Dorcas Agalo, Respekt

I am a finalist medical student in Kenyatta University in Nairobi, Kenya.
During my free time, I work with a group of volunteers composed of medical and public health students in a project called RESPEKT (Reproductive and Sexual Health Program for Kenyan Teenagers). This is a partnership project between Medical Students’ Association of Kenya (MSAKE) and International Medical Co-operation Committee Uland (IMCC-Uland). The project started to develop in 2014, and by 2015 volunteers from both MSAKE and IMCC met to brainstorm; that was when RESPEKT was born. 

Our goal is to ensure quality education on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) among teenagers aged 13-19 years in Kenya by facilitating a series of workshops at undeserved secondary schools in five different Kenyan counties. The project applies a rights-based approach to combat the harmful cultural practices, gender-based violence and lack of relevant and accurate information on SRHR among youth in Kenya. 

In Kenya, young boys and girls are unable to access sexual and reproductive health services despite of their right to do so as entrenched in the Kenyan constitution. Young women and children continue to suffer in the hands of health-care practitioners and quacks who claim that female genital mutilation done in the hospital is safer than that done in traditional settings. Unmet sexual and reproductive health needs among the youth contribute to unwanted pregnancies, STIs and HIV infections. Teenage pregnancies are associated with adverse outcomes such as unsafe abortion, obstructed labour, fistulas and death. 

 Efforts to address these issues have been made by the national government, through the creation of the Adolescent Reproductive Health and Development Policy in 2003 aimed at improving reproductive health and the quality of life among Kenyan adolescents and youth. However, the drive to secure adequate awareness and education on SRHR has faced a range of cultural and religious opposition. 

Accommodating these challenges, we seek to provide quality education on sexual and reproductive health and rights through a series of workshops that emphasize the creation of safe spaces. A safe space is a non-judgemental and friendly environment where we can have open discussions and our opinions are respected. Through the project we have been able to address issues of menstrual hygiene; harmful cultural practices like female genital mutilation; the importance of safe sex practices and abstinence when possible; and early or unplanned pregnancy. Creating safe spaces has made students feel comfortable and enthusiastic in leading discussions. One girl remarked after a session on early pregnancy, “I was like a blind person before you came to our school but now I see clearly”. 

Issues surrounding sexuality and reproductive health are difficult to talk about with our parents and teachers because it is largely considered taboo. Young boys and girls are therefore more receptive to us compared to older people, and we take advantage of this to impact youth one at a time. Our long term goal is to raise a generation of young women and men who will take charge of their health and secure the right to health for all around them. The workshops have also given us an opportunity to mentor and encourage young boys and girls in school to strive towards making it to college and a better life. 

If you’d like to learn more about our work, or see how to get involved, please visit us on Facebook and share our efforts across your networks.

Shruti Kapoor, Sayfty

According to UN Women, 1 in 3 women face sexual harassment during the course of their lifetime. In India, a woman is raped every 22 minutes. Crimes against women and girls are rampant. Rape, sexual violence, and street harassment have become the norm and yet women and girls choose to stay silent and not speak up against violence due to the social stigma attached to these crimes and the process. A lengthy and complex judicial system serves as a deterrent. Encouraging women to speak up against all forms of violence, report it and break the shame associated with it is important if we want to end gender based violence. 

Gender violence, in all its forms, is a broad and complex social problem in India. The horrific 2012 gang rape of Jyoti Singh that captured global media attention deeply impacted me, highlighting my own experience with sexual harassment during my first 20 years of living there. A solution had to be found. I no longer wanted to be a silent bystander; I wanted to enable Indian women to take charge of their own safety. That’s when I decided to start Sayfty, an organization that educates and empowers women and girls against violence. 

At Sayfty, our vision is to make the daily lives of millions of Indian women safer by empowering them to take a stance against gender violence. I believe a woman’s safety is her birthright and our programs and initiatives are designed to ensure that she feels safe and free. We educate women and girls about the issue of violence against women in society by using digital media and storytelling. Our online campaigns empower communities by making women and girls more aware of their rights, helping them identify and speak out against gender violence. We provide safe spaces (online and offline) for open conversations with boys and men to bring about a fundamental shift in how violence against women is perceived. Our free self-defense workshops instill confidence in women and girls to protect themselves while encountering perpetrators. 

Working on these issues has it’s own set of challenges. Some of the biggest we’ve faced over the last 3.5 years include: 

Changing mindsets rooted in age-old practices and customs: We advocate for the right of women and girls to be safe. This often conflicts not only with patriarchal norms and rules, but also with women’s own internalized beliefs of that patriarchy. How do we convince women that their safety lies in their hands too; that they must be aware, alert, and equipped to protect themselves? 

