Kedieemetse Mmutle (not her real name) a 55-year-old woman from Mmanoko has suffered increased abuse at the hands of her boyfriend since the imposition lockdown restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19.
People talk so I do not want my (dirty) laundry to be aired in Mmanoko and I was also ashamed to share my pain with my family because they have always been against our relationship. I believe that anonymously talking to strangers about my problems would help me a lot,” she said. Masego Pule (not her real name) from Gakuto said she was stuck with her abusive boyfriend for a full week and could not escape his claws because he was always around her.
She said she was even afraid of calling her family to notify them of her situation because the one time she did resulted in brutal beatings. Even though she wanted to break up with him, it was not easy.
“I only escaped when he forgot to lock me up like he usually did. I thought I was going to die in that house because that man assaulted me. When I left that house you would not recognize me. My whole face was swollen. I wish there was a way I could have asked for help without alarming him because he was watching me like a hawk. He was also monitoring my calls and messages,” she said.
In response to the rampant gender-based violence, Botswana Gender-Based Violence Prevention and Support Centre (BGBVC) in partnership with Xavier Africa, Stepping Stones International Botswana (SSIB), Women Against Rape (WAR), and the Lesbians, Gays and Bisexual of Botswana (LEGABIBO) have designed an (Artificial Intelligence) AI-powered autonomous conversational agent (chatbox) on WhatsApp to help survivors get on-demand information, report abuse for evidence gathering and request psychosocial support. Motheo Letshwiti from Xavier Botswana said the new tool allows survivors to be able to seek help while adhering to COVID-19 (health) protocols and offers a safe environment for them.
He explained that with the continued advancement in technology partner NGOs leveraged AI and machine learning in the mission, to alleviate GBV in Botswana through collaborating with software developers to solve the issue at hand. “The platform will be managed and monitored 24/7 by counsellors selected by the partner NGOs who will work around the clock to aid survivors who interact with the platform at any time of the day. The partners hope to remove the stigma that comes with GBV and to shatter the pattern of silence that enshrouds cases of GBV by offering survivors a voice and access to help and support that is efficient and available. AME, as the tool is called is now available to the public. All they must do is save the number 75874043 and text 'Hi' to initiate a conversation,” he explained.
One in three women in Botswana has experienced abuse in their lifetime, according to a 2018 National Relationship Study. The World Population Review (2019) places Botswana as the second highest country on rape cases at 92.9 per 100,000 citizens. BGBVC and WAR report stated that a total of 272 clients were provided with services during the pandemic period; where 155 came directly to the organization to seek safe shelter, 67 were provided with counselling through hotline services and 50 were assisted through the short message service line. Botswana also committed at the 2019 Nairobi Summit on ICPD25 to reduce gender-based violence from 37% to 20% for women and from 21% to 10% for men, which the Minister of Immigration, Nationality and Gender Affairs, Annah Mokgethi pointed out can only be achieved through effective implementation of the National Strategy Towards Ending GBV.
*This article is funded by WAN-INFRA, Women In News (WIN) and the views of the author are not of the institution.