About a year ago, I hosted a crowdfunding campaign to raise funds for a local nonprofit in my area working to help survivors of domestic and sexual violence.
I reached out to my friends and family and social media community, asking for their help in donating to the cause or sharing the campaign to help me get the word out.
The response was overwhelmingly positive and I couldn’t believe how supportive and generous people were.
But there was one person who said that they weren’t going to donate to the cause or share the link because of the sensitivity of the topic because the organisation I was fundraising for had the word “rape” in their name.
I said, sir, how else do you expect the topic of gender-based violence to ever not be taboo if we don’t start breaking down the taboo now? How can we educate ourselves, our children, our friends, if everyone is too scared to talk about it? How will we ever make a change if we keep sweeping it under the rug?
Now I understand that gender-based violence perhaps didn’t used to be a hot dinner table topic favourite. But today, it’s different, we’re getting louder and prouder about topics that matter, and I don’t think there’s anything better than that.
Conversation is key. Consent is sexy. Caring is cool.
It’s time to stop fearing society’s opinions, it’s time to stop waiting for someone else to make the change, so we don’t have to.
It’s time we started saying what scares us.
There are so many amazing non-profit organisations doing incredible work in this space.
There are homes for women and children who have experienced domestic violence and need to be able to escape to a safe place, qualified individuals who volunteer their time as trauma counsellors, organisations that provide financial and psychosocial support to survivors of gender-based violence.
I’m lucky enough to have met and worked with some of the people who run these organisations and initiatives, and they truly are real-life angels. I’ve had moving encounters with survivors who, with tears in their eyes, have told me how these organisations, therapists, homes, individuals and NPOs have changed their lives.
They are doing the most incredible work and they are absolutely necessary.
However, the question remains — is enough being done on the other side of gender-based violence: the stopping of or preventing of the crime?
In a world where one in every three women experience sexual abuse, we have to make sure that these women feel safe and secure and get the help and support they need.
But are we doing enough to stop it from happening in the first place?
I recently participated in a virtual hackathon, the first of its kind, where I mentored teams that were hacking for tech-enabled solutions to end gender-based violence.
I met some incredible young developers and innovators with the most clever, creative ideas — including a smart bra that sends an emergency alert when the wearer of the bra is in trouble, drones that cover high-risk areas as surveillance cameras and a mobile app that is a panic button that alerts police and emergency response when pressed and doesn’t require WiFi or mobile data to be used.
But the question of “How do we stop it from happening in the first place?” was still keeping me up at night.
In Germany, there’s a date rape wristband that can tell you if your drink has been spiked, and in the UK there’s a nail polish that changes colour when the drink you’re holding has been drugged. In any corner of the world, you can find self-defence classes for women to learn what to do when they’re being attacked or held at gun-point.
These are all incredibly innovative ideas.
But what about the girl who doesn’t have the panic button app on her phone, or doesn’t have her wristband on, or isn’t wearing this specific nail polish? What if something happens to her — will they, then, in court, ask her “Why weren’t you wearing your smart bra!?” along with “How short was your skirt” and “How drunk were you?”
It shouldn’t be a woman’s responsibility to add self-defence classes to her schedule, or wear a certain outfit, just in case she comes into contact with a rampaging rapist.
Rather, it should be the responsibility of all men to stop feeling like they are entitled to women’s bodies.
My heart shattered into pieces recently when a friend opened up to me about her experience as a survivor of domestic violence.
In South Africa, where the rate of femicide is five times higher than the global average, a woman experiences sexual violence every 29 seconds. And every 60 minutes, she doesn’t survive.
This is frightening, but when one of these millions of women is one of your friends, it stops you dead in your tracks.
For her, and for every other woman who has gone through the horror of this kind of abuse, I’m committed to protecting survivors, restoring their dignity, eradicating the stigmatisation and victimisation, and ensuring their health, safety and security in the future.
