Silent channel to address gender-based violence during the COVID-19 lockdown
The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown measures led to an increase in gender-based violence worldwide. In this context, the Government of Chile and Argentina, in an international collaboration with Facebook, took on the challenge of creating a silent channel to provide emotional support and information to women who live with their aggressor. In Chile, the project was led by
the Ministry of Women and Gender Equality, and the Government (Innovation) Laboratory.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic (2020), an increase in violence against women was observed worldwide. In Colombia, lockdown measures generated a 50% increase in calls for counselling in cases of violence. In China, the increase was 50%, in France 32% and in Argentina 25%. In Chile, the observed increase in the number of calls to the 1455 telephone hotline of the National Service for Women's Rights - part of the National Service for Women and Gender Equity (SernamEG) - was 70% compared to the same period in 2019. Lockdown measures make it difficult for victims of domestic violence, who often have to quarantine with their aggressors, making it difficult to ask for help verbally over the phone.
Urgency gave way to opportunity and a public innovation project was initiated with the need to create a silent communication channel to help women experiencing domestic violence. Given the need for a silent and mass medium, an international collaboration was initiated with Facebook Latin America, who own the messaging service Whatsapp, which has an estimated 64% adoption rate in Latin America and 85% in Chile. A cross-border public-private collaboration was therefore initiated with the governments of Chile and Argentina. Both public institutions, in collaboration with the Facebook Latin America team, developed and implemented a new Whatsapp care channel: silent, flexible, confidential and 24/7. The service was publicly launched on April 28, 2020.
In the case of Chile, the process was carried out under the leadership of the Government Laboratory, together with support and technical expertise of the Ministry of Women and Gender Equity. In the logic of agile weekly cycles, the phases of the innovation process were developed in an accelerated manner due to the emergency and lockdown situation. The methodological phases of the project were the following:
1. Discovery: based mainly on the review of international literature, together with interviews with experts in gender violence. This led to the construction of empathy maps.
2. Ideation and design: using various digital tools which resulted in the generation of guidelines and recommendations for the design and implementation of the service, mostly related to privacy and confidentiality of the service. For example, that the name of the Whatsapp contact should not be the official one so as to not raise suspicions and avoid risks of retaliation against women using the service.
3. Prototyping and testing: through the design tool of a multi-layered interaction. This made it possible to identify three different types of service and associate the initial recommendations with the technological functionalities provided by the Whatsapp channel. The interactions were tested with experts in gender-based violence and were adjusted according to their feedback. They were also tested with the Botmaker - Whatsapp technology provider team.
4. Implementation and scaling up: which included training for the service team, both in the new protocols for silent and confidential instant messaging, as well as in technical terms for the management and support of the new channel. In this context, operating manuals for the new service were created. In addition, Facebook Latin America's regional team adapted its operating and privacy policies and made available the necessary technological resources for the project's implementation.
The project for the design and implementation of a new silent channel constitutes an important public innovation initiative because:
- It takes advantage of an widely used communication channel such as Whatsapp, transforming it into a support service in face of a global challenge.
- It brings together diverse actors from the public and private sectors in pursuit of a common goal.
- It considers a design process with experimental logic, which allowed the creation of a flexible service according to the needs of the client.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
The Whatsapp channel is unique in that it is a silent hotline that combines executive care (for counselling, emotional support and support for emergency situations) and an automatic response bot (for general enquiries). In this way, it is possible to concentrate the efforts of the team on supporting only the most delicate and complex cases.
The platform operates remotely. Each support team member operates from their computer at home. It has a case manager and two levels of attention: General level and SOS level. The SOS level of attention is used to contact telephone numbers prioritized by the team members, since they correspond to women who are already part of SernamEG's programs or who have been indicated as being at risk.
What is the current status of your innovation?
The channel has been rapidly deployed and is still being used by the two governments as a support tool in the fight against domestic violence.
Collaborations & Partnerships
The following partners collaborated with the Government Laboratory during the cross-border development of the project:
- Ministries in charge of gender issues of the Governments of Chile and Argentina: Research,
design, implementation and financing of the people in charge of the service.
- Facebook - Whatsapp: Configuration of the digital platform and financing for the first 3 months of operation.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
The channel of attention is mainly oriented to:
- Women who experience gender-based violence, especially those who prefer to communicate silently, either to reduce the risk of alerting the aggressor, or because they fear the stigma deriving from someone else hearing the conversation.
- Witnesses or people who suspect gender-based violence, whether family members or neighbours.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
In its first year of implementation in Chile, more than 27,000 conversations were held, corresponding to about 25% of the total number of services provided by the National Service for Women and Gender Equality through its various channels. This shows the relevance of having a silent channel, which also contributes to decongest other channels in the event of a sharp increase in demand. Based on these results, the Whatsapp channel, which was initially thought of as an emergency device during the pandemic lockdown, was transformed into a permanent service channel that is still in place and whose continuity is guaranteed by the authorities.
Challenges and Failures
The main challenge was effectively and rapidly coordinating the actors involved so as to implement the project quickly enough during the pandemic crisis. To achieve this, it was necessary to:
- Put together a permanent team with a collaborative process involving experts in domestic violence, behavioural sciences, service design and technology.
- Have the political backing of the authorities in order to speed up bureaucratic procedures.
- Develop a process with an iterative logic, i.e. have the possibility of making progressive adjustments based on tests and trials.
- Guarantee that the staff could combine experience in violence against women with digital skills so as to make the most out of the tools available for the new service channel.
Conditions for Success
- Use infrastructure and services that already exist in the market so as not to reinvent the wheel and focus on the quality of care.
- Design policy and regulatory requirements considering functionality and privacy for users throughout the service journey.
- Clearly define the roles of the various actors in the process.
- Be flexible in terms of human and financial resources depending on the different scaling phases of the project.
- Consider the context and personal motivation of the actors involved.
The cross-border initiative has been developed and implemented by the governments of Chile and Argentina, and has the potential to be replicated by other governments and regions. In fact, the Government of Peru has expressed interest in implementing the initiative. The Whatsapp team has consolidated and translated the guidelines of the service in order to incorporate it in its offer of collaboration with other countries in the context of the pandemic.
More specifically in the case of Chile, the collaboration with Whatsapp as a new channel of communication has been replicated
by the Laboratorio de Gobierno and the Subsecretaría de Educación Parvularia in its program "Dame esos 5" (Give me 5) to favour and stimulate parental capabilities during lockdown. Its experimental piloting with 30,000 families showed a 30% increase in the proportion of caregivers who read to their children. The program is now being scaled at the national level.
- It is crucial to design care services that are multi-layered and that involve expertise in: technology, behavioural sciences, problem-focused research, among others. In this way, it is possible to develop technological functionalities that improve the service experience.
- It is also key to structure the project under an agile logic that allows significant and progressive advances in short periods of time.