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South African Telecom App Helps Gender-Based Violence Survivors

FILE - Women hold placards as they protest against gender-based violence, outside the Johannesburg Stock Exchange in Sandton, Johannesburg, South Africa, Sept. 13, 2019.

Jeanine, 53, a South African woman who did not want to use her family name for this interview, was in an abusive relationship for two years. It got worse when her boyfriend lost work because of the coronavirus pandemic and took his frustrations out on her.

Jeanine recalled in anguish those dark moments of her relationship, not knowing what to do.

“He was mean and nasty and cruel and wanted to hurt me, physically, emotionally, verbally, mentally. They make you financially dependent on them. Then you think, ‘Where am I going to go? There is nowhere to go. What do I do?’ ”

To help Jeanine and other survivors of gender-based violence, the South African telecom company Vodacom, along with its British parent company Vodafone and the charity Hestia, launched a mobile application, Bright Sky, in November.

Vodacom’s chief officer of corporate affairs, Takalani Netshitenzhe, said Bright Sky provides a wide range of services.

The app has a suite of 12 services, or "functionalities," Netshitenzhe said, that will enable users to determine whether they are in abusive relationships. The app also offers emergency services, including geolocation that will pinpoint a user's location and the nearest facility where help can be obtained.

Avoiding stigma

Vodacom said Bright Sky allows users to get help without the stigma of having to ask for it. It said the app has been downloaded about 1,000 times in South Africa, helping many women like Jeanine.

“What I like about this app, it’s the two areas where you can get advice for yourself, or someone else," she said. "It gives you a whole lot of scenarios. It explains what happens. It gives you a number where you can phone. There’s lots of information.”

The app comes in three South African languages – English, Sesotho and isiZulu.

South African police say reported annual sexual assaults have been rising since 2016 and surpassed 53,000 last year.

Activists blame the pandemic lockdowns and say the actual number of assaults, including those that go unreported, are much higher.