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Women's Safety Challenge Community Champion Update #7

Photo of Karolle Rabarison
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Karolle Rabarison is our current volunteer Challenge Community Champion. You'll see her popping up across the Women's Safety Challenge with handy tips and words of encouragement – and posting community updates here like a true champion!

What does it look like when an individual leverages a network for one small step towards change?

During the Research phase, we saw a number of examples of how support networks – local and global, analog and digital – provide safety and empowerment for women and girls. For instance, Luisa Covaria highlighted the importance of breaking the silence to confront harassment and sharing personal stories or resources. Meanwhile, Janice Wong initiated a conversation about a network of “City Changers” leading the charge on creating safer communities, and David Price explored physical networks or hubs that promote safe commutes. 

Photo by Karolle Rabarison.

A significant part of my role as the Challenge Community Champion is to highlight stories and good moves within the OpenIDEO community. But today I want to show you a glimpse of my off-platform community – Bombay – and share one example of a network’s potential to make this urban area safer and more empowering for women and girls.

A recent study reported that 65.1% of Brazilians believe women deserve to be attacked or raped when dressed provocatively. In response, thousands of Brazilian women and men took to social media to share topless or skimpily clothed photos of themselves with the hashtag #NãoMereçoSerEstuprada (I don’t deserve to be raped).

As the campaign gained steam, I received an email from a dear friend in Mumbai:


She wanted to write a blog post about the survey and campaign and to let us know that – in solidarity with Brazilian women and women worldwide – she will take a similar photo to share. That from India to Brazil, nobody deserves to be raped. She was shocked by what happened next, and I would be lying if I said we didn’t tear up over it.

Photo by Siddarth Gogel.

On Thursday morning, her post made the rounds in Mumbai, got picked up in Hong Kong, and reached readers in Australia and the US and beyond. But this story isn’t about blog hits. It’s about the outpouring of support, solidarity, and personal stories that followed. Support from close friends as well as people she hadn’t heard from since university. Solidarity and thank you’s from Brazil. And – perhaps most importantly – personal stories of sexual violence and survival shared by people who read her post.

While negative news about how India treats women and girls continued to fill newsfeeds around the world, in a corner of Mumbai, one bold person speaking up created a safe space for others in her community to do the same.

That's powerful.

Looping back to the Women’s Safety Challenge, I linger on one of the Opportunity Areas: Leveraging support networks locally and globally. How might we tap into the experiences shared and connections made through this one small step, to further strengthen this city? One idea that came to mind was that we should create a guide on what to say and do when friends or strangers come to us with personal stories of sexual violence. What might this guide look like? What content would be most empowering?

So far in the Ideas phase, we’ve seen Cansu Akarsu propose “Say NO Day” for women to speak up together, in solidarity, and confront sexual harassment and violence. Melchior Tamisier-Fayard built upon Cansu's suggestion to kickstart a platform for global dialogue on gender issues between young people. From the northwest corner of the US, Natash Freidus chimed in with an idea to connect NGOs, women, and allies through a map of success stories. And over in Nigeria, Michael Iyanro stepped up with WomenFM—a radio-based network connecting underprivileged or marginalized women across the developing world.

How else could we leverage networks? OpenIDEO community, I look forward to more of your thoughts and ideas!
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Community Champions , Women's Safety Challenge

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Update: After this post went up, a Badal Ja! reader from Australia submitted a piece about reclaiming her body and her power following multiple incidences of sexual violence. Turns out that in sharing a bit of herself, Courtney also created room for further story exchanges and support in her own community. Find out what happened through her own words in this video: It's clear that such stories of empowerment & survival contribute to change by foster supportive communities and networks. Now I wonder: How might we position these same stories to change communities in a way that prevents violence in the first place?