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Don’t Mess With this Sister, Mister!

Don't Mess WIth This Sister Mister is anchored on the fact that women feel safer when they can signify to potential perps that someone is expecting them, and when that signal is visible and obvious to all. The idea combines these elements: 1. Official looking orange vest with an emblem on it that can be worn over clothes. 2. A whistle or some other kind of panic button. 3. Micro-loans to help women and men start businesses with the provision that they also serve as Don't Mess WIth My Sister checkpoints. 4. Sister Safe Spots at common sources of water, food. 5. A community marketing campaign.

Photo of Elle Allison-Napolitano
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Two things: Recently, catalyzed by the conversations on Open IDEO, I had a memory of being an elementary student in awe of the big kids who wore the crossing guard vests. I thought of them as being special and I minded my manners when I was near them. I also knew that if someone was picking on me, or I felt afraid, or lost, I could go to the older kids wearing the crossing guard vest. If you stood near them, you felt safer.
Then, fast forward to present day times and while running on the Iron Horse Trail recently here in the East Bay of California, I passed a gentleman in an orange vest that marked him as a “Trail Safety Volunteer.”
Out of this memory, my recent experience, and out of all the terrific research and ideas placed on this forum so far, I'd like to offer what could be a relatively low cost idea that merges several other concepts discussed in Open IDEO.

Therefore, the idea, Don’t Mess With This Sister, Mister merges a few elements, beginning with signaling perps to stay away.  Here it is: What if we Piloted a program in at least two different locations where we take a multi prong approach:
1.  Give women an orange vest adorned with an official looking emblem, to wear over their clothes to signify to others that this is a women who is part of something and people are expecting her to arrive somewhere. She will be missed if she does not show up and her path will be easily traced.
2.  Give these women a whistle along with the vest. Now they have the signifier (the vest) and the emergency signal (the whistle or panic button). Have safety classes and defense classes for women who wear the vest and make sure people know that if you see a women wearing a vest, she has a whistle and can even fight back if needed.
3.  Initiate a marketing campaign that announces the Don’t Mess With This Sister, Mister initiative. Start this at the elementary level, write a catchy jingle, put up bill boards, use social networks, get college students and grade schools to try it out and develop their own version of the program, get the attention of news media.
4.  Ok, now it gets a little more complicated, but if we want a systemic solution, I think these components need to be considered as they develop the community over the long haul and they empower people, which ultimately reduces poverty and deprivation that often leads to victimization of women: What if in addition to supplying the vests and whistle/panic button, we locate a funding stream for microloans for women and men to start small businesses/food kiosks in urban areas and along side transportation routes. A condition for accepting the loan would be to simultaneously become a “Don’t Mess With Our Sisters” community checkpoint for women who travel past the business each day. These business folks also wear the orange vest and have a placard to hang that says, “Don’t Mess With Our Sisters Checkpoint” (or something like that).
5.  Place the equivalent of the “crossing guard” at places where women and children have to go to obtain water and food each day. This way, no matter what the final destination of the woman, she knows she will always find help at these locations (much like an elementary school child in the United States is taught to run to a crossing guard for help). Note: this part of the idea actually came from my husband.

As you can see, the Don't Mess With This Sister, Mister idea takes a different tack from other ideas that involve concealing the safety item. I think by combining the quite visible vest as a initial signifier, with less visible tactics such as the whistle, and self defense skills creates a formidable response system. But detering violence seems to be a good first move.

Explain your idea in one sentence.

An orange vest signifying to potential perps that this woman is part of a formidable safety network.

What is the need you are trying to solve?

This idea draws on several insights that arose out of the research phase: 1. Women feel safer when they can signal to others that someone is expecting them, and when that signal is visible and obvious. For those of us who can afford and have access to smart phones, we often use the phone to signify to would be perps that we will be missed. The downside of the cell phone as a signifier is that sometimes it attracts perps who simply snatch it out of our hands and even strike us, or worse. 2. Women feel safer when the distance between them and their destination is bridged by contact with other people. 3. Women feel safer if they know they can summon help fast (like using a whistle or panic button). 4. Women feel safer in numbers. 5. Women who experience food insecurity are more likely to enter unsafe places in search of food or to have to travel greater distances to acquire food and water for themselves and their families. 6. Men and boys must be part of the solution—we cannot leave them out.

