Breaking free: How teenage girls are fighting gender-based violence in Albania with technology

Written by Joanna Ng Published on     5 mins read

The team had won a grand prize for GjejZâ in 2019, a mobile application to stop gender-based violence in Albania, as well as empower women to be financially independent. 

At the age of 16, Dea Rrozhani entered the Technovation Challenge with two other teammates, Arla Hoxha and Jonada Shukarasi. They created GjejZâ, a mobile application to stop gender-based violence in Albania and to empower women to be financially independent enough to break out of unhealthy relationships. The team won the grand prize and continues to work on the app currently. Dea is also the founder and mentor at Robotech, an American Corner Tirana Club, where children aged 10-14 learn the basics of programming and robotics.

This interview is edited for brevity and clarity.

KrASIA (Kr): Could you share more about the idea behind your mobile application GjejZâ?

Dea Rrozhani (DR): Sure, let’s start with the name. GjejZâ means “finding your voice” in Albanian dialect, and we came up with the idea when we observed the reality in Albania. In Albania, almost one in every two women has suffered gender-based violence in their lifetime. There was news on this all the time, and it was so frequent that it somehow became normality, yet no one was taking action.

Worse, we have started to observe signs of abusive and unhealthy relationships in our own generation that might evolve into what we would see in the news later on. Since we were joining the Technovation challenge, we wanted to do something that could possibly change the outcome of this pressing issue and thus, started working on GjejZâ.

Dea entered the Technovation Challenge in 2019 with her teammates and decided to empower Albanian women to escape gender-based violence. Image courtesy of Dea Rrozhani.

Kr: What are some of the key features of GjejZâ?

DR: GjejZâ has three main functions: to empower, inform, and enable users to take action.

The SOS feature is one of our most important features. In Albania, we have specific numbers for specific emergencies, and these numbers change sometimes. This confuses many people, and in the event of an emergency, one might not be able to remember the number under anxiety and stress. Hence, we consolidated all the emergency numbers in an SOS menu on GjejZâ, whereby women can just call the numbers easily on the app. We’ve also identified hotlines for abused women and children in our app.

Another feature is a 30-day education program on the app. While we were researching this phenomenon, we noticed that Albanian women who were in abusive relationships take around a decade to report violence. This came as a really huge shock to us and we concluded that this was due to the traditional mentality that a woman should stay quiet to keep the family together.

It didn’t make it any better when the women families would also take the side of the perpetrators. Therefore, this program serves as an information platform to break down all these false myths and perceptions of gender-based violence. We worked with psychologists and therapists to create mindfulness videos, as well as featured life stories of Albanian women who had survived abuse and are now living a better life.

Lastly, a function that I’m personally very fond of is the incognito mode. While working on GjejZâ, I realized how this app could change the lives of so many women. One part of the problem was that perpetrators were often intrusive – I’ve seen many news reports whereby women have been killed because the victim sent SOS text messages or a certain app on their phone. The thought of having the entire app backfire worried me so much. So we came up with the incognito mode where it requires you to set a code. Once entered, the app will turn into a calculator, and functions as one. It will remain as a calculator until you enter the code on the calculator and press on the “=” sign.

The key features of Gjejza include an SOS function, an information page, a 30-day program to empower women and many more.
The key features of Gjejza include an SOS function, an information page, a 30-day program to empower women and many more. Image courtesy of Dea Rrozhani.

Kr: Are there any barriers to entry for women who might have connectivity issues?

DR: Last November, we launched another version of GjejZâ called GjejZâ Lite. This is an offline and more lightweight version that consists of the core, crucial features of  GjejZâ. We specifically designed this for women who were living in rural areas that do not have a lot of internet connectivity and have very old phones with only 2GB of storage.

Kr: How would you measure the impact of success for your app?

DR: We don’t collect a lot of information about our users because we want them to feel as safe as possible when using the app. However, we do look at statistics from downloads on Google Play and it has been very successful in terms of downloads. In fact, the downloads have surged during the lockdown period of pandemic, which is a very significant indicator for us because women were stuck at home with their abusers during this time. It was a great indicator of the reality of gender-based violence here in Albania, and we felt really great that women were actually seeking help.

Kr: What are you currently working on for GjejZâ?

DR: We’ve been very lucky to receive support from many government institutions in just a year, such as the Ministry of Health, the US Embassy and UNICEF. I think that in order to be effective, GjejZâ needs to be updated and maintained regularly to fit in with our evolving society. We live in a time where change is happening very rapidly, and it is important to keep all these changes in mind, especially if you want to address a younger generation. Other than making constant changes to the app to stay relevant, we are also working on another priority, which is to bring GjejZâ to IOS.

Kr: What would you like to see in girls of the future generation?

DR: Definitely resilience and determination. While we have already come a long way, I would really love to see girls of Albania and the generation to keep up the pace and be more confident in their abilities. They should be able to view themselves as equals to the boys and not be afraid to try out any field that they’re interested in.


Joanna Ng

Joanna Ng is the Community Coordinator at KrASIA.


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