feature friday, interview, non-profit, social change, women's rights

Feature Friday: Zariya & Founder Sahar Khan

Hello friends! This Friday, I’d like to introduce you to Zariya, an inspiring new organization working to support survivors of violence against women – currently in India – through an innovative, tech savvy new model. Check out what inspired Zariya’s Founder, Sahar Khan, in her journey towards tackling gender-based violence and founding a new model in this space!

  1. Tell me about yourself; how did you develop a passion for addressing gender-based violence?

Interestingly, in high school in Oman, I worked on women’s education because access to education is a cause that was and remains very dear to me personally. However, during my undergrad years at Stanford, my focus shifted slightly as I learnt more about the pressing problem of violence against women (VAW). I was exposed to grassroots women’s rights work to tackle VAW in India in the summer of 2012. In addition, I am struck by the visceral nature of violence which reminds us that, despite how educated and empowered a woman becomes, she can still be subject to the most debilitating form of abuse. In international law and rule of law studies, we often talk about an “enabling environment” that is required to ensure economic progress. It sounds abstract and you can’t easily measure the benefits of an enabling environment. And, when it’s there, you barely notice it. You only really feel its absence. I believe that a world free from violence is a woman’s enabling environment. And, we can’t just sit around waiting for international and national governments to hand us an enabling framework on a platter – we need to work with them to build the right institutions. This is why I work to end violence against women.

  1. What does Zariya do to address gender-based violence, and what is Zariya’s theory of change?

Zariya is an online platform which connects survivors of VAW with legal and counseling experts. Within 2 days, a woman can access the Zariya website on her smartphone, computer or other handheld device, provide just her email and pincode and thereafter access the resources she needs in her journey of rehabilitation. We use “hyperlocal” matching whereby a woman’s pincode is used to match her with a high-quality expert in her vicinity. We do this for a woman’s convenience, regional/linguistic specificity and to minimize costs relating to transportation. The experts that we connect women with are paid professionals at reputable organizations that Zariya has vetted such as MyChoices and Shaheen in Hyderabad, Swayam in Kolkata, Sneha in Mumbai etc.

And, we have a “third-party” theory of change. Zariya acts as a third-party advocate for a woman that drives all parties involved in a woman’s case to reach closure. Our role is to be a compassionate yet neutral assessor of a woman’s needs and match her with the right resources. We intentionally oversee and coordinate the various moving pieces of a case because this can be a serious hassle for survivors who do not have the kind of network to pull all the right levers. We are process agents rather than direct providers of the legal advice or counselling service. But, we make sure that the experts are doing a good job. This will be consolidated further in the future when we develop a ranking system for service providers in the anti-VAW ecosystem. An average case at most of our service providers’ organizations does not exceed 130 days. If that happens, we request an explanation and plan to immediately shift gears as necessary to bring a case closer to a satisfactory outcome.

Zariya’s long-term vision is to build an integrated referral network and a robust case management system customized for specific nations’ jurisdictions. After perfecting the entry-point which we are currently beta-testing, Zariya aims to build a case management system that empowers a survivor by providing her an enabling environment to drive her case from start-to-finish. We aim to infuse a small amount of coordination and accountability into the anti-VAW ecosystem. Ultimately, we endeavor to build a robust technology that governments can deploy.

  1. How does your model work?

Picture2We have a three-step process: triage (understand a woman’s needs), service delivery (match her with experts who can address her needs) and closure (an outcome that places the survivor in a more just, safe and happy material and mental state).

Zariya is currently a non-profit organization. The product and service will always be delivered to survivors at no charge. As we grow and scale our operations, we hope to initially be supported by grants and donations from foundations, corporations and individuals.

  1. What are the biggest successes you’ve experienced so far with Zariya? What challenges are you facing?

This is just the beginning of our journey, but we are getting a lot of traffic and more cases than we and our NGO partners ever expected. Every single time a woman initiates a case with Zariya and shows that she won’t endure abuse silently, we pat ourselves on the back because taking the first step of seeking help is the hardest. Our users have already commended us for quick turn-around and genuine care and concern for their problems. You can also check out Zariya’s website for user testimonials.

We have many challenges ahead that we need to overcome to make Zariya available to women in the future. The two classic challenges that most socially forward startup organizations initially face are financing and volunteer retention. We have only recently addressed our short-term financial needs through raising small amounts from multiple sources. In the long-term, we need to re-structure financially and organizationally so that we can focus on the actual substance of our work.  In the short term, we’ve had the steepest learning curve. Our volunteers have consisted of engineering and psychology students at IIT and other colleges, journalists, and designers who come on board to assist in case management, coordination and user design research & development. We are slowly starting to understand how to identify the right people and the best methods to motivate the right people.

  1. What are the biggest gaps and challenges with respect to service delivery and the support that survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault require to move forward?

