Womanity Founder Yann Borgstedt on how tech can help empower women and combat violence against women.

How can technology be used to protect women? It’s a relatively simple question but the answer is increasingly complicated. Mobile and online communications not only provide solutions to tackling women’s empowerment challenges, but conversely present new forms of discrimination and online violence, such as trolling and stalking. A 2014 report by STATT found, “violence against women, which takes place in the home or on the street, is now taking new forms and occurring in online spaces whereby women become targets of cyber-stalking or digital voyeurism.”

Meanwhile the Pew Research Centre found of the 18-24-year-old women they surveyed in 2014, that 26% had been stalked online and 25% were the target of online sexual harassment.

On the flip side, a report by the Cherie Blair Foundation and GSMA Development discovered 93% of women felt safer having a mobile phone.

Yet here again is the double edge sword of empowerment… and new forms of abuse. A Durham University Report looked at the use of smartphones in relation to domestic and sexual violence and found 49% had some sort of panic alarm. 10% offered an evidence gathering function, for example being able to voice record. This could then be handed over to police. However the report stated that advancements in mobile app technology was opening up new forms of abuse, highlighting one called ‘Track Your Wife’ which enables users to install on another handset and then know the location of that phone at all times. As such, they called for mobile phone app developers to give greater consideration to the ways their apps could be used in harmful ways.

We now know that technology can be incredibly effective in empowering women and girls. In Egypt, a simple Facebook page about where women are harassed the most turned into a movement on-and-off-line that organized anti-harassment protests and galvanized a whole section of Egyptian society.

Tackling violence against women through ICTs is a cornerstone of Womanity’s work in 2016. Which is why the focus of this year’s Womanity Award is innovation in preventing violence against women using ICTs. We have shortlisted four pairs of finalists and will provide three years of support to one pair who will scale-up a successful innovation in a new context.

If an innovation for a subject as vital as preventing violence against women can be brought to scale, and become accessible to many more women and girls at risk, then we know we are investing in delivering real, and lasting, impact.

One of this year’s finalists, APC (Association for Progressive Communication) who created the Take Back the Tech! campaign, has a hugely successful collaborative campaign for anyone using the Internet and technology to protest at violence against women. Their ‘Map It’ app allows women to record their own experience of harassment and violence around the world.

Another finalist, Tactical Tech Collective has a program – The Gender and Tech Institute – which focuses on how trolling and harassment online can result in women’s voices being silenced as they censor themselves online in fear for their safety. They offer digital training in the field of Internet security and privacy for leaders of organizations tackling violence against women. They are part of a wave of Women Human Rights Defenders, many of whom are targeted because they are defending human rights… and because of their gender.

Yet it’s not just adults who need to be educated. The third finalist, Emergent Media Centre and Champlain College have created Breakaway, a soccer-themed video game, encouraging players to move away from behavior that promotes gender-based violence towards behavior promoting mutual respect. Young players meet in camps where they role-play scenarios that create environments of gender equality. The game has been played in 185 countries with over 5,000 registered users.

The fourth finalist is MyPlanApp, a free, online and smartphone decision-making app that helps women to consider the severity of violence in their relationship – along with other risk factors – to decide whether to leave an abusive partner, and to create a tailored, safe action plan for doing so, linking into resources available locally. Since its release in January 2014, the app has already been downloaded over 9,000 times.

So in answer to the question, ‘How can technology be used to protect women?’, it’s clear there are many solutions and many organizations focused on making ICT a tool for empowerment.

They, like us, believe that tech has a crucial role to play in keeping women and girls safe.

If you are working on an innovation that is driving change for women through tech you can get involved by using the twitter hashtag #ICTforWomanity. Together, we can make real change for good.