Who will benefit from this idea and how would you monitor its success?

Women, men and communities would benefit from this systemic approach that begins with the humble orange vest. The Benefits: 1. More violence against women prevented in the first place, as the vest visibly signifies to others Don't Mess WIth Me. 2. More community based entrepreneurial commerce. 3. Decreased distance between one business and another. 4. More families earning money to care for themselves and their children, thus empowering people and interrupting the cycle of poverty and violence. 5. Women connecting with other women who are wearing the vest and who travel with each other and check in at the same start-ups as they do. We can monitor success by following these indicators: 1. The number of incidents of violence initiated against women (we should see the number decrease as the vest wearers increase) 2. The percentage of new start-ups accepting the micro loans with the condition of becoming a Don't Mess With My Sister location. 3. The number of women who will wear the vest and carry the whistle or other panic button device. 4. The percentage of people who know about the initiative when asked. 5. Other indicators that will emerge with use.

Who would be best equipped to implement this idea in the real world? You? Your organisation? Another organisation or entity?

Just brainstorming here, I think we would need to work with organizations in place through NGO's, schools, community centers. We need to involve local leaders, teachers, and women and girls who are looking for ways to have a voice and to become community leaders. We also need to mobilize and involve micro loan organizations--many of which are already in place. I think involving young people boys and girls is necessary for long term success.

Where should this idea be implemented?

I'm thinking that it would be very cool to pilot this multi-prong program in two locations such an area of Mumbai or Zambia and also somewhere in a neighborhood in Oakland CA or Houston, or New Orleans.

How might you prototype this idea and test some of the assumptions behind it?

Perhaps we can start with the vest and the whistle or other panic button device. Recruit a group of women to wear the vest and carry the whistle and then travel a route individually where women typically feel vulnerable (have a cadre of incognito support people following in case the women run into trouble). You could also have a group travel together to see the difference between women traveling alone in the vest or with others while wearing the vest. Work with local groups to hold focus groups to discuss the micro loans. Would people be interested in this? Talk to people in charge of granting micro loans. Does this idea appeal to them?


Join the conversation:

Photo of Meena Kadri

Lots of great thinking here, Elle & co!

We thought it could be really awesome to try some part of this idea out in your own community to see what you learn to develop it further: Looking forward to seeing what you come up with.

And here's a friendly tip: update your OpenIDEO profile so folks can dig who they're collaborating with. Think skills, experience, passions & wit! Looking forward to seeing more of you across conversations on this challenge...

Photo of Meena Kadri

We also think your idea could work well in tandem with this idea: We hope you might collaborate to grow each other's concepts. Creativity loves company!

Photo of DFA NYU

Hi Elle &co, interesting idea and that has a lot of common with the bindi idea we posted.
We particularly like the idea of micro-loans. It's something we've considered but haven't developed completely.

We're not sure what you will learn with the prototype you are suggesting: women wearing the orange vest and whistle and travel with other women. Are you trying to understand if women will truly feel safer? Wondering if you could not also connect with this idea:

Photo of Elle Allison-Napolitano

Hi Meena and Design Tinkering- I thought I did build on the Bindi idea, but I'm still rather new to Open IDEO so maybe I did not do it properly. My apologies for that (I tried to make sure that I named all the ideas and research that inspired me).. To the Design Tinkering Club: regarding the groups wearing the vests--this may be an organic development. Over time, women wearing the vests would possibly also travel similar routes and band together similar to some of the other research offered by groups in the research phase (that I built this idea upon). I think the micro loans could be powerful in connection to businesses that are safe spots for women. I'm excited to see where these ideas can go!

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard

Hi Elle, you did build upon the bindi concept! :-)

Photo of Elle Allison-Napolitano

Thanks Anne-Laure. I'm still learning.

Photo of Meena Kadri

Hi Elle – you're doing just brilliantly :^) To clarify... it's one thing to add another idea using the Build Upon feature to signal that they're linked conceptually – it's another to actually join in discussions on each others ideas to help build them out and evolve. Sorry – it is a bit confusing. We hope you and the Design Tinkering group will continue to have input on each others ideas. Collaboration is what we're all about here on OpenIDEO!

Photo of Elle Allison-Napolitano

Ah, now I get it. Thanks Meena.