Diana and Lisa’s recent trip to Haiti reminded us of the remarkable power in a simple tool: a plastic whistle. During their visit, women from KOFAVIV, an organization founded by and for rape survivors, gathered in circles, singing, clapping, and dancing in place as brightly-colored whistles bounced from lanyards around their necks. The whistles, which the women blow in three long bursts to alert each other of attack, are a security lifeline in camp residents’ fight against a continuing epidemic of sexual violence.
“Personally,” said one, “I feel like I am a strong, fearless woman when I have my whistle, especially when other women are responding with their own whistle. We stand tall to run after these men who think they can take control.” Women and girls of all ages, many of whom lost family members and support systems in the devastating quake, often face isolated walks on unlit paths patrolled by violent gangs, and recent reports (including MADRE’s own, co-authored with IJDH) also list numerous incidents of attackers entering their tents or dragging them off in broad daylight. Yet camp residents repeat that simple whistles and flashlights continue to play a key role in their independently-formed, women-run security patrols’ success against the violence.
Our new initiative to collect and distribute these lifesaving tools dovetails with MADRE’s continuing campaign to bring more of those same flashlights and whistles to the women of Guatemala. There, gender-motivated violence has reached such epidemic levels -- 4,000 women murdered in the last ten years, and the number continues to rise -- that feminist and human rights workers around the world have recognized it as a strategy of “femicide”. In the face of a similar lack of police protection and government intervention, flashlights and whistles collected and sent by our Helping Hands team provide Guatemalan women with the power to take back their own right to security.
We know that these are only temporary measures. More lasting solutions must come from government policies that prioritize ending violence against women. They must come from post-disaster reconstruction policies that place women's voices at the center. But we also know that whistles can save women's lives today. Click here or email us at [email protected] to find out more.