Technology is a powerful tool and it would be beyond ignorant to not attribute some inspired solutions to the creation and utilization of apps. Apps have been created and used in Africa for everything from sourcing adequate healthcare, navigating through confusing road networks to organizing for mass activism. Domestic violence however, especially domestic violence in Somalia it must be admitted, is a whole other ball game.
Gender based violence is a real issue in Somalia and it is mostly directed towards women and children. Although sometimes stemming from the conflict in the nation, it is as much a resultant effect of traditional and cultural beliefs that put women at the mercy of men in the society. After the tireless work of various right activists, 2015 saw the country passing a bill criminalizing abusive practices like gang rape and human trafficking. Glaringly unaddressed in the bill however were cases of marital rape and domestic violence.
Domestic violence in Somalia is a practically accepted concept. the UN’s Somalia gender-based violence working group which released a pdf paper on their work from 2014-2016 reports on the trend thus;
“Whereas allegations of sexual and gender-based violence perpetrated by security forces constitute a large problem in the south and central parts of Somalia, these incidents do not play a predominant role in Somaliland and Puntland. However, the deep-rooted cultural beliefs existent throughout the country come to the forefront in these more stable areas. Many women endure domestic violence, including physical and sexual assault and often remain with their husband as a result of cultural beliefs that dictate submissive behaviour of women. Loss of their children in case of a divorce might also play an important role in this decision.”
NGO the International Committee for the Development of Peoples (CISP) which conducts a weekly discussion group to challenge these negative norms among the citizens of Somalia showed research marking a massive improvement (drop from 88% to 14%) after four months, of participants who agreed with the statement; “a husband has the right to demand/force sex from his wife”.
Creators of the My Plan app which is already used successfully in western countries to support those worried about domestic violence is hoping that the app can be applied to stave domestic violence in Somalia. The app takes women who are worried about abuse through a series of questions about their circumstances. It determines their levels of safety and offers courses of action, as well as live connection to local services and support.
The challenges this app will face in Somalia are however quite numerous. The local services and support which the app should connect these victims too are not readily available. Coupled with the fact that for low-income brackets in Somalia mobile phones and connectivity are a far fetched dream and traditional and cultural beliefs still hold a lot of the women involved sway, it is evident that the app does not represent a smooth ride for victims of domestic violence in Somalia.
Strategies are already in place to combat some of these challenges however as the team is adapting to the situation by integrating My Plan into health services provided by trained staff. Maternal and child health staff will have smartphones with WiFi for providers and women to collaboratively access and complete My Plan during visits and, as appropriate, during home visits. The continued CISP weekly classes will also be a great help and at the end of the day, what other option do we have than to believe that this app will indeed represent a saving grace to victims of domestic violence in Somalia.