I recently met with Patricia Mtungila, who is the founder of Purple Innovation, an NGO supporting women and girls in Malawi. Their main objective is to advance women’s empowerment and reduce violence against women and girls through training and access to digital and traditional information on interventions on women and girls in Malawi.
One of their latest projects is to train girls in citizen journalism and how they can tell their stories, especially stories about gender-based violence (GBV) using their phones. I was interested to find out more about why social media is considered an effective way to report GBV. One of the main reasons is due to the ease and speed of publishing information in rural areas. In the training sessions, participants are given advice on how to take photos to document any acts of violence. But also, how to take these images to protect the identity of the person who has been abused.
These photos are then sent to Purple Innovation via either WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger so that they can pass the evidence on to a Gender Technical Working Group at the District Council level. The working group includes various stakeholders such as police, the victim support unit and gender officers who are working to combat gender-based violence. Due to the relationship that Purple Innovation has built with the working group, cases are taken very seriously and several cases that have been followed up by the police have gone to court resulting in convictions.
A recent example of someone who contacted Patricia and her team was a lady who was scolded with hot water by her husband. The child protection worker in that area took a photograph of the burn as evidence and sent the image with an attached voice note to Purple Innovation. Although the victim had reported the abuse to both the local police and the hospital, nothing had been done to arrest the perpetrator. Whereas now this evidence has been escalated to the relevant department within the council to investigate.
Protection against cyber bullying
Patricia does not just train girls how to report crimes of abuse using social media, she also offers advice on protection against cyber bullying. This involves warnings about posting images online that can be open to abuse and how to conduct yourself online. It is good that these trainings are available, but I wonder when the Government of Malawi, will (if ever) mainstream social media awareness and protection in schools.
I remember my children’s transition to high school a few years ago and social media protection / cyber bullying was high on the agenda. Advice was given on privacy and safety i.e. posting personal information such as their own names and dates of birth or where they live, but also the kinds of information that might make them vulnerable to predators. Children are also warned about the potential risk to their own reputation and how posts can be screen shot or recorded and potentially shared for their whole life. How long will it be before this level of teaching is available to all children in Malawi via the school system? Why do we have to rely on NGOs like Purple Innovation to provide this education?
Database of Gender Based Violence
One last initiative by Purple Innovation is that they have developed an open access dashboard on their website of gender-based violence data which has been verified by the district council. The dashboard is accessible for researchers or reporters so they can write evidence based stories based on that data has been collected. It is often incredibly hard to find digitised data such as this in some countries, so this is an excellent tool that will help combat GBV in Malawi in the future!