Femicide is a major problem in the West African country. A French entrepreneur of Senegalese origin is hoping her invention — App-Elles — can help end it.
DAKAR — In the Place de la Nation, in the heart of Dakar, hundreds of Senegalese chant the words "doyna, doyna!" — "stop" in the local Wolof language. What the protestors want is an end to femicide and violence against women.
For many here, the murder of Bineta Camara, 23, in May, was the final straw. The young woman was strangled in the family house after refusing the sexual advances of a friend of her father. Since then, protesters have been demanding the criminalization of rape and more severe sentences for assault, sexual harassment, and forced marriages.
The desire for justice is one Diariata N'Diaye can relate to personally. The French entrepreneur of Senegalese origin recalls that when she was 15 years old, an attempt was made to force her into marriage. Today, at the age of 34, she is back in Senegal to launch a local version of her application, App-Elles, which was created in 2015 to help victims of violence.
"The idea is to centralize several features to respond to a situation of distress," she explains. "We don't always have the opportunity or the time to call the police during the attack."
Pressing the start button on your phone four times or unplugging your headset is enough to trigger the emergency system. A bracelet connected by Bluetooth can also serve as a discreet trigger. Pressing on it for four seconds prompts the application to record the sound and geolocation of the phone, sending this information to three trusted contacts who can follow the phone, talk to the victim, or call for help.
68% of Senegalese women did not dare to speak about the violence they were undergoing.
"App-Elles is not designed to stop the violence but to allow the victims to call for help quickly and discreetly," says its creator.
The software also offers a complete informative interface listing the assistance structures nearest to the victim: medical care, emergency shelter, specialized associations, psychological and legal support.
"It is vital to have a specific tool to help victims who often feel too alone," says N'Diaye. "Our goal is to unite and facilitate their efforts. It also brings attention to numerous associations working against violence. Around 2,500 organizations worldwide are already connected via the application, as well as emergency call centers in eight countries, including France, Algeria, and, most recently, Senegal.
"The challenge in West Africa is that you need a smartphone and good network coverage," she goes on to say.
In rural areas especially, that can be a real problem. Also, there aren't many assistance institutions in Senegal — just three as of this summer, when the application was launched there. And they're all in the capital.
The technical challenges aside, App-Elles is making real inroads in Dakar, where as Diariata N'Diaye explains, there's a "real demand for solutions' to the problem of violence against women. The entrepreneur is already in discussion with the city of Dakar and the Ministry of Woman, Family and Childhood to get their support.
In the meantime, App-Elles can boast about its international success. Available for free on iOS and Android platforms, it has been downloaded more than 10,000 times in four years and has 2,500 monthly active users. The app has also won several awards, including the innovation award at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Fully funded by philanthropy — donors include the French Ministry of Justice and Facebook's Fund for Online Citizenship — App-Elles prides itself on being a not-for-profit project and promises "not to collect the personal data of its users."
N'Diaye would like her invention to strengthen the fight against femicide and gender-based violence in Europe and Africa, starting with Senegal. In December 2018, Ndèye Saly Diop Dieng, the Senegalese Minister for Woman, Family and Childhood relations, said that 68% of Senegalese women did not dare to speak about the violence they were undergoing.
"I hope App-Elles will help them," N'Diaye says.