At Zariya, we call these challenges “supply-side” challenges (as opposed to demand-side challenges which comprise problems relating to under-reporting). We have noticed that, while there is a proliferation of organizations in the space, the supply-chain is not highly integrated and all organizations do not provide the same quality of help at a given standard. A highly comprehensive  report by Dasra has suggested that there needs to be some sort of a coordination mechanism between various types of help (legal, economic, medical, financial) so that a woman can resolve all separate yet inter-connected problems in a systematic and holistic manner. The case process is usually messy and non-linear, and is not something that a single service provider can be expected to manage in addition to providing her service.

In the anti-VAW ecosystem, there isn’t really a third party that vets service providers and provides a coordination mechanism. This is the role that Zariya plays for a woman. The better we get at understanding their problems, the more adept we get at making the smartest connections for her and overseeing the constantly moving pieces of her puzzle. In the duration of a case, we sometimes end up connecting a woman with 4-5 services until she finds a service provider who shows compassion for her and provides useful & actionable guidance. The compassion part is key as we have noticed that that’s what makes a survivor stick with a service provider. We are also currently in the process of developing a “compassion quotient” indicator for the anti-VAW ecosystem.

On the demand-side, there is lack of knowledge about existing services. So many women come to us and say that they filed a report with the police and then there wasn’t much follow-up or recourse. We need women to understand that, besides filing a report with the police (which is recommended), there are so many other options. For instance, women may not know about alternative dispute resolution and other mediation measures that can be delivered to them in a cost-effective manner. We hope to educate them about these services.

  1. What is the role of government in providing holistic services to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault? Is the government currently fulfilling its duties? If not, how can we change this status quo?

Globally, most governments and legal systems are over-burdened and resource-constrained. And, even when governments take steps in the right direction with ambitious plans and infusion of funds, plans take time to implement and funds take time to be disbursed. Sometimes, if these plans are not viable, they fall apart. In my view, private citizens can play a crucial role in pushing their governments to expedite anti-VAW policies and programs. This can take on the form of activism or advocacy. We can also very substantially challenge the status quo by collaboratively creating innovative and novel solutions to learn about survivor needs. Half of the work that we do at Zariya is understanding and triaging a survivor’s need; the other half is catering to her needs.

In doing so, non-profits and private organizations can build a repository of knowledge and case precedent that can be presented to governments as a proof-of-concept that works. Governments may be able to provide personnel or funding for such projects and the project organizations can retain their intellectual capital. Essentially, deals need to be brokered and structures set up between public and private entities to make projects such as Zariya national, scalable and financially self-sustaining. India has a Delhi Wi-fi Commission that considers projects for scale-up once they have been operational in a city for a considerable amount of time. So, while some may argue that governments have a duty to directly provide services to female survivors of violence, there’s no saying that we can’t assist our governments in fulfilling their duties. In turn, governments can financially support and provide the personnel, connections and the kind of national scale needed for projects to reach their full potential.

At the Nobel Prize Series event in India in January 2017, Zariya India is emphasizing precisely this message of collaboration between government and innovative organizations. In addition to sharing Zariya’s lessons, successes, and challenges with the honorable Nobel Laureates and other delegates, we endeavor to start the right conversations with government and industry leaders about how to co-support purposeful ideas in a sustainable fashion.

  1. In addition to working to remedy sexual assault and domestic violence after it occurs, how can we work to prevent and end violence against women in the first place?

Hotlines that are reliable and actually work are the short-term solution. And, social education is the long-term solution to change a culture in which, somehow, violence against women is still okay in the 21st century. However, in terms of viability, culture is a rather uncontrollable animal with a will of its own. So, we can’t conclusively or even inconclusively identify when there will be a sea change in culture that will liberate society from violence against women. As you know, a policy reform can be made overnight, but reform in culture can take generations. Still, it’s important to mention that social education efforts need to be benevolently fashioned in a way that they genuinely inspire change in behavior towards women instead of inflaming more aggression. Don’t vilify “perpetrators” but inspire them to be better people.

team
Zariya’s team in action

Furthermore, at Zariya, we believe that remedy is inextricably connected to prevention. The more women who stand up for themselves and demand remedy, the more people will learn about this problem and come to realize that VAW is unacceptable. We think that those demanding remedy are the best and most effective anti-VAW advocates. At Zariya, our interest is ensuring that these women can stand up on their feet again and speak for themselves. Through our research in multiple cities across India (New Delhi, Lucknow, Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad), we have learnt that silence prolongs violence. Of course, breaking the silence and speaking out needs to be done carefully in a manner that doesn’t hurt a woman’s case. Violence is bound to continue when there is an individual and collective silence around the issue. Zariya aims to break the cycle of violence by ending the silence in a safe, secure and confidential manner.

  1. How can people come forward to support Zariya’s mission?

Spread the word! Share Zariya’s website and updates on your social media. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Please also sign up for our mailing list to remain up to date with features, testimonials, vacancies and other developments at Zariya.

Please talk to women you know who are facing violence, show them Zariya’s website, and encourage them to reach out.

Visit our website and send us any feedback on product, content and design. We are always open to hear your valuable thoughts and comments on how we can continue improving Zariya to best serve survivors’ needs.

