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How These Tech Start-Ups Are Fighting Gender-Based Violence In The U.S. & Latin America

Gender-based violence is a global problem, and, in many ways, new media and technology have provided new paths for perpetrators. From social media to GPS tracking, abusers have used technology to monitor, harass, threaten, intimidate and stalk victims, and this online violence against women and girls is rising around the world. But efforts are also being made to use emerging technological tools to respond to the pandemic of gender-based violence, most commonly by providing information and services to survivors.

In the U.S., Latin America and beyond, innovators have been working with trained professionals, like social workers, psychologists and legal experts, to design mobile applications and products to help women and girls escape abusive relationships, notify loved ones if they feel unsafe and help them reclaim their lives after violence.

Below, find some tech startups operating in the U.S. and Latin America that aim to reduce violence against women and help survivors lead safe and healthy lives.

1. LadyDriver

According to the United Nations, a woman is abused in Brazil every 15 seconds, making it one of the most dangerous countries for women and girls in the world. In 2016, Gabriela Corrêa was harassed by a driver while using a taxi-hailing app in São Paulo. Upon dropping the young woman off at her destination, the driver told her, “I will wait for you outside, because you will be drunk later and I will take advantage of you.” Terrified by the experience, and the stories of other women who had encountered intimidation and violence while using public transportation, Corrêa was inspired to create LadyDriver, a Brazilian car-hailing app that only accepts women passengers and hires women drivers. With tens of thousands of drivers and hundreds of thousands of downloads in São Paulo, the app has been welcomed among women in the city. It has also inspired another similar all-women service in Brazil, FemiTaxi.

Across Latin America, similar women-only taxi services exist, including LauDrive in Mexico, She Taxi in Argentina and She Drives Us in Chile. In the U.S, ride-hailing apps like SheRides (available in New York) and Safr (operating in Orlando) are also popping up, and they’re centering vulnerable populations. For example, while Safr has temporarily stopped providing rides and deliveries amid the Covid-19 pandemic, it is still offering its services to battered and abused women through partner institutions.

2. Háblame de Respeto

In El Salvador, femicide, the murder of a woman because of her gender, occurs about once every 24 hours. In 2017, a national study found that 67% of women have suffered some form of violence, like sexual assault or family abuse, in her lifetime. Violence is so prevalent that the Central American country is the only nation in the world to have a law against “femicide suicide,” the crime of driving a woman to suicide because of abuse. With up-to-date government data around the problem of gender-based violence in El Salvador hard to come by, a group of journalists looking for responsible management of this information took the matter into their own hands in 2014 when they created Háblame de Respeto. Using data journalism and storytelling, the group of reporters, under the Latitudes Foundation, created a portal and platform to study violence against women in El Salvador and make the information accessible to everyday people in the country.

3. FreeFrom

Intimate partner violence is a public health crisis in the United States. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, nearly 20 people are physically abused by a partner every minute. Data shows that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men experience some form of intimate partner violence during their lifetime. One of the biggest reasons women stay in abusive relationships is because of financial dependence. In fact, when survivors leave their violent partner, they often have little to no cash, credit cards or bank accounts in their name. Learning about this financial abuse and instability, Sonya Passi created FreeForm, a startup that financially empowers survivors by helping them get compensation for their most pressing needs, like medical bills and property costs, and teaching them money and entrepreneurial tools to obtain financial independence.

4. No Estoy Sola

Ciudad Juárez, a city in northern Mexico, has long been called “the capital of murdered women.” From 1993 to 2005, more than 370 women were killed in the border town. An app called No Estoy Sola is hoping to protect the vulnerable population. The application, which acts as a panic button, can be downloaded on mobile devices. Whenever someone feels unsafe, they can shake their phones or click on a button that will alert their emergency contacts, which they set up ahead of time, with a message saying they are in danger along with their location. The same message is sent out to the contact every five to 10 minutes until the user deactivates it.

5. Não Me Calo

Back in Brazil, another app, Não Me Calo (I Will Not Shut Up), is encouraging women and girls to use their voices in order to keep others safe. The mobile app, which was created by Brazilian girls and won the Global Fund for Women’s International Girls Hackathon, ranks how safe users feel in certain establishments. Its primary goal is to warn women to avoid certain clubs, restaurants or businesses where they experienced harassment, intimidation or violence. However, the founders also hope that a bad ranking on the Yelp-like app can motivate business owners to take steps to alleviate the problem.

