Digital tools and improving women’s safety and access to support services

Question

What digital tools have been proven to improve women’s safety and access to domestic and family violence support services?

Summary

It is broadly accepted that digital media and the internet can provide new forms of communication and engagement for women that make networking easier, increase their social capital and facilitate the creation/growth of women’s movements. Technology can also be used to mitigate gender-based violence and improve women’s safety in a number of ways:

  • Electronic monitoring systems are allowing violence-prone areas to be identified
  • Short Message Service (SMS) alert systems can inform advocates of abuse
  • Information sharing sites and social networking service (SNS) and SMS based support groups are all potential avenues where technology can support survivors of violence.

However, in many contexts barriers hinder women and girls from accessing digital tools. Women face greater constraints than men in a number of areas:

  • Access and use of ICTs. Research has demonstrated that there is no correlation between the saturation of ICTs in a country and women’s access to those ICTs.
  • Usability and literacy. Access to education continues to be a greater barrier for women than men; an estimated two thirds of the world’s illiterate are women.
  • Development and design. Much of the content on the Internet has not been developed to address the needs of women and girls; nor is it available in enough different languages.

Much of the ‘success’ attributed to digital tools that have improved women’s safety and access to domestic and family violence support services is anecdotal. It requires further interrogation and triangulation with other research.

However, some programme features emerge as common across case studies. These include:

  • Integrated and cross-platform approaches. The use of digital tools works best when specialist support services are directly involved in the design, provision of information or facilitation of online discussion.
  • Engagement with specialist local partners (as well as national partners) by making campaign materials and information free or low cost.
  • Linked online and offline activities, for example using digital support services to connect women who are vulnerable to, or experiencing violence, with counsellors or support staff.
  • Assessment of which medium is most appropriate to which target audience.

Suggested citation

Avis, W. (2017). Digital tools and improving women’s safety and access to support services (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 1,415) Birmingham, UK: GSDRC, University of Birmingham.