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Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Combating Gender-Based Violence: How an app is connecting gender-based violence victims to timely support

“Violence against women is perhaps the most shameful human rights violation. And, it is perhaps the most pervasive. It knows no boundaries of geography, culture or wealth. As long as it continues, we cannot claim to be making the real progress towards equality, development, and peace.” – Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations. 

By: Zubaida Mabuno Ismail.

Rossy, 20, (not her real name) was head over heels in love with her partner she met in her first year at the university. Though not a student himself, he made sure he kept constant contact with his girlfriend either over phone calls or visits. But one of such visits would later be Rossy’s worse nightmare.

“He pushed me inside his wardrobe then he pulled me out, put me on the bed and started strangling me,” she tells me.

Months on, she is yet to connect the dots on what exactly could have triggered the event of that fateful day.

“I don’t know if it was a slap or it was a blow but he just hits me and I started spitting blood,” she reveals.

Rossy suspects messages on her phone culminated into that. Her boyfriend had complained about her friends and had tried to restrict her association with her friends in the past.

“I put up a defence by hitting him back but then he strangled me again,” and that was how he overpowered her.

Her situation now can be likened to ‘when love turns to hate. Rossy now battles anxiety as the unpleasant memories linger on.

“If I hear someone with his name, my heart starts beating, it’s terrible. I’m looking around because I just feel like maybe he’ll come back and attack me. He attacked me again in January because I didn’t want to continue with the relationship.”

Sexual and gender-based violence remains a significant problem and one that is
inadequately addressed in Ghana. 38.7% of married women between the ages of 15 and 49 years in Ghana has experienced physical, psychological, and sexual violence by a husband or intimate partner. Young women fifteen to nineteen years old are 4 times more likely to experience violence than those above 19 years.

Uneducated women are up to 2.5 times more likely to experience domestic violence
than those who had an education. Up to 10% of a country’s GDP is lost through acts of domestic violence, the World Bank says.

Ghana in 1993 and 1995 adopted the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action respectively, to end violence against women and girls. These instruments recognize the brutality of violence against women and girls and guide the elimination of sexual and gender-based violence to accelerate efforts to achieve a more just world.

Since then, international bodies such as the United Nations, governments and non-governmental bodies have worked in diverse ways to address these issues at both global and country levels. Furthermore, Sustainable Development Goal 5 mandates equal rights and opportunities for women and girls and the elimination of all forms of violence in public and private spheres.

Those who experience domestic violence have “Longer-term poor physical and mental health, particularly where support systems for survivors are inadequate and underfunded: Higher risk of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases: Restricted choices in terms of accessing education and jobs, usually due to lower levels of education: Limited productivity and thus limited economic contribution.”

Ghana’s Domestic Violence Act, 2007 (Act 732) and the Domestic Violence Regulations, 2016 (Legislative Instrument 2237) provide for the establishment and funding of safe houses.  Research shows that survivors of violence, especially of sexual abuse perpetrated by family members, are likely to seek the services of a shelter.

But there is only one shelter for victims who flee from their abusers in Ghana. Hedge Ghana’s shelter for domestic violence victims between August 2018 and December 2019 housed and provided counselling to one hundred and seventeen victims in its Crisis Centre in the Greater Accra region and counselling centre in the Eastern region. In 2016 and 2017, the shelter closed its doors to victims due to a “lack of funds to maintain the facility,” management said in May 2019 during the launch of the reopening at the premises of Ecobank in Accra. The facility was subsequently reopened on 1st June the same year.

The Australia High Commission in December 2018 presented an amount of GH¢197,366 to Pearl Safe Haven, a charity organisation, for the construction of a safe home for female survivors of gender-based violence. Victims including their children could access legal assistance, psychological support, and be equipped with skills for survival after they had exited the haven.

“The vision of the Pearl Safe Haven is to ensure the basic human rights of women and children escaping gender-based violence whilst helping to protect and assist them by giving them the support needed,” the mission statement of the non-for-profit making states.

But that remains a dream four years later. Management says funding is among the reasons the shelter hasn’t been completed yet.

“We lost a lot of pledges and funding from people which I think is because everybody was negatively affected by the COVID,” the project manager Audrey Ankah tells Zubaida Mabuno Ismail.

Ghana’s Gender, Children, and Social Protection Minister Sarah Adwoa Safo have been on “indefinite leave” from office soon after she was sworn in in early 2021. Her long absence and the absence of a Board for the ministry stalled discussions geared towards acquiring a license to operate the Haven.

The president of the Republic of Ghana, H.E. Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo extended the leave for the Minister of Gender, Children, and Social Protection Madam Sarah Adwoa Safo in October 2021. Image: Release from the Presidency.

“Our building was designed to have three floors but we decided to focus on the ground and first floors and they are all complete and furnished. So we’re are currently trying to engage with the Ministry to go back to present our projects to them, to let them know that this is what we’re doing and we need a license to operate. Without that license, we cannot operate.”

While victims continue to live with their abusers due to the inadequate spaces, the Pearl Safe Haven hatched an ingenuity that would become the timely support for victims who are at high risk.

“The Pearl Safe Haven App is a one-stop platform which is used in educating girls and women on signs of abusive relationships and provides a timely intervention dor victims.”

With just a click, a victim can reach the help centre of the Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit of the Ghana Police Service to report any threat of abuse for quick response. The app allows girls as young as thirteen to know how to protect themselves and identify red lights.

“The app is very simple to navigate. When you open it, you have the initial interface that asks you what you want to do. If it’s an emergency, it directs you to DOVVSU, if it’s I just want to browse the app, then it takes you to our landing page feed where you can scroll to get YouTube videos about consent, gender-based violence, and feminists speech. Everything is categorized, so even if you type in abuse, you will pull up articles that have that tag on them. So you don’t necessarily have to scroll through every single thing to find what you’re looking for,” Ankah says as she displays the app on her phone.

“For those who are interested in exploring, we have the Acts from Kenya, Nigeria, and other African countries,” Pearl Safe Haven’s Audrey Ankah displays the app on her phone. Zubaida Mabuno Ismail.

“We have the 1992 Constitution because that talks about human rights. So first of all, you have to start by knowing your human rights before we even get to the Domestic Violence Acts and The Children’s Act of Ghana, Act – 1998.

Pearl Safe Haven says is taking advantage of the high number of smartphones users among the youth.

“If you have a keyword in terms of gender-based violence, feminism, women empowerment, rape, and defilements, you can find that article. You can quickly read or even watch a short video which allows us to bridge that gap of education,” Ankah says.

Data shows the users of the Pearl Safe Haven App, their sex and ages. Image: Pearl Safe Haven. 

Rossy is one of the victims that has received enormous support through the app. After receiving counselling, she has become one of the faces on the app sharing her survival story with others.

This article was produced with the support of the Africa Women’s Journalism Project (AWJP) in partnership with the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and through the support of the Ford Foundation.

The writer Zubaida Mabuno Ismail is the Editor-in-chief of ZAMI Reports. She’s specialised in gender and climate reporting.

www.zamireports.com | Accra | Ghana.

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