April 7, 2021

Ladysmith’s Cosas de Mujeres reveals how tech and community can work together for social impact

Cosas de Mujeres is an innovative WhatsApp-based information platform that builds bridges between women and services that prevent and respond to gender-based violence. It is also clearly showing how tech-based solutions like chat can have even more impact when paired with human-centred and community-based support.

Speaking at the recent Turn.io Town Hall, Dr Julia Zulver, head of Field Operations for Cosas de Mujeres, gave insight into the project that currently operates in two Colombian cities – Cúcuta and Cartagena (soon to be three with the upcoming addition of Bucaramanga).

“The Cosas de Mujeres platform works together with social workers in the community to build legitimacy for the project on the ground,” said Dr Zulver. “It is these two things working together that make for its success.”
“At Ladysmith, we know that technology is a tool, not a solution. Part of the success of the Cosas de Mujeres project relies on our in-person socialisation in the community. There is a relationship between outreach with vulnerable populations (at the border, in the city centre, in peripheral neighbourhoods) and engagement with the Cosas de Mujeres platform.”

To ensure this, the project has hired a team of social workers who engage in face-to-face socialisation and also lead workshops about gender-based violence with the project’s target population on an ongoing basis. This is also a way to continue ground-truthing the service offerings, as well as gathering qualitative feedback on how women feel about the platform.

As part of Cosas de Mujeres’ feminist design process, and based on evidence from academic studies about gender-based violence and technology, the team has focused on creating a platform where vulnerable women feel safe and secure asking for help. This has resulted in the hiring of full-time phone operators, rather than using automation features. “Based on qualitative feedback sessions, we found that women like to engage with a human on the other end of the platform. Our phone operators use local language and slang to meet women “where they’re at” — for example, we encourage them to use lots of emojis, which makes women feel like they’re speaking to a friend.”

Meaning “things for women”, Cosas de Mujeres operates in the context of Colombia’s reconfiguring conflict and Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis - and the resulting mass migration which hides an epidemic of gender-based violence.

Using Turn.io technology, Cosas de Mujeres gives women the ability to access information about existing services related to gender-based violence - and also fosters social cohesion and inclusion between Colombian and Venezuelan women.  Currently the project engages with approximately 150-250 users a month in Cúcuta, and 60-100 users a month in Cartagena. These users often request information about multiple services, and frequently will contact Cosas de Mujeres on various occasions depending on their needs.

Ladysmith is a Canadian-founded feminist research consultancy that helps international organisations collect, analyse, and take action on gender data.

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