Teaching and instilling respect for women at an early age: The narrative on gender equality needs to change. We believe it is as crucial to create awareness in schools about violence against women and girls as it is to teach the importance of using a language of gender equality and justice. Challenging and breaking gender stereotypes needs to be encouraged early on in the lives of children. 

Inciting citizens to act: We believe change can begin with the community. Parents should lead by example; believe their young daughters when they complain about harassment, believe a friend when they confide in them about being raped. Refuse to be a silent bystander when you witness a woman being sexually harassed, help her take action.

Changing the System: Ensuring a zero-tolerance policy for violence against women at every level of governance and implementation. For the most part, women in India live in fear of violence, and they are scared. They are compelled to make small lifestyle changes because the law has failed to protect them. The current system is ineffective and inefficient, and justice for survivors is either denied or delayed.

Despite the challenges, we have been able to create impact and make a difference in how women and girls perceive their personal safety. Our self-defense workshops have had the most impact. 90% of the girls and women who participate say they would recommend the workshop to their friends. There is a renewed sense of self-confidence after the workshops. 

“During the self-defense workshop it was hard for some women to use their voice and scream loudly. When asked if they can break a brick, most of us said NO. But the trainer taught us how to! It was a very liberating experience. My confidence immediately rose. After the workshop, I felt empowered and more equipped to handle an unsafe situation. I highly recommend [this] to all girls and women.” -workshop participant

If you’d like to get involved with our work at Sayfty, there are many ways:

Volunteer with us. We are always looking for bloggers, transcribers, photographers, graphic designers and social media gurus.

Be our Voice of The Week: If you are active on Twitter, you can be our #VOTW and curate Sayfty’s twitter account for a week. Use your voice and our platform to raise awareness on women’s safety and the issue of violence against women. We now have curators from more than 30 countries in the world. Be a part of this growing community. 

Engage with us through our weekly chat on Twitter: #Sayftychat. Each week we bring on a guest to discuss a top related to women’s empowerment and safety. Join us on Twitter every Monday at 11am EST for 1 hour. 

Donate: If you like what we are doing, support us financially. We are a 100% volunteer run organization and grants and donations help us do the work we do. You can also sponsor a self-defense workshop for women and girls. 

ElsaMarie D’Silva, Safecity

I am ElsaMarie DSilva, Founder & CEO of Red Dot Foundation (Safecity). We are based in India; we crowdsource personal experiences of sexual violence in public spaces, then collate and visualize this data on a map as hotspots. The aim is to make public spaces safer and equally accessible to all, especially women and girls, through raising awareness on the issue of sexual violence, educating people on the legislations in effect, improving their situational awareness and engaging communities to find local neighborhood solutions. 

 We launched Safecity in response to a horrific gang rape of a young woman on a bus in Delhi in December 2012. That incident shocked everyone, including me. It opened up the conversations on the issue of sexual violence and I found that everyone I knew had a story to share which until then we had all stayed silent about. 

 In fact, even more shocking were the global statistics. UN Women states that 1 in 3 women experience some form of sexual assault at least once in their lifetime, yet 80% of women and girls choose to remain silent due to fear of bringing shame to themselves and their families, fear of dealing with the police and lengthy judicial process for justice. In my experience, the statistics in India are much higher and there is a rape that occurs every 15 minutes. 

 Over the last 3 years we have collected close to 10,000 personal stories of sexual violence from women in India, Nepal, Kenya and Cameroon, we have conducted workshops for over 9,000 people ranging from 6 - 60 years and have worked in neighborhoods across Delhi and Mumbai impacting the lives of over 10,000 families. We use the online data that women and girls share to identify factors that lead to behavior that cause sexual violence and help us think through strategies to find solutions. We partner with other NGOs, citizen and student groups that work local communities to create awareness and collect information on sexual violence. The data highlights trends and we then mobilize the community to rally around the issue using the data as the base. 

For example, our data helped us identify a hotspot in an urban slum in Delhi. It was on a main road near a tea stall. Men would loiter there while drinking their tea and intimidate women and girls with their constant staring. When asked what they wanted to change about their neighborhood the young girls said that they would like the staring to stop. So we organized an art workshop for them and they painted the wall with staring eyes and subtle messaging that loosely translates in English to – “Look with your hearts and not with your eyes.” It’s been two years since the wall mural was painted and the staring and loitering has stopped and the girls can walk comfortably, with no stress to school, college or work, without fear of being intimidated by those men. 

Changing cultures of violence is partly about policies, but it’s also about giving people a voice. By making it easy for people to share their stories and report, and thus transparently showcasing data we can hold institutions accountable. We have several examples where, on presenting the data, police have changed beat patrol timings and increased patrolling, municipal authorities have fixed street lighting and made safe public toilets available. Together with a partner organization in Nepal, we pressured the transportation authorities to issue “women only” bus licences. 

