Chomi: Chatbot brings tech to the fight against gender-based violence and femicide

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Ahead of the second national Presidential Summit on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide, to be held on 1 and 2 November 2022 and centred around the theme “Accountability, Acceleration and Amplification, NOW!”, Shout-It-Now is preparing to shine a light on the role that technology can play in helping GBV survivors.

In August 2022, Shout-It-Now launched its new free WhatsApp-based chatbot service, Chomi – an engaging, easy-to-use bot that provides information, advice backed by experts and service referrals to GBV survivors, or people who wish to help a GBV survivor. Chomi is a unique multilingual GBV chatbot, currently offering assistance in English and isiZulu. Setswana and isiXhosa are under development and are scheduled to launch in November 2022.

More than 640 messages are built into the chatbot to empower GBV survivors, and friends of survivors, through cited knowledge and anonymous support. In order to make Chomi accessible to people from all walks of life, the chatbot is conversational, easy to understand and offers practical insights via nine streams:

  1. Emergency assistance
  2. GBV information and FAQs
  3. Reporting violence
  4. What to do if I have been raped
  5. Counselling support
  6. Legal assistance
  7. Safety planning
  8. Women’s shelters
  9. Connect to support services

Each stream is carefully crafted according to a psychological formula that begins with empathy and affirmation, actively lifting the blame from the survivor’s shoulders. The intention of the chatbot is to put information and options in the hands of the survivor and to facilitate prevention wherever possible.

Cristianne Wendler, Shout-It-Now Strategic Advisor, says: “It’s incredibly difficult for people who have or are experiencing abuse to know what their options are, where to get factual information or who they can talk to. There’s a lot of misplaced guilt, blame, shame and fear – many give up on ever finding the help they need. Chomi puts that help within their grasp, safely and anonymously. People need to be empowered with information, access and options, and they need to know that they are not to blame and they are not alone.” 

A matter of urgency – new solutions for a new generation

1 in 3 women in South Africa still experience physical and/or sexual violence – despite the government’s efforts to address Rise-Up Against Gender-Based Violence organisation’s “24 Demands”, which were issued to the President at the first Gender-Based Violence and Femicide Summit held in August 2018.

“The shocking 1-in-3 statistic excludes other forms of mental and emotional abuse, which are often undermined and swept under the rug,” says Wendler. “Physical, sexual, emotional and economic abuse all have a devastating impact on the survivor’s life. Beyond bodily wounds, abuse affects mental well-being, day-to-day performance, and basic life prospects for the survivor. It doesn’t just hurt one person; it hurts entire communities. A multi-pronged approach is needed if we hope to build a GBV-free society in South Africa.”

Traditional methods of dealing with GBV place the onus on the survivor to report their abuse. The reporting process is often riddled with paperwork, red tape and survivor shaming. In contrast, Chomi meets the survivor where they’re at, on their terms, when they’re ready.  Chomi does not judge. Chomi does not tell a person what to do or how to feel. Chomi does not require a person to report. Chomi simply allows a person to explore options, feel supported and, if they choose, connect them to the help they need.

This survivor-centric approach is easy to use for a person of any age or gender. It is specifically designed to target young people who are tech-savvy and receptive to new approaches. Young women are disproportionately affected by GBV, yet they are often afraid to access traditional service delivery channels, so alternative options are essential if we’re going to truly reach survivors where and how they need.

“This is not expensive, cutting-edge technology we’re talking about,” says Wendler. “It’s a WhatsApp chatbot. And yet, amidst the archaic, paper-based protocols forced on the public health sector, Chomi is an example of the innovative use of technology to provide proactive and preventative health services. We need to see more of this, in all areas of public health.”

Shout-It-Now will attend Tuesday’s summit, hoping to impart their vision of tech-driven health solutions with the Departments of Health and Social Development, while rallying behind the demands of civil society. Wendler urges attendees of Tuesday’s Summit to save Chomi’s number, engage with it on WhatsApp and share it with friends, while inviting increased funding for further development of the app.

To use Chomi, simply save +27 (0) 82 229 6251 to your mobile and message ‘hi’ to start a conversation on Whatsapp. Follow the prompts to access the information you need.

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