I had the honor of being part of the Digital Media Lounge during the Social Good Summit 2017. The day-long event touched on several topics in relation to the Sustainable Development Goals, from universal healthcare to violent extremism to climate change.
The panel that struck me the most was Shattering the Silence: Gender-Based Violence Solutions with ElsaMarie D’Silva and Ilwad Elman. ElsaMarie is the Founder & CEO of Red Dot Foundation, also known as Safecity – a platform that crowdsources personal experiences of sexual violence and abuse in public spaces. Since its launch in December of 2012, it has become the largest crowd map on the issue in India, Kenya, Cameroon and Nepal. Women can use it to report attacks and instances of sexual harassment anonymously and mark the spot where they happened on a map. Ilwad is the Director of Programs & Development at the Elman Peace & Human Rights Center. Through the center, she co-founded the first rape crisis center for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in Somalia.
The panel was moderated by Daniela Ligiero, the Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of Together for Girls, a public-private partnership dedicated to ending violence against children, with a focus on sexual violence against girls. The global partnership includes five UN agencies, many private sector organizations, and the governments of the United States and Canada, along with more than 20 other governments in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. All of these partners work together to generate comprehensive data and solutions to this human rights issue.
The panel focused on how silence is one of the biggest contributors to gender-based violence. According to Daniela, approximately one third of women and girls experience sexual violence and less than 50% of them tell someone about it. Furthermore, less than 2% of the victims get services. Ilwad’s words resonate:
“Silence on the issue is criminal…This is the most endemic situation in the world today”.
She told the audience that in Somalia, women are being jailed for talking about rape. Women are being silenced on the issue by their own governments and activists are being targeted for fighting for women’s rights. This is why ElsaMarie’s Safecity app is so important; it provides a safe space for victims to report their experiences and gives them the courage to speak up. Part of the solution is to stop being silent:
“If we don’t acknowledge it, it never happened. Don’t pretend it doesn’t happen. Make it an issue that it’s not taboo”.
We must report and document these stories so the world can see it’s a real global epidemic and we can use the information to make a change in our communities.
Despite the darkness of the panel’s topic, it ended on a positive note. The panelists expressed their hope for the future, reassuring the audience that change is possible and we can stop violence against women and girls.
These amazing women are already doing their part by promoting advocacy and speaking up for themselves and others. They are an example of how women can lift each other up and stand up for each other in the face of adversity.
There’s a Chinese proverb I learned during this panel that says: “When sleeping women wake, mountains move”. Let’s wake up, speak up, and move some mountains.