“We are empowered by technology”
25 Nov 2021
25 Nov 2021
Ms. Mariam Torosyan is a social entrepreneur from Yerevan in Armenia. She is the founder and CEO of the Impact Innovations Institute, which launched Safe YOU in 2020. The innovative, all-in-one platform helps women connect with a community that supports survivors of gender-based violence.
Ms. Torosyan noticed that the tools designed for women’s safety in the fight against domestic violence were too often “function-based” and not about building a community. She wanted to incorporate protection, prosecution and prevention as tools into a single digital product that empowered and educated women by sharing knowledge and advice from a community of professionals.
She shared a presentation about Safe YOU at a meeting of activists and innovators in Yerevan and began approaching governments and NGOs about improving digital platforms to help women and girls. UNFPA was one of the earliest supporters.
“It was challenging to start negotiations with the government to convince them that they needed this product,” she said. “It was equally challenging to convince NGOs that ‘innovations' have a place in their work. That there is an alternative that can give them a broader audience and increase their impact.”
Ms. Torosyan worked with a team of developers that were helpful in finding impactful solutions appealing to partners. She mapped the tools that she wanted the app to have, and the developers were able to creatively improve them in the production process. Safe YOU always had a double purpose — to improve services and access to information on gender-based violence and also to serve as a helpful tool giving policymakers data to inform their decision-making.
“This product is needed,” she said. “The goal is to make it more advanced with a data analysis system to provide data-informed recommendations to policymakers and to make it easier for our end-users.”
The objective is always to support existing services. “Safe YOU promotes all the services, it does not create anything new. We have these services in Armenia and we need to promote them and make them more efficient for users.”
The team created a disaggregated database and a dynamic section to add as many languages and geographical coverage as needed. Ms. Torosyan said it will help create new connections across cultures. “A country can have different languages and eventually we can mix all the languages, meaning countries can engage with each other which will enhance multicultural dialogue between different communities of women.”
The platform is currently available in Armenia and Georgia, with the option to browse the app in Armenian, Georgian and English languages. The app is being translated into Arabic and Kurdish to prepare it for the launch in Iraq, which was made possible with the support of UNFPA.
To ensure further inclusivity of the app, the team is planning to work on functionalities that address the needs of people with different types of disabilities. Safe YOU will be adding an audio-enabled function for people who are visually impaired or cannot read.
Safe YOU’s reach is growing with over 19,000 users, even with early versions of the app. Ms. Torosyan said it is a process of refinement. “You need to work on it continuously, but the number of users is growing in the community around it as the supporters are very influential women.”
She said the culture of community and mutual support is what makes Safe YOU unique. “We should never underestimate the capacity for self-care and self-help from communities. One resource that is not used enough is the community action and community support that peer-to-peer enables.”
The conflict in Armenia in 2020, the economic crisis and the pandemic have made Safe YOU more urgently needed than ever. “Many women lost their husbands or fathers or brothers in the war,” she said. “It means that there is a huge burden on women. We can see that economic empowerment of women can play a crucial role in fighting against gender-based violence.”
Safe YOU is meeting an important need for women and girls. “We are in the right place at the right time. “We have a solution to the problem of violence that is increasing. We need to move quickly to make sure that it is available in as many countries as possible.”
Ms. Torosyan said it is an exciting time to be working in the movement for gender justice as digital tools make the platform stronger. “We are living in a world where we are empowered by technology,” she said. “It is the first time in human history that we have so many resources that we can use.”