‘What would happen if one woman…’

Keynote speech by Matokgo Makutoane, Soul City’s Head of Advocacy, at the launch of rAInbow. November 15, 2018: The Forum, Bryanston, Johannesburg.

As delivered

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to be here at this wonderful occasion to launch the raInbow bot. Today is an occasion to celebrate a transformative innovation that will help protect the lives of hundreds of thousands of women and girls.

I am especially pleased to have been invited to deliver this speech on behalf of the Soul City Institute because of the relationship we enjoy with Sage.

As a country, we have just come out the harrowing experience of listening to raw stories of abused women at the Gender Summit. The memory of the pain in their voices and faces will remain etched in our minds. Because of the Gender Summit, awareness and sensitivity around gender-based violence is high. There is no doubt that an innovation like raInbow bot will break the silence even more.

Undoubtedly, this year is one in which we will remember as the year when the women of South Africa said: ‘No!’ ‘Enough is enough.’ ‘We are fighting back!’

I saw that grim determination etched in the faces of Soul City’s staff when we marched shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of thousands of our sisters to the Union Buildings as part of theTotalShutdown.

I saw that determination at the recent Gender Summit in Pretoria which was called in response to women power on that August day.

And I see that fierce determination in your eyes today.

Muriel Rukeyser, the feminist poet, asked: “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life. The world would split open.” The world, as men know it, is splitting open because hundreds of thousands of South African women are telling the truth about their lives.

The cold statistics don’t come close to expressing South Africa’s women and girls Trail of Tears. South Africa has one of the highest per capita rates of women being killed by their partners. The South African Medical Research Council estimates that a woman is murdered by an intimate partner once every eight hours.

Our extremely high rates of gender-based violence such as rape, assault and intimate partner violence should scar the conscience of every South African citizen.

It is within this tragic context that raInbow, an artificial intelligence powered smart companion will support and even save the lives of the women who suffer domestic violence. Through smartphones, tablets and computers it is destined to disrupt the entrenched patterns of abuse and domestic violence in our society.

Digital disruption, of course, has become the buzzword of our times. Everyone seems to be talking about it.  Firms, like Sage, are discovering how networks of interconnected devices, big data analytics, and always-on connectivity, are better able to service clients. Every major firm is looking at how to automate, refine and reform its workflows, systems and processes in order to be more efficient. The most successful firms are driven by enabling technology.

The elegance of raInbow - and what sets it apart - is that disruptive technology will now be used to protect women from abuse. What I particularly like is that the Chatbot will also shine a bright light in a dark place exposing acts of domestic violence and its wicked perpetrators.

It has many other inbuilt advantages. Women don’t have to download an app and it is completely a private affair and confidential. It is free of charge. It provides scenario-based stories, because one of the biggest problem’s survivors face today is a terrible sense of alienation and loneliness. It provides a safe place for survivors, and even its very name is gender and socially neutral. This will help shield users from abusive partners. I believe women who use the app will also gain the confidence to reach out to other women and agencies who can provide practical support and advice. Remember, domestic violence thrives in darkness.

For now, rainbow lives on Facebook Messenger. It is still in the pioneering and developmental stage.  However, there is no doubt that, in time, it will live on other platforms like WhatsApp too. There is a Talmudic proverb that says one who saves a life saves a world entire. Living in harmony with other platforms, raInbow will save many women’s worlds; their children and loved ones.

I would like to briefly touch upon the wider challenges that the Fourth Industrial Revolution brings because it overlaps with today’s event as a justice issue. At Soul City, we never shy away from difficult truths.

Thought leaders are only beginning to grapple with the challenges of a new world where tech, automation, and artificial intelligence are predicted to outpace net gains in job creation and economic growth. Big data will transform our industries and services such as 3-D manufacturing will change how we make goods and provide services. One report in 2017 estimated that nearly four in ten jobs are at a high-risk of automation by 2037. Women will suffer the brunt of the first wave of jobs lost to automation.

At Soul City, we act upon the insight that every economic issue has a social justice fuse. This is particularly true in South Africa due to colonialism’s and apartheid’s spatial planning that deliberately excluded the black majority.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution will affect women, and especially black women, most adversely and deepen inequality. This means that we must push the envelope to ensure that we prepare women, especially poor women, for the changed economy in our programmes and campaigns. Arising from this, a major concern is South Africa’s high prices of cellular phone data, which are among the highest in the world. In this digital divide, poor women have much less -- if any at all -- access to internet connectivity which means that they are even prevented from making Skype or WhatsApp call free of charge. The other obstacle is that in order to get a cell phone contract the applicant must have a fixed abode and a bank account.  

We all have a responsibility to ensure that women are best placed to take advantage of upskilling -- and even skills we’ve yet not imagined -- in order to participate in the new economy. Most new jobs created will have a technology component. It is important that women obtain the opportunities to acquire the skills to enable them to take up the new jobs created by advancing technology. This will require a quality of the imagination, perhaps unsurpassed in our difficult history. Yet we will, as we always have, rise to the challenge. 

At Soul City, we believe that, together, we can turn the tide against domestic violence and abuse. If we have the imagination and will to keep on innovating and disrupting, we can end this scourge.

Today’s unveiling is a good story in a world that too often succumbs to cynicism and fear. How extraordinary that a Bot called ‘raInbow’ is today’s story of the pervasive power of love and hope. 

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