katy Migiro.
Nita is a former Reuters political and general news correspondent and has worked in India, east and southern Africa and the Indian Ocean region. Nita started her career in 1999 with the BBC in Ethiopia.