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Female Survivors Use Custom Tech For Social Change

January 6, 2017Posted by Helaina Hovitz

Everyone has a voice, but even in a video-heavy world, not everyone’s voice can be heard. For young women around the globe, their silence is more deafening than words—but one organization is working to make sure that by giving them the power to speak up, they can create meaningful change.

The Footage Foundation creates initiatives including Girl-talk-Girl (GTG), which helps female survivors tell their stories through customized digital storytelling technology that allows them to anonymously communicate their experiences and amplify their voices. Their micro-documentary on GTG, specifically, features both American and Russian women speaking out about the impact that violence and shame have on their lives.

By sharing these stories on a digital platform that also allows for peer-to-peer dialogue, the Foundation has seen real results when it comes to working to reduce shame while increasing compassion and well-being, with the goal of creating major grassroots social reform.

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Joined by four other female women PhDs from Cambridge University, Dr. Kristen Ali Eglinton, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Footage Foundation, decided to start an organization that raises the voices of young people, hoping that GTG, specifically, would help women share their stories of surviving violence, their experiences of “not belonging” and other struggles while protecting their respective identities at the same time.

Because of the safety of this platform, a 22-year-old named Rose felt comfortable sharing her experiences of violence and feeling like she was “unwanted,” through GTG, finally able to openly discuss the more difficult aspects of her story alongside other young women living in St. Petersburg, Russia, and New York City.

“We know that as we broadcast her story, thousands of young women hear Rose’s story and learn they are not alone in their experience,” said Dr. Eglinton. “For Rose, knowing her story is being used to help young women locally and globally, she now envisions herself, and also becomes, a leader, a force of change in the world.”

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A young woman known as “T” from New York City said that she participated in the program because the bullying and homophobia she’s experienced “are always brought up, but never talked about in families.”

“After I shared my story, I felt like I had no more barriers, she said. “I am planning on going to the Women’s March, and I feel like this is my first step to changing the ideas I grew up with about women being unequal to men.”

Another participant, “Z” from St. Petersburg, Russia, shared her story about surviving physical and sexual violence in hopes of communicating to women that they need to have compassion for themselves in lieu of shame, blame, or judgment.

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“I saw my situation differently and didn’t have negative feelings towards myself anymore. Instead, I want to communicate that it’s important to work through sexual, psychological, and physical abuse, and to protect yourself,” she said.

The mobile phone technology, including applications and functions, is designed by Footage Foundation and tailored to the unique needs of the women themselves. The phone application used for GTG was redesigned to include several user requirements around experiences with gender-based violence including a voice changer and animation to secure anonymity. They also implemented a section that offered safe routes home and numbers for local hotlines and services. 

This year, Footage Foundation raised funds to help bring the program to young female refugees. A new program called Her{connect}Her aims to build connections globally among women who feel displaced after having to flee their homes.

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Several months ago, they took a campaign called #ConnectsMe to the streets in hopes of getting the public thinking about the ways they connect to the global refugee crisis and its impact.

Using a scientifically measurable approach that they presented by request at the National Academies of Sciences this year, the team works with women from around the world to help them tell their stories through documentaries and online platforms.

“Our theory of change is based on five measurable outcomes which we refer to as our ‘Drivers of Change’ including compassion and empathy, education, advocacy, awareness, and community and connection,” said Impact Manager Kathryn Weenig.”Based on research, we know that each of these drivers have physiological and psychological benefits at the individual level, and ultimately at the community and global level.”

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Such outcomes, she said, also catalyze the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, in that an increase in compassion is associated with well-being and a positive impact on health.

After taking part in facilitated Narrative Labs storytelling workshops, in-house evaluations showed that young women had an increase in compassion for themselves and others, felt a deeper sense of community and connection, and began to envision themselves as leaders and change makers because they felt less alone, less ashamed, and brave enough to come forward.

“We have in place a rigorous monitoring and evaluation strategy which includes surveys and in-depth interviews with all participants,” Dr. Eglinton said. “We know the work is making an impact, and that young women see themselves and their worlds differently.”

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