November 25 marks the UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. As stated by Global Citizen, "worldwide, 1 in 3 women will experience physical or sexual violence in her lifetime. The current pandemic has only exacerbated this injustice, with new analysis revealing an additional 2.5 million girls are at risk of child marriage, and domestic violence rising as women are locked at home with their abusers."
Though we at The Harvest Fund focus on empowerment and extreme poverty alleviation among marginalized women farmers, we realize that there are a number of other issues preventing true gender and human equality. We use our platform to highlight these issues, while also providing women-led social enterprises to voice their thoughts. This guest post features ila Generation and its co-founder Net Supatravanij.
I think I speak for everyone in that there’s now a clearly defined time under the category of ‘pre-Covid’ and one that is ‘post-Covid’. As the co-founder of ila, a social enterprise focused on empowering gender-based violence survivors, our pre-Covid days looked like this: provide skills-training for sexual violence survivors while connecting them to corporate employees through an employee engagement program – in Mumbai, India.
This time last year, the ila team was holding its pilot skills training workshop for survivors of sexual violence in partnership with employees from UN Women, Unilever and WeWork. We had a range of girls between 18-25 – a pivotal age as this is where the transition from student to first-jobber happens – from 4 partner NGO organizations.
Some had backgrounds of abuse, some were sex trafficked and some were children of trafficked women. The road to recovery is an ongoing journey and never as simple giving someone a different job or placing them into a new industry and expecting them to survive, much less thrive. There tends to be an overemphasis on giving survivors hard skills and thinking that will be a one-size-fits-all solution to reintegrate back into society. In reality, there needs to be a holistic approach when dealing with survivors. ila’s network therefore has a mixture of hard-skills and soft-skills trainers as well as trained therapists specializing in trauma. We recognize that trauma manifests differently for everyone and even the smallest word choices could trigger a response.
Because of this, our vision was to pair corporate employees to teach soft-skills to survivors of violence; survivors gain the skills they need to transition into financially independent job routes and corporate employees gain the skills they need to be empathetic and gender sensitized in the workplace. A win-win and our full program was set to launch earlier this year.
Unfortunately, with a country that has a sixth of the world’s population, the spread of the pandemic was too prevalent for my co-founder and I to continue our operations there. It was also near to impossible to shift out program online as our beneficiaries, the survivors, were from lower socio-economic backgrounds and didn’t have access to technological learning tools. Believe me when I say we tried. We explored multiple education sites, platforms and forums that might have been easier to comprehend. We even researched new partnership avenues with technology companies but ultimately some things are next to impossible to achieve without being face to face.
A pivot was inevitable if we wanted to keep our company running. As it turns out, while all the news channels were focused on the spread of the virus, there was another ‘shadow pandemic’ happening behind closed doors. Globally, even before Covid began, 1 in 3 women experienced physical or sexual violence mostly by an intimate partner. In places like the UK, where ila first started, calls to helplines in just the first 4 weeks of lockdowns increased by 120%.
For those not close to the issue, the correlation between lockdowns and an increase in abuse might not be intuitive. But when confined to a space with your abuser, the risk of repeated abuse increases with tensions stemming from external factors like Covid stress, unemployment risks, financial instability, etc. Alternatively, in many cases, the lockdowns are the first instance of abuse and the abuser is exhibiting violence for the first time.
As such, we created ALLY – a tech solution for bystanders. In countries like Thailand where I am from, almost 95% of domestic abuse bystanders do not intervene, react or know what to do. First, there are plenty of cultural nuances to take into account. In Eastern culture, domestic abuse is considered a private matter as it often happens behind closed doors. There is a heavy stigma in the first place that abuse victims are just that – victims; as if something has happened to them. That in the narrative they are portrayed as helpless, damaged or ruined in society’s eyes. That in itself, is damaging. Language plays a key role in identity and at ila, we always use the word survivors.
I am here to contest the thought that domestic abuse or any form of gender inequality is and should still remain a private matter. There is nothing more of public concern than gender inequality, especially when half of the world’s population is female. We must and can each do our part, from big corporations down to the individual.
Studies have shown that trained bystanders are 89% more likely to intervene and help when it comes to domestic abuse. This is why ALLY specifically focuses on bystanders who have the most visibility in public spaces and are still accessible for many during Covid. We realized that domestic abuse was still in our realm of expertise and interest. We also recognized that there was still an element of skills training needed. Pivoting might have taken us from one continent to another and shifted our target users completely but ultimately we retained the core values that ila was built on – empowering gender-based violence survivors.
- I strongly believe that social enterprises are the future business model upon which both public and private sectors should take notice. Gender equality in particular should be a key UNSDG focal point. Not just because it is one of the lowest ranked sustainable goals in terms of investments from corporations, but because women have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
- The Shadow Pandemic is simply unveiling and exacerbating an issue which has always been present. Like any social issue, it cannot be reduced down to a trend or a hashtag. After Covid days are long behind, there will still be women and men who are facing battles behind closed doors. It’s necessary to educate yourself like you would on Climate Change or the Black Lives Matter movement – it’s about continuous awareness and learning and most importantly, action.
- A pivot isn’t as easy as suddenly shifting all your activities virtual. While most events or businesses have managed to move online, some platforms like Women in the World have decided to completely end their operations. It’s really up to what your core values and whether they could be and should be adapted to a newer context.
Net Supatravanij is a media professional turned social entrepreneur. Originally from Thailand, she has worked in New York, London, and Singapore. She co-founded ila, a social enterprise redefining how talent is activated to create social impact. ila works with businesses to implement human-centered solutions to foster inclusion while empowering survivors of gender-based violence.