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Vodacom bolsters efforts to curb gender-based violence

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Takalani Netshitenzhe, chief officer for corporate affairs at Vodacom.
Takalani Netshitenzhe, chief officer for corporate affairs at Vodacom.

Mobile operator Vodacom intends to launch an app that will serve as a risk assessment and awareness tool for victims of gender-based violence (GBV).

This is the word from Takalani Netshitenzhe, chief officer of corporate affairs at Vodacom, saying the project is at an advanced stage, with plans to go live with the app during the 16 Days of Activism campaign in November.

South Africa’s rate of GBV-related offences is unprecedented. According to the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, one in four South African women will experience violence by men, and are five times more likely to be killed. A woman is murdered every three hours in the country.

The situation has worsened during the COVID-19 national lockdown, with theGBV command centre (GBVCC) reporting a spike in gender violence-related calls in the two months after the lockdown was announced.

Netshitenzhe says the increase in GBV cases across the globe is of great concern, stressing that more action – rigorous prevention and response − is required.

Vodacom’s planned GBV-based app aims to strengthen prevention through awareness and education, and will also augment the response by the criminal justice system through the journal of evidence, she notes.

“Vodacom’s GBV programmes focus on prevention, response and victim support. Response is through the GBVCC and victim support is through digital literacy we provide in the shelters for victims and survivors of GBV.

“The app is part of our prevention strategy. Most people are in abusive relationships but are not aware of the abuse, especially when it’s subtle, mainly emotional abuse. Therefore, the app is intended to augment our prevention and response focus.”

The app’s content will feature a risk assessment, which is a questionnaire that will assist the person to identify whether they are at risk or not; a directory of services that are required for victims of GBV, including lists of police stations, hospitals and NGOs; dispelling myths; and a journal of evidence, which covers pictures, e-mails and texts.

Gender violence hotline

Vodacom and the Department of Social Development (DSD) partnered in 2014 to run the 24-hour national gender-based command centre.

In December 2016, the partners enhanced the call centre’s offerings with a Skype capability, USSD system enhancement, an SMS conversation manager and geocoding system elements. The move was to extend its services to people living with disabilities, in particular people with hearing impairment.

In the first three months of this year, the command centre received 13 591 calls, 2 866 USSDs and 968 text messages. Between March and 14 July, the number of calls peaked to 58 891, with 7 422 USSDs and 5 305 messages, according to Vodacom.

For the full 2019, the command centre received a total of 87 092 calls.

The calls to the GBVCC result in tele-counselling at the centre and some calls, based on the severity of the case, are referred to the community-based social workers and the South African Police Service.

Netshitenzhe says Vodacom brings technology into the partnership to facilitate the calls, location of callers and recording of statistics.

The centre has 48 social workers, eight supervisors and four quality assurers who audit the calls, and they also do system training and check customer satisfaction.

To deal with the influx of calls during lockdown, the DSD has increased the number of social workers by 10 to 58, she indicates.

“The 10 additional social workers have just concluded an intense practical training session at the command centre and will be taking their seats soon. Due to the stress that goes with GBV, the social workers also receive emotional support to cope with the volume of calls and intensity of the issues they handle.”

The number 0800 150 150 can be used to report incidents of gender-based violence for urgent response. The centre also has a Skype helpline ‘HelpMeGBV’ for members of the deaf community, an SMS-based help line ‘31531’ to assist people with disabilities and a USSD on *120*7867#.

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