6. Revolver 

Like the No Estoy Sola mobile app in Ciudad Juárez, Revolver is essentially a panic button. However, this U.S.-founded gadget doesn’t require a cellphone. An oval-shaped clicker, Revolar can attach to a set of keys or can clip onto jeans or undergarments. The two-setting device sends out an alert to designated contacts when the user feels unsafe. A yellow alert, for instance, will send a message to their contacts with their location and a note expressing concern. A red alert, however, will indicate that the user needs serious and immediate help. The app was created by Colombian-American Andrea Perdomo, whose grandmother was kidnapped in the South American country, and Jacqueline Ros, whose sister was assaulted twice.

7. Paladin

While Paladin wasn’t created to serve survivors of gender-based violence, the startup is helping women in major ways. A justice tech company, Paladin is a portal that brings together legal teams looking to run more efficient pro bono programs with hotlines and organizations that help vulnerable communities gain legal representation and support. According to co-founder and COO Kristen Sonday, who’s part-Puerto Rican, the portal has been particularly helpful to communities amid the Covid-19 pandemic, especially for domestic violence survivors who were forced to isolate with abusers.

8. Mediconfia

Like Paladin, Mediconfia wasn’t created with the objective of helping survivors of gender-based violence; however, the digital platform, which connects individuals in Colombian cities like Cali, Medellín and Bogotá with gynecologists and allows them to rate their experience, has proven beneficial to women who have experienced sexual abuse or intimate partner violence and need a trustworthy health professional to confide in. 

9. Vantage Point

While Vantage Point doesn’t directly help survivors, it does provide a solution to workplace harassment. According to the Pew Research Center, 69% of women have been sexually harassed in a professional setting. However, about 72% of survivors never report the harassment. Vantage Point is a sexual harassment training solution for corporations that uses virtual reality to educate employees on the identification of sexual harassment, bystander intervention and response training. For example, using photo-realistic characters, it immerses trainees in experiences where their personal space is being invaded or they are talked to or gazed at aggressively. The startup, founded by Morgan Mercer, a biracial woman of color who experienced and witnessed racial microaggressions, also uses emerging technology to communicate the nuances of diversity, equity and inclusion.

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With “Florecer,” LA Cumbia-Salsa Band La Mera Candelaria Celebrates Survivors Of Sexual Violence

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With “Florecer,” LA Cumbia-Salsa Band La Mera Candelaria Celebrates Survivors Of Sexual Violence

In the United States, someone is sexually violated every 73 seconds. With each passing year,  more than 433,600 people, mostly women and girls, experience some form of this brutality, including rape, molestation, sexual harassment, sex trafficking and reproductive coercion. For many survivors, art is used as a tool to promote healing, providing them with a creative outlet to externalize their trauma and express themselves. With the upcoming album Florecer, Stephani Candelaria, of the woman-fronted cumbia-salsa band La Mera Candelaria, uses art, and music in particular, to work through her own history with sexual abuse and inspire holistic healing among her listeners.

The EP, which melds Caribbean salsa and cumbia with old musical stylings like cha-cha-chá and popular reggaetón rhythms, is a celebration of survivors of sexual violence. It includes songs like “Sonrisa,” which speaks to the fear and threat women experience daily by choosing to frequent public spaces, as well as powerful paeans like “Florecer,” a sonic love letter that praises women’s resilience while also encouraging them to flourish and lead the full, purpose-driven lives they deserve. 

We spoke with the Los Angeles-based Candelaria about the album (which drops on April 28), the curative power of art, holistic healing and the band’s partnership with LA’s Violence Intervention Program to raise awareness about sexual violence among the Latinx community and the services available to them. 

You’re no stranger to writing feminist songs, but I don’t think you’ve had a project as explicitly about and for women’s empowerment as this one. Why did you want to release an EP that celebrates survivors?

Honestly, I’m planning to do a lot more talking about this. This album was inspired by one of my therapy sessions. I’ve been seeing a therapist twice a month for several years. As a survivor of sexual abuse, a lot of our sessions focus on working through this. The message of La Mera has come up in my sessions, and she encouraged me to make music about this. I’m at a point in my healing path where I’m opening up about what I’ve gone through, and she suggested that music could be an effective avenue for me to talk about this with other musicians and my fan base, which is majority Latina. I know this is a prevalent issue that impacts all of us, whether we’ve personally experienced it or not. Everyone knows someone who has survived an abusive situation. I have never shied away from making feminist and LGBTQ-friendly music. I’ve touched on these topics in my music in the past, but this time – living through a global pandemic, thinking about the pandemic within the pandemic and how many domestic violence survivors have been forced to quarantine with their abusers, and not being able to perform for a whole year – I feel like it’s a good and natural time for this; to  open up and be more public about being a survivor and creating a more explicitly supportive space for women in all our wholeness. Yes, survivors have scars, but we are also resilient and can live whole lives again. 