Join our movement by encouraging people to break their silence and record their story on our website: Safecity. This will help create a culture of reporting crimes of sexual violence.

Blended Blog for the 14th AWID Forum

September 8-11 is the 14th Association of Women in Development (AWID) Forum in Brazil. The 2016 Forum is a space to re-imagine and co-create a future free from oppressions, injustice, war and violence and to develop concrete strategies for people and planet based on our shared humanity. It brings together a broad diversity of movements and sectors to collectively strategize for feminist futures: from women’s rights and feminist movements (including special attention to Brazilian women’s rights activists), to peace, economic justice, environmental, and human rights movements, among others. #WhatWomenWant is proud to be a platform for young feminists to amplify their voices, power their solutions, and claim their agency through a presence at AWID. 

1. How can young women be supported to break structural barriers
that hinder the progress towards gender equality?

Young women can be supported first and foremost through education and opportunity. This includes providing young women the
opportunities to take on positions of leadership within communities and
decision making processes. This means an equal seat at the table with power and
autonomy over their own bodies, sexual health and education. If young women are
provided education and access to information their potential is infinite. I
often think to the phrase “Educate a girl, empower a nation” to break structural barriers and to implement equality and perhaps most importantly,
-Melissa Fairey, Canada

2. What is your top health
priority for women and girls in the next 5 years as it relates to HIV?

 Reproductive health rights of course, but also, very importantly, to include psychological support…
The other day at my HIV clinic I saw a woman crying.
She had just received results on her HIV+ status. She was all
by herself. I gave her my number though I´m sure she’ll never call the unknown
girl who gave her a phone number and spoke to her some unintelligible language…
My heart broke at the certainty that she´ll go through this process by herself
with no mental support at all.
-Xiana Albor, Spain

3. What does the end of AIDS mean to you? What role can the women’s
movement play to accelerate progress?
To me, the end of AIDS
means the end of stigma and discrimination that HIV+ people have to face every day. It means that we live in a world where AIDS isn’t the end of life. Around me, I know many people who have many misconceptions about HIV and living with HIV. These
misconceptions need to be cleared through CSE. The women’s movement has done a wonderful job so far, of empowering young women
around the world to assert and engage with their own rights, with regard to
their bodies. We need to continue this struggle so that all young women can
assert their bodily autonomy and integrity, and be able to safely access their
rights to lead fulfilling lives.
-Shirin Chowdhary, India

4. What are the current gaps in the HIV response for women and girls,
and what are key barriers and enablers to young women accessing HIV/SRHR

The gaps exist at international
and country-specific policy levels. However, these gaps further get amplified
at local implementation level. Being a young woman and/or an adolescent girl
brings with it much unwarranted stigma so much that essential HIV/SRHR services
are unavailable and if available still inaccessible. As a healthcare provider I have personally witnessed the stigmatization of sexual activity of girls. There
is also a grey area between parents and healthcare workers in primary
healthcare level to decide who is responsible for educating the girl child
about sexuality and reproductive experiences in adolescence. The proposals to
provide Comprehensive Sexuality Education in primary and secondary schools has
not been implemented in many countries, and we can only wonder what this is
doing to young girls.
Nsovo Xiluva, South Africa

Kirthi Jayakumar, The Red Elephant Foundation

#WhatWomenWant is a collaborative effort launched by the ATHENA Network and driven by young feminists and young women from around the world. The campaign has created space for activists and advocates across the women’s movement to amplify their voices, power their solutions and claim their agency. Throughout the month of September we will be highlighting young feminists and the work they’re doing to advance the vision, priorities, and rights of women and girls in all of their diversity. #WhatWomenWant provides a democratic platform equalize all voices and catalyze cross-movement action towards what truly works for women and girls. 

I sleep for a few hours every night – I’m usually on my phone and social media around the clock. But that night, when I received a message asking for help, I was asleep. The guilt for not being awake ate me up, and kicked me into action. 

Recently a distraught friend, who had just moved to the United Kingdom after her wedding, left me sixteen messages asking for help. She was caught without a way out of an abusive relationship. Her husband monitored her phone and laptop, and locked the house when he left it, leaving her behind. He beat her, often times being aggravated when she screamed for mercy. On many days she slept without food because he didn’t let her eat. I would learn later that she had been putting up with this for nearly 13 months. She couldn’t Google the nearest shelter or emergency support services, because using her phone meant that he could trace her. 

After sending me the messages, she pulled out her SIM Card and cut it up, left her phone behind, and managed to slip out of the house. She made her way to the closest railway station; as a foreigner who had not yet become a citizen, she wasn’t aware of what rights she had on foreign soil. She spent a day switching trains until she could muster enough courage to call home and ask for the help of her parents in India. They were able to get in touch with a shelter, where she was taken care of. Her father brought her back to India, where she now lives, while proceedings for her divorce are underway. 

