Back in 2011 Gender Focus contributor Roxanna Bennett reported on YWCA Canada’s Safety Siren app, which gave women and girls a way to use their smart phones to learn about dating violence and easily send an emergency signal if ever in danger.
Now, other Canadian non-profits are adapting our new technology to give young women new, on-the-spot tools to fight violence and harassment.
Toronto non-profit METRAC (Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children) launched their “Not Your Baby” app last fall after they heard many people saying they didn’t know how to deal with harassment on the spot. The app provides a technological solution to help people as they experience harassment. People using the app select where they are and what kind of harassment they are experiencing and the app pops up helpful suggestions. Users can also submit their own suggestions for how to deal with these kinds of difficult situations.
METRAC Communications Director Andrea Gunraj told me that over 250 people responded to their survey in the lead-up to creating the app: “We found that people had a diversity of responses depending on the context and situation of the harassment. I learned a lot reading peoples’ comments and stories and felt that ideas on dealing with harassment at school were so smart, especially when it’s not easy to make a complaint or the person harassing you is a friend.”
Gunraj is pleased by the media coverage and positive feedback they’ve had so far. Being out there alongside other campaigns like Hollaback! and Stop Street Harassment, Gunraj is optimistic that more people are becoming aware of harassment as an issue, but warns “we have a long way to go before harassment is seen as unacceptable in any space – street, home, work, malls, public transit, and so on. There is still the idea that some people are ‘fair game’ for harassment just by virtue of who they are.”
Another new initiative has come out of BC, where the Ending Violence Association has partnered with Telus on an app for women who are at a high risk of violence. The SOS Response app is being piloted in Prince George, Courtenay, Terrace, Vernon and Surrey. Local assistance programs in those communities are identifying at-risk women and providing them with a phone with the app installed. The app is very simple for a woman in crisis to use. All she has to do is press a button and the phone takes 30 photos in 30 seconds, which are sent to the security monitoring centre along with GPS information.
“The SOS mobile monitored alarm app is an easy-to-use, cost-efficient tool that will increase safety for women across Canada who are fleeing violence,” said Tracy Porteous, Executive Director of EVA BC. “The program is also a great example of community and business working together in the most positive of ways.”
Of course,these kinds of apps aren’t enough in and of themselves. As Gunraj told me about “Not My Baby”, “It’s a simple app and not an end-all solution, but it’s just one way of broadening the dialogue.” If new technology can be leveraged in this way to give useful information and help women and girls feel safer and more empowered in their space, that’s a huge step in the right direction.