A Safe Haven for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and rape: Conflict Women Limited

 

Model: Fariel Ali Khan & photographs compliments Melvern Isaac

What gives a man the right to beat or rape a woman or to rob a girl of her innocence?

There really can be no justification for such horrendous acts of violence, which unfortunately happen way too often in the Caribbean. A few years ago, the Life in Leggings movement emerged, encouraging women to share their raw and honest stories of pain and hurt courageously on social media, many for the first time.

As I recently browsed the Life in Leggings Facebook page, I remained appalled at the amount of content uploaded daily from across the Caribbean, including Barbados, documenting abuse upon abuse. It was difficult for me to fathom that the number of reported incidences could be so high.

But then I thought about those I knew personally who had been impacted by domestic violence or sexual abuse and realized I knew of quite a few cases.

One of my earliest childhood memories, for example, was waking to the news that our friend, who lived only a few doors down, had been murdered during the night by her mother’s boyfriend.

There was also a more recent incident when a friend and I tried to convince a teenager to leave an abusive relationship, which had resulted in a miscarriage after she endured a beating. Unfortunately, the teenage girl was convinced that the man who had beaten her really loved her and would not do it again. It didn’t matter what I or anyone else said as she had made up her mind. Was it because she had witnessed her mother being beaten while growing up and had normalized the violence?

Even as recently as this April, I opened the newspaper and read that a girl from the school I went to, just one year younger than I, had also been murdered leaving her two children motherless.

A 2016 UNDP report on violence against women[1] reported that the Caribbean has one of the highest rates of violence against women in the world. In fact, the report states that one in three women in the Caribbean will experience domestic violence. The situation may in fact be worse given that there are many incidences that go unreported.

One day at work I received a call of hope from a young lady who wanted to discuss her social enterprise, Conflict Women, Ltd. Asiya Mohammed, based between Trinidad & Tobago and Germany had started an amazing social business to help women who had survived domestic or sexual abuse. Asiya had launched Conflict Women Limited because her mom had been impacted by domestic violence and so this cause was near and dear to her heart. Asiya has worked in Africa, the Middle East, Europe, North America and the Caribbean in human rights, gender and conflict transformation.

I’m a huge fan of social entrepreneurship because it merges development and business, utilizing business to ‘do good.’ Asiya combined her love for jewelry and art and her passion for women’s financial empowerment to give birth to a unique Caribbean business that provides a safe space for survivors to receive free training in jewelry making and business development, which they then sell through Conflict Women.

Each piece that is sold by Conflict Women is accompanied by an anonymous ‘survival story card’ of the designer who made it to increase the conversation on violence against women and to get people to break the silence and talk about violence against women. In 2018, Conflict Women expanded its programmes and now offers micro-finance loans to survivors, complete with executive coaching as they invest and grow their businesses.

Since starting Conflict Women, Asiya acknowledges that she has grown tremendously and appreciates how one person or a group of committed people can make a difference and challenge the status quo. “As a social entrepreneur, I am a part of an amazing network of change makers who dare to dream and to challenge the status quo. Many are survivors and all of them are creators of a world we can believe in.” Asiya recommends that “if you are suffering from violence you should end your silence. Find just one person you can trust and reach out today. There are many willing to help. Trust and have faith.”

Like Asiya, I urge you to be your sisters’ keepers. Be a helping hand for someone seeking to exit abuse. Speak out against rape, sexual abuse, and sexual harassment. Make ethical purchases; support businesses that create real change for survivors of abuse. When you buy a piece from Conflict Women, a portion of the proceeds is used to provide a monthly income for the women who make the jewelry. For more information, visit their website at www.conflictwomen.com or purchase their jewelry at Hotel Normandie or Stechers Fine Gift Stores in Trinidad & Tobago.

 

[1] Caribbean study visit report by Rashida Manjoo (former) United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women, 2016

 

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