 Her story shook me up. She had put her trust in me, and I was asleep. What if there were many women like her, seeking help from across oceans, simply because they don’t know how to seek help locally? What if they continue to be vulnerable to abuse or violence, and can’t seek help because they have no access to the outside world? I wanted to do something about it. 

I spent a couple of weeks talking to women to understand the factors that could hinder one’s access to crisis response. Most of the answers were obvious: lack of money, awareness, knowledge of a foreign language if they were in a different country. Then came the ones that were harsh to digest: one survivor was afraid to Google help because it left traces on the browser history – and she worried about forgetting to erase the entries in her nervousness. Another survivor told me her former partner had installed spyware in her system – and she had no idea because it was so inconspicuous. An aid worker volunteer said that fear came from being unable to verify the authenticity of a care provider – given that many organizations are forced to cut down on intakes, services, or programs, or even close down, for want of funds. 

 I had kicked the hornet’s nest. I was dealing with something that was so huge, it was no exaggeration to say that the nuances had nuances. I spent restless hours brainstorming the many dimensions to fill the gap between services and victims in need of those services. Then the idea struck me: what if there was a way to verify organizations in cities around the world, and present the data so that women anywhere could access a service they most needed? What if, then, this mapped data could feed into a mobile app that could be accessed by women anywhere? So a mother in India could get in touch with a shelter or the police in the UK to ensure that her daughter was rescued, or a girl in Singapore could help her sister in Ireland access urgent medical care by accessing the resource appropriately for her. 

 I worked with volunteers from my team at the Red Elephant Foundation, as well as the UN Online Volunteering program to handle the task (a BIG SHOUT OUT to Laura Donati, Manmeet Kaur, Abubakar Abdullahi, Alka Mann, Georges Gedeonachi, Heather Thomas, Lance Orwa, Luqman Rabe and Prathyusha Sadhu!). We split a massive list of 197 countries among us, and by the end of two months we had a list of 5000 organizations around the world who provided aid to women who have survived violence. After the data collection I spent each night verifying that the organizations were functional: inquiry calls to their lines, online website verification, their social media presence, and conversations with people in the areas these organizations were in. Slowly as the map took shape, we realized there were entire countries that appear not to have comprehensive services. There were several segments of areas such as far Eastern Russia, parts of Central Asia and Africa that had little to no data that was accessible. It had also become apparent that we couldn’t have all the answers and find all the organizations in all cities of the world (although the aim is to get there). 

We decided to make it a crowdsourced map, where people could submit reports of organizations, that we could verify and add. I started to build the data into a crowdmap. Inspired by Harassmap and Safecity, I realized there was a sense of clarity, ease and fluidity when data is visualized – rather than a downloadable directory or a pair of drop-down menus. When visualized, data helps see where resources are inadequate – so even aid providers can establish initiatives accordingly – to cover areas that are otherwise unattended to. Our team split the data into categories and mapped them with color codes: Legal help, Medical help, Resources (Food, Shelter, Clothing and Supplies), Education and Empowerment Programs, Police, and Ambulance services. 

 When we had mapped about 97 countries, I made it live from our website. We assumed no one would notice, and went about data mining. Little did we know that impact was taking shape. A young lady in Sri Lanka was suspicious of her sister’s behavior. Her sister, married and settled for close to three years in Europe, would call home once every two weeks, seemingly normal. Eventually it became apparent to the sister in Sri Lanka that her sister in Europe was facing violence. The young lady in Sri Lanka follows our website, and in her curiosity she had stumbled onto the map. As luck would have had it, we had mapped a bunch of crisis response centers in her sister’s city. She called one, and with the help of the police, her sister was rescued. 

 At some point in the process I was beginning to wonder if this task made sense at all, but the universe found its way of bringing this powerful story to me at the right time. With feedback, we’ve come to understand that accessing this map seems easier, given that it is just one entry to be deleted from browser history if one feels they are being watched. We also know that women feel empowered about being able to help other women anywhere in the world. Now the map sits online, ready to help, and a mobile app will soon be made available. 

 As I write this, I have an email alert from an organization in Mumbai that provides shelter for women. They tell me that with the help of the crowdmap, they were able to direct a young woman in the US to the closest emergency medical help center. This makes me hope that providers can collaborate and not compete - encouraging and fostering better and easier access in the process. While I would like ideally that no woman in the world would face a situation that requires her to use the map, I also sadly acknowledge that we are not there yet. I hope the map helps as many women as possible in the world to get out of difficult situations with the least amount of inconvenience.

The map may be found here: 

 To contact Kirthi or the Red Elephant Foundation:

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