In the shadows of the coronavirus pandemic, violence against women has been on the rise around the world, including in South Africa, where half of the country’s women report at least one incident of violence in their lifetime. Now, a local tech company has developed an alarm system to help stop the abuse.

A click of a button could save a woman’s life. That’s what South African firm Afri-Tec Technologies hopes to achieve with its alert app.

Gender-based violence has become so rampant during coronavirus lockdowns, President Cyril Ramaphosa has called it the country’s “second pandemic.”

Afri-Tec presents its app as one solution, allowing users to discretely alert friends, family and authorities that they are in danger.

“We’re not saying that our tech or our solution is the silver bullet. But it certainly is one of the pieces of this big puzzle that can make a difference. And I think COVID became a catalyst for a lot of people to adopt, a lot more people to adopt technology. And hence, why we felt creating a technological solution,” says AB Moosa, the CEO of Afri-Tec Technologies. 

The South African Police Service says more than 10,000 people were raped between April and June this year.

Another 15,000 cases of domestic violence were reported in the same period.

Organizations providing support to survivors say those figures don’t paint a full picture as many more cases go unreported.

The lack of data about the crisis is another solution Afri-Tec plans to provide with the information it collects from users.

“We’re also putting AI systems behind our app to be able to then hopefully predict trends of what’s going to happen. So, empower police stations, empower private security, power NGOs, to then be able to have a proactive, rather than reactive response to this challenge,” said Moosa.

People without smartphones can still use the alert system.

The company has designed a panic button that looks like a USB stick as well as a wristwatch that provide the same response.

Social workers say these interventions will make a big difference — but more is still needed.

“We need to target families, ask why is this happening? Is it a tradition? Is it your family history? Is that your background? And if so, how can we change it? And ultimately, we need to pay attention to our children. What are we teaching them?” asks Lisha Stevens, a social worker at the Nisaa Institute for Women’s Development in Johannesburg.

Advocates like Stevens say the public as a whole need to be educated on what gender-based violence is and how to respond to it.

“How do we break the cycle with my attitude, my view of what gender-based violence is? I’m a neighbor, I see this happening. I close my door and I go inside. So, where’s the disconnect that we need to understand?” said Stevens.

Witnesses of violence can report incidents to police, or via a national hotline, or nonprofits — and they can do so anonymously.

If more people intervened, Stevens believes it could be life-changing for victims and help shift the culture so that gender-based violence is no longer the norm. 

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