A Technology-based Parasol of Protection for Victims of Domestic Abuse
Originally published on IPS News
By Kim She Joon
March 1st 2021
During the COVID19 lockdown, there has been an approximate 25% increase in domestic abuse, dubbed by the United Nations as the ‘pandemic within a pandemic’. While the home is perceived as a secure place, for domestic abuse victims battling the pandemic is equally and increasingly unsafe. A parasol of protection is needed to rehabilitate victims of abuse starting from detection, reaching out, providing help and support.
On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States and globally even before COVID-19, domestic violence was already one of the greatest human rights violations. In 2018 within a span of 12 months, 243 million women and girls (aged 15-49) across the world have been subjected to sexual or physical violence by an intimate partner, reported by UN Women. As a result of the lockdown and economic instability now, the number of cases has pushed the already-stretched resources of many organizations supporting the victims to a breaking point.
To identify a solution to the critical challenges that this pandemic brought along, an event was arranged by Techstars in early 2020, where 60 teams from the United States participated to come up with time-appropriate solutions. Among the finalists was a team led by Megs Shah who comes with an electrical and computer engineering background. Until recently she was working as Head of Digital Investment Governance, managing technology initiative decisions at Bristol Myers Squibb. From the initial team, Megs Shah and her colleague Fairuz Ahmed decided to take it further and CoFounded The Parasol Cooperative.
This tech-based start-up, incorporated in July 2020 has gained traction nationality and internationally. Recently the duo has also been mentioned by the UNWomen and UNWomen in UAE for taking part in #Womenintech and in #Womeninscience as innovative entrepreneurs and have been featured in the Forbes Magazine.
“Being home with the abuser during the pandemic has opened up an opportunity to use technology in a new way. We must solve the problem from the requesters’ point of view, in this case, that is the victim. We identified the need, pinpointed the gaps, and came up with a technology-based solution to support organizations to better serve the vulnerable population of victims and survivors of domestic violence.” commented Megs Shah, CEO of The Parasol Cooperative to IPS.
New Jersey-based Shah and New York-based Ahmed are both single mothers, immigrants from India and Bangladesh respectively and have faced ordeals dealing with divorce and the stigma that comes along with it.
Shah adds “Our team is made up of advocates, tech experts and survivors who have personally dealt with trauma, worked towards rehabilitation and surfaced as stronger individuals. From our experiences and research, we understand the many reasons why survivors relapse into abusive relationships mainly due to lack of a support network and financial instability. To address these fundamental challenges we plan to develop an online support community for day-to-day peer support and an online curriculum to develop job skills, provide training and in long term, partner with large organizations to provide hands-on ‘intern’ positions to help survivors stand on their own two feet.”
Working with grassroots organizations in New York, Ahmed has taken a different angle in supporting victims. She volunteers for the “Meal on a Dime” project which is part of the Bidyanondo Foundation Inc. Through her efforts, abuse victims who lead single mother households and belong to religious minorities living in shelters, are helped with appropriate and essential food baskets, ethnic food items, baby food, sanitary supplies and more. Speaking multiple South Asian languages she also does community outreach, minimizing the language gap and taboo around reaching out for help in the South Asian immigrant and local communities.
“Coming from a broken home a mother’s first worry is to source food for her children and second is to have a rehabilitation process in place. This also goes for single females who want to build a base for themselves coming out of domestic abuse. With the help of two non-profits, I launched a localized support system, where a survivor will be supported with sustenance and service.” comments Ahmed to IPS.
“If this model picks up, I believe we can launch similar efforts in other states in near future. The Parasol Cooperative has exceptional features where we minimize the language barrier and victims can reach out in their preferred ways. Working locally I also aim to form a network where survivors can get hired by their own communities,” adds Ahmed.
There is a lot of technology available for organizations to use, but many organizations are not familiar with these, unsure of how to best use them, or simply cannot afford them. This is especially true for small and mid-sized organizations. The Parasol Cooperative aims to build a tech-based skillset for the advocates, help improve overall operational efficiency and reduce costs of organizations that support victims nationally and globally. Recently a generous donation was made by the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation to help fund technology development.
There are three ways to enable and empower organizations to expand their services to survivors and victims of abuse: Technology, Survivor ‘Net’, and skills development. With safe communications with victims of abuse, increase knowledge sharing amongst member organizations and the survivors they support and reduce operational costs by using technology efficiently the founders aim to build a “Global Parasol or Protection”.
When women take charge of their lives and come up with a modern solution it also narrows the gender gaps and empowers the communities further. In the future, expansion plans are in place to offer services to a wider audience and offer consolidated solutions and sponsored membership to organizations that work for the lower-income regions, globally.