What you need to know:
- Masiz Pamoja App provides information on sexual and reproductive health.
- The platform also allows users to anonymously report sexual harassment and links them to the university’s gender, security, chaplain and counselling departments.
- Sophie Bot, described as “the Siri for sexual and reproductive health”, uses artificial intelligence to respond to users' questions and aims to destigmatise sex education.
- The 160 Girls Project, launched a phone app that provides advice to victims and their guardians regarding their rights, and walks users through a detailed step-by-step guide of the investigation.
Two years ago, 23-year-old Elizabeth Amwamu a student at Moi University was sexually assaulted. At the time, student leadership campaigns were ongoing even as the lecturers were on strike over varied grievances. The elections were postponed. A senior male student took advantage of her during the campaigns.
“I didn’t have anyone to talk to,” she recounts. “This student had an influential position at the student leadership and nobody would have believed (me) so I decided to let it go and suffer in silence.”
She’s sadly not alone. It’s estimated that 14 per cent of Kenyan women and six per cent of men — aged 15-49 have experienced sexual violence at least once in their lifetime.
Every day, girls and women encounter sexual assault or harassment. More than often, most of these cases go unreported.
Yet Amwamu’s experience weighed on her heavily. Now a fourth-year Information Science student, she refused to sit back and do nothing. She wanted to help fellow students going through similar experiences; to invent a system that ensured “people of such incidents get justice.”
The result? Masiz Pamoja, an App which provides information on sexual and reproductive health. In addition to articles and blogs, the platform allows you to anonymously report sexual harassment and links users to the university’s gender, security, chaplain and counselling departments.
Female students can also be connected with healthcare specialists and security agencies.
“Campus should be a place where you can learn and be empowered without having to worry that you will go through a bad experience,” notes Amwamu.
With the help of her fellow IT students and Sh50,000, Amwamu’s App is now available on the Google Play Store.
While Masiz Pamoja is relatively new, it joins a growing field of tech-focused solutions to gender-issues that have sprung up across Kenya in recent years.
Take the 160 Girls Project, for example. An initiative by Canadian non-profit Equality Effect, it works to prevent sexual violence against girls in Kenya.
In 2015, the project launched a phone app that provides advice to victims and their guardians regarding their rights. From recording the complaint to preserving evidence, it walks users through a detailed step-by-step guide of the investigation.
Available offline, and in four different counties (Nairobi, Mombasa, Meru and Kakamega), it also includes a police station locator, and a reporting feature if police fail to comply with the law.
Despite originally being developed to help improve reporting of sexual violence, the App is predominantly used by guardians and teachers keen to learn about their rights in defilement cases. Most downloads, however, are by police officers, who use it as a reference tool when dealing with sexual violence cases.
“Ignorance of the law is not a defence,” says Kula Wako, the project’s National Coordinator based in Nairobi. “When women and girls know their rights, they’re able to defend themselves.”
One of the biggest obstacles in fighting sexual violence is data.
A 2014 study by the National Crime Research Centre found that only 15 per cent of women and girls who had been sexually violated reported it to the police.
Yet women’s rights campaigners say this is a huge underestimate, as many victims stay silent due to shame and stigma.
To help combat this, the ‘SV_CaseStudy’ App was launched back in August.
Survivors can report, track and document cases of sexual violence via their mobile phones. By recording cases in one place, the platform aims to effectively become an online database of information.
This can then be analysed to inform policy, prevention and identify potential gaps.
“How long does it take a person to present themselves at a health facility and why?” asks Wangu Kanju, founder of the Wangu Kanja Foundation, one of the organisations behind the App.
“Or from the health facility to the police station, how long does it take (a survivor) to escalate their case to the police? Are there challenges? (If) we can find out what the problem is, we can address it. It’s all about trying to make the referral structure more effective for survivors of sexual violence.”
Outside of reporting incidences, several apps exist to simply fill a knowledge gap. Take Sophie Bot, for example. Described as “the Siri for sexual and reproductive health”, the chatbot aims to destigmatise sex education.
Launched by three classmates, Irving Amukasa, Beverly Mutindi and Derick Mureithi, the idea is to dispel misconceptions in a safe, and non-judgmental way.
Users ask Sophie questions and she uses artificial intelligence to respond, either by voice or text, based on information from Kenya’s National AIDS Control Council and the United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA) peer-mentor curriculum. Anonymity is key; users can ask anything they like — and delete their chat history afterwards.
Back at Moi University, Amwamu is aiming high. In addition to the app, she created the Masiz Pamoja International Foundation, which seeks to empower girls and women in Kenya.
They hope to work with the Ministry of Health and non-governmental organisations involved in similar issues.
“Most of my friends had a friend or a mutual friend who has gone through a similar ordeal and they didn’t get justice because we don’t have a strong system to address all this,” states Amwamu. The good news? It looks like she’s about to change all of that.