I want her to get the best counselling, the most kick-ass self-defence class, and the hottest smart bra out there. I want these things for all of my girlfriends. They are absolutely crucial in our fight to combating gender-based violence.
I just don’t want our fight to end there.
Why can’t we just fix the root of the problem, so that all women can live their lives freely, and not in a constant state of panic and fear of being assaulted and then victim-shamed?
It’ll be a much better use of our energy and resources, and we’ll have a much better chance at creating a sustainable impact if we focus on demolishing systemic sexism at its core.
To put it frankly — I don’t want a fucking rape whistle. I want change.
So what is the solution?
Is it in legislation — do we need harsher punishments and sentences for perpetrators, and to take away their opportunity for bail?
Is it in education — getting consent, sexual health, and gender-based violence into school syllabi?
Perhaps the power is in conversations — eradicating locker-room talk and rape culture, holding men accountable for cat-calling and sexist jokes.
Maybe the solution is the protection of survivors — building more homes and investing more in trauma counsellors?
All of the above will help and are essential in creating the change we want to see.
As long as we are seeking and creating long-term solutions that have a long-lasting impact, we will be working towards ending gender-based violence.
How (im)possible is it?
It’s a universal problem that sadly affects too many women around the world.
This means it can feel like an overwhelming, impossible problem to solve. But it’s also an urgent one.
For years, I’ve wanted to do something about ending gender-based violence.
I got so caught up in the questions, “where do I even begin?” and “it’s so out of my control, how could I ever make a difference?” that I let myself play small, and do nothing.
I think this is the reality for a lot of us.
No matter where you are in the world, no matter who you are or what you’ve done or what you have, you can make a difference. You are significant enough to drive change and, actually, society cannot afford to have you keep thinking that you aren’t.
With this in the back of my mind, I believe it is absolutely possible, and necessary, to drive change in creating a nonviolent world where all women are treated equally, with dignity and respect.
It is with this same drive and excitement that I announce the launch of the Future Females Foundation.
Future Females Foundation is a nonprofit organisation focusing on empowering women around the world by fighting for an end to gender-based violence and discrimination. We work on preventative as well as protective solutions that are safe, scalable and sustainable.
We are technology-enabled, education-focused and community-driven. We know that in order to really make an impact in combating gender-based violence around the world, we need to tackle the ingrained systemic normatives that cause it.
There’s a lot that we’re still figuring out, but our why is clear: we envision a world where women are free and able to be who and what they want to be.
I’ll be driving this initiative with the strategic help and input from powerhouse duo, Lauren Dallas and Cerina Bezuidenhoudt, co-Founders at Future Females, for whom this topic also means a great deal.
One of the first and easiest things the three of us decided on, was the five Foundation values; what we will hold true to the core of everything we do: Advocacy & Social Justice, Peace, Diversity & Inclusion, Compassion, and Big, Bold & Brave, which refers to the way in which we’ll be making decisions and taking action towards the goal we’re trying to achieve.
We’ll also be a global organisation, driving impact in every city around the world that needs us.
Something that came up a few times in our initial calls, in true Future Females style, was the idea of being at the forefront of change.
We’re here to make big, bold, brave moves. We’re here to talk about what scares us, the uncomfortable — after all, is there a topic that is more taboo than rape? We promise that everything we do is rooted in and will come from a place of compassion. We are passionate social justice fighters, who value diversity and inclusion, and will take peaceful forms of protest and action to create a nonviolent world in the future.
We believe that prevention should start early in life, by educating and working with young boys and girls to promote respectful relationships, sexual health and education, and gender equality. Working with youth will help us to achieve a sustainable way of preventing and eradicating gender-based violence.
Awareness-raising and community mobilisation has to start in all schools, and also through media and social media. This is how we can start right now to make a practical contribution to an effective prevention strategy.
Now the real work begins. And the road ahead is long.
If you want to be part of the change or have any questions, register your interest here.