One of the songs off the album, “Florecer,” speaks to the yearning of survivors to not just survive but also flourish and thrive. This is so important. Oftentimes, people don’t realize the hurdles women face upon leaving abusive relationships, from the difficulty of finding jobs, housing or even obtaining parental rights to children. How can art, music and dance help women flourish on their healing journeys?

Great question! I think that music and art can serve to help women from many different avenues, including being a creator, like myself, who is channeling my healing process through my art specifically. I’ve been growing leaps and bounds while working on songs and talking with my group. But my community, my fan base and my new fans can grow, too. It can be healing to see someone open up about their truth. It doesn’t necessarily feel good but it does help to hear these stories reflected in the music you listen to. Unfortunately for Latinas, how we hear women framed in our popular music does not reflect the complexity of our lives and the things we live through. Instead, it’s a very one-dimensional and sexualized portrayal. Through this EP, I hope to create a platform for dialogue, action, thorough reflection and hearing other people’s stories on how they navigate this healing journey. “Florecer” is less about the specific examples of abuse and more about saying, “yes,  abuse has happened. I will have scars. It may take time to navigate through this journey, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. There is more for me than just getting by day to day. It is possible for survivors to flourish, not in spite but rather because of the pain and trauma they lived through.

I know Florecer is being released in partnership with LA’s Violence Intervention Program to raise awareness about sexual violence and the services that exist for survivors. Talk to me about this partnership. How did this come about? What will it look like?

Again, my therapist has a role in this. She is amazing! She recommended this program to me because I had been considering joining a support group. When I saw the website, I knew it was a perfect fit. They work with young people and adult survivors, but more than that they work with the entire family to create a holistic healing journey for survivors of abuse. A lot of the time, when people come out to their families about what happened, the family members don’t know how to be supportive. The program believes that abuse doesn’t just impact the person being abused but also the entire community they are a part of and, because of this, they believe the community must be a part of the healing process as well. Knowing this, I really wanted to partner with them. We shot one of the music videos at their center, where we followed a young woman attending the facility for the first time. The video really highlights the space and the services it offers with the hopes of inspiring local viewers to visit and start or continue their healing journey. We’re also doing a live virtual fundraising event on April 30 via Twitch, where all proceeds will be donated to the Violence Intervention Program to help fund their crucial services. 

Another song I had the pleasure of listening to is “Sonrisa,” which is truly a sonic treat. But more than that it’s powerful, especially because the lyrics speak to the darker experience of street harassment that women encounter. Catcalling can seem harmless to some, but women understand the real fear and danger that comes with this. What message are you hoping to spread with this song?

It’s toxic behavior. This song is about an experience I had. I was walking my dog down a street, really having a beautiful moment, when a car of dudes rolled past me and yelled things at me. Now, I’m a feisty person, so naturally I yelled back. But then they stopped the car. At that moment, I realized that I could die. Thankfully, nothing happened. They ended up driving off. But this isn’t the case for all women. Just last month in New York, a woman was groped on the street. When she confronted the man, he killed her. A few years ago, a man killed a woman who refused to give him her phone number. These moments of street harassment seem so innocuous to men but yet are so impactful and traumatizing to the women experiencing it, especially at the rate that we experience it: daily. As you said, any time we step out of our homes or cars, there’s a potential for this harassment. And I wanted the song to feel true to this experience. You’ll notice that in the song, there’s no resolution. I keep walking, feeling icky, violated and traumatized, while the men in the car drive off and probably tell themselves something like, “she was ugly anyway.” Ending the song without a happy ending felt honest and like a good way for listeners to reflect and consider how we can denormalize this form of harassment.

How can bilingual art, like this album, raise awareness about violence in our communities? 

The Latinx community is a musical community. Music plays a huge role in our daily life. As kids, we grow up watching our families sing and dance cumbia and salsa while they’re in the kitchen. And I thought, how can I use these catalogs that are a part of our DNA to talk about issues, create visibility and spark dialogue. In the past, we’ve released songs about LGBTQ issues. While performing these lesbian love songs, I see my audience listening and dancing to these songs and how their faces change when they realize it’s non-heteronormative. I’m having the songs speak to you. With cumbia, and now reggaetón, the body responds to these sounds. You want to move. But as you move, you also begin to mentally reflect on the lyrics, and this is vital, especially for our community. 

