Microsoft launches hackathon to fight domestic violence in South Africa

microsoft safe at home hackathon for abuse

Microsoft has announced that it’s partnering with non-profits to launch a hackathon that will aim to build solutions for women and children facing domestic violence and abuse.

The announcement arrives during Women’s Month, with efforts to increase awareness around issues facing women in South Africa.

The coronavirus pandemic and lockdown have put further focus on gender-based violence (GBV) and domestic abuse. So much so, that GBV has been dubbed a second or “shadow” pandemic faced by South Africa.

Earlier this year, Vodacom also announced that it’s working on an app to help abuse victims.

Microsoft Safe@Home hackathon

The hackathon runs from 22 September to 19 October, but registration opens on 11 August.

Developers can join in teams of three to six people. They must develop applications that support those experiencing gender-based violence.

The concept is based on a similar hackathon hosted in Israel in May 2020 in partnership with the Michal Sela Forum. The Forum’s founder Lili Ben Ami lost her sister Michal Sela to GBV when she was murdered by her husband in 2019.

Ben Ami, who was present at the South African briefing, noted that her sister did not have the resources available to safely escape her abusive husband.

She also adds that there were numerous ways technology could have helped her sister reach out for help or find out how to safely leave home. As such, the organisation focuses on leveraging technology to help women facing violence at home.

Safe@Home in South Africa

Microsoft notes that the local hackathon will need to take in South Africa’s unique context. This includes the digital divide, which limits many women’s access to technology.

“Our goal is to find real, sustainable solutions to help South Africa’s most vulnerable and at-risk,” Lillian Barnard, Managing Director of Microsoft South Africa, says.

“Ensuring that we are able to build these kinds of fit-for-purpose technology-based solutions will require partnerships with developers, NGOs in the gender-based violence space like TEARS Foundation and 1000 Women, government, corporate South Africa and other technology players.”

Along with the Michal Sela Forum, Microsoft South Africa has partnered with the 1000 Women Trust and the TEARS Foundation.

Developers in the hackathon will have to take several considerations into account. These include the way that the digital divide and poverty limit access to technology.

As such, their hackathon solutions will need to also consider:

  • Many of those facing GBV are using 3rd or 4th generation phones that are obsolete
  • Users may not have access to applications like Whatsapp or other one-touch SOS tools or applications
  • Data is expensive and not always readily available – especially in emergency situations
  • Regular load shedding means that cell towers are not always operational
  • Many women in SA have limited or no airtime to make calls or send SMSs
  • Many women and children do not have access to transport to find a place of safety

Teams will need to develop solutions using Microsoft technologies to tackle challenges.

Furthermore, Microsoft outlines the ways developers should aim to address challenges.

These include sending assistance to those in danger, empowering those facing abuse to realise it’s abuse and act, as well as providing solutions to help survivors rebuild their lives.

Hackathon prizes

The top three teams will win monetary prizes between $1000 and $5000. Meanwhile, the top team will receive a contract with Microsoft to develop their solution further.

All hackathon participants need to reside in South Africa.

For more details, you can visit the South African Safe@Home website.

Feature image: Screenshot/Microsoft

Megan Ellis


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