While things are getting better, many Latinx families still don’t believe in airing so-called dirty laundry, which forces many survivors to suffer in silence. What do you hope this project provides to survivors?

That’s exactly one of the larger goals of this project: to provide the language to survivors about how to speak to family members about lived trauma and advocate for yourself. It’s also about providing points of reflection for the community, people who don’t understand and abusers, including the men who might not consider themselves abusers. The focus is on survivors, but it’s for everyone because we are all either complicit or impacted by abuse, where we realize it or not.  

This is the band’s fourth EP. How do you think you have grown, or flourished, to keep in the theme of the album, since then?

So many ways! I’ve been doing a lot of reflection on this through my process of recording, where I’ve been listening back to older releases and songs I love. I used humor a lot to talk about feminist issues. You can’t just jump from A to Z without going through the alphabet, and humor is a great way to make points that are digestible and palatable, especially as a Latina in a male-dominated industry. This album doesn’t incorporate humor, though. That side of La Mera isn’t present in this release. It’s more serious in tone. 

Musically, I think we’ve also grown so much. We’ve really spent these last releases and performances we’ve done honing our musical style. Previously, we stuck to the cumbias and salsas we were comfortable with. But now, with “Florecer,” for example, we are doing reggaetón, and it’s intentional. We’re talking about sexual abuse survivors through a genre that has been one of the biggest enforcers of the sexualization, and sometimes even violence, women experience. The same is true with “Sonrisa.” A lot of the older cha-cha-chás of the ‘50s and ‘60s were songs about catcalling women that had coros that were catcalls. This song about street harassment had to be a cha-cha-chá. It’s another way of sharing our message. By using these genres, we’re also calling them out for the harmful ways they’ve taught our community what is an acceptable way to treat women and girls.

Follow La Mera Candelaria on Instagram for more information about the album’s release and their virtual fundraising event for LA’s Violence Intervention Program on April 30.

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Mexican Politician Accused Of Rape Vows To Block Elections Unless He’s Allowed To Run

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Mexican Politician Accused Of Rape Vows To Block Elections Unless He’s Allowed To Run

FRANCISCO ROBLES/AFP via Getty Images

It’s an election year in Mexico and that means that things are heating up as candidates fight for the top spot. At the same time, Mexico is experiencing a burgeoning fight for women’s rights that demands accountability and justice. Despite all the marches and protests and civil disobedience by hundreds of thousands of Mexicans, it remains to be seen how much change will happen and when. 

Case in point: Félix Salgado, a candidate for governor of Guerrero who has been accused of rape and sexual assault but maintains the support of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO). Now, after being disqualified from the race because of undisclosed campaign finances, the candidate is vowing to block any elections from taking place unless he is allowed to continue his campaign. 

A disqualified candidate is vowing to block elections unless he’s allowed to run.

Félix Salgado was running to be governor of the Mexican state of Guerrero when he was faced with allegations of rape and sexual assault. The commission that selects party candidates allowed him to remain in the race and he continues to maintain the support of President AMLO – who is of the same political party, Morena. 

However, in late March, election regulators ordered that Salgado be taken off the ballot due to a failure to report campaign spending, according to the AP. Mexico’s electoral court ordered the Federal Electoral Institute (FEI) to reconsider their decision last week. Salgado is already threatening to throw the election process into chaos.

“If we are on the ballot, there will be elections,” Salgado told supporters in Guerrero after leading a caravan of protestors to the FEI’s office in Mexico City on Sunday. “If we are not on the ballot, there will not be any elections,” Salgado said.

The AP notes that Salgado is not making an empty threat. Guerrero is an embattled state overrun with violence and drug gangs and many elections have been previously disrupted. Past governors have been forced out of office before finishing their terms. Salgado was previously filmed getting into a confrontation with police in 2000.

It was just weeks ago that the ruling party allowed Salgado’s candidacy to move forward.

In mid-March, Morena confirmed that Félix Salgado would be its candidate for governor in Guerrero after completing a new selection process in which the former senator was reportedly pitted against four women.

Morena polled citizens in Guerrero last weekend to determine levels of support for five different possible candidates, according to media reports. Among the four women who were included in the process were Acapulco Mayor Adela Román and Senator Nestora Salgado.

Félix Salgado was the clear winner of the survey, even coming out on top when those polled were asked to opine on the potential candidates’ respect for the rights of women. He also prevailed in all other categories including honesty and knowledge of the municipality in which the poll respondents lived.

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