About SaharPicture1

Sahar Khan is the Founder of Zariya, a 501c3 non-profit that tackles violence against women. An
American raised in Arabia (from the age of 6 months), Sahar is a Stanford alumni who previously worked in The Hague and studied development in Cambridge.

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legal empowerment, non-profit, public interest law, social change

New holistic legal services program in Rhode Island

As someone who is a big proponent of a “holistic legal services model,” I was incredibly excited to hear about a program launched in 2013 with support from the Kresge Foundation. The program, the Holistic Legal Assistance Network (HLAN) is hosted within Rhode Island Legal Services, and utilizes a holistic approach to identify and address the underlying social problems preventing an individual from moving forward out of poverty.

This program implements exactly the model I have been advocating on this blog for a while. The program integrates both legal and non-legal support and strategies and provides a continuity of care across the spectrum of a client’s social and legal problems. This holistic approach allows the program to attack the root causes of poverty as opposed to simply addressing the symptoms at a surface level, and by linking to other social service organizations and partners, aims to vastly increase the client’s access to necessary services. In addition, the program continues to follow-up with clients even after specific legal and social problems are addressed.  An initial evaluation seems to reveal positive results, but I think more robust measurement of impact in this and similar models will be helpful to test assumptions and also provide a persuasive force to other legal service providers across the country.  This powerpoint is incredibly helpful and captures many of the underlying goals of a holistic program; the barriers; and how to address them.

Indeed, the presentation accurately points out two key barriers: funding for such programs, and internal culture. Funding is often a challenge, since providing holistic care requires deeper support to each client, and can be enhanced by the hiring of an in-house social worker. This would be a great place for foundations to intervene and work with legal services organizations to supplement their work. However, even without additional funding, legal services organizations can reframe their referral process to develop close connections with social service organizations in the area, enabling greater continuity of care for clients. In addition, the culture of legal organizations is often such that there is a reluctance of lawyers to become involved in clients’ non-legal issues – often because of time – but also at times because lawyers do not feel well-equipped, perhaps are uninterested in addressing such issues, or feel it is not their role. Additional training and support can enable lawyers to think more “holistically” when working with clients, even without the addition of substantial additional resources or financial support.

Regardless, I am incredibly heartened to see a legal services organization taking this on and combining the language of holistic services with community lawyering – and at the same time, to see a foundation beginning to invest in this particular model. With more measurement to prove that this does, indeed, work, more funding may also come into play as donors want to support models that they believe will succeed.

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human rights, social change

The Paris attacks and a call for more empathy

This weekend, I have spent a lot of time scrolling through my newsfeed, reading about and mourning the horror of the terror attacks in Paris that killed over 120.  My heart goes out to the victims and their families and loved ones, and the French people.  I am deeply saddened and stand in solidarity with France in this moment.

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A poem by Warsan Shire, capturing some of these sentiments more beautifully than I ever could. (H/T to my friend Asiyah for this image)

And yet, in the depth of my heart, I admit that I have found myself thinking:  why has the world paid so much attention to attacks on lives lost in Paris, but so little to lives lost elsewhere in recent months and even days — like the bombing in Beirut just a few days ago in which ISIS killed over 40 people and left over 200 injured or the attack in Baghdad which killed at least 18 and wounded over 40?   Why has the mainstream media reported so heavily on the attacks in Paris, and less so on the recent tragedies in Beirut, Baghdad, and elsewhere in the world — Yemen, Syria, Palestine, Kenya — the list goes on.  Why are many of us, ordinary citizens, taking to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to show our solidarity with the French people – even changing our profile pictures to the colors of the French flag to show support – while often not even being informed of what is happening in other parts of the world, let alone posting about such tragedies? Why did Facebook activate a “safety check” feature for the Paris attacks, but neglect to do so for any of the other attacks that have recently transpired?

To put it bluntly: are we – as a global society – acting on an assumption that certain lives matter more than others? Does the disparity in attention show how little the lives of people of color in the “global south” are valued in comparison to Western lives?  If so, this is deeply problematic. As Paul Farmer has said, “The idea that some lives matter more than others is the root of all that is wrong with this world.”

The truth is that certain tragedies have been getting more airtime than others, and we do need to critically interrogate why.  The world is bleeding in so many places, and particularly for those of us who work on human rights issues across the globe or those who are directly affected, it can be disheartening to see the lack of attention to the hundreds of victims we know are suffering, literally dying for this very lack of attention.  Activists and journalists spend their lives trying to raise this kind of awareness – they meticulously document human rights violations, report on abuses, and try to get policymakers and the public to care.  But even a portion of this show of solidarity rarely comes through for some of the most marginalized groups. It can feel like a losing battle at times.

Many others have begun sharing similar sentiments of anger and frustration via social media as well.  Certainly, we should all be critical and ask these questions — and indeed, question our own reactions to crises like these as well.

But while doing so, we must keep in mind that we cannot “rank” injustice.  We should not be turning this into a game of “oppression olympics.”  While criticizing the way the world pays attention to tragedies in different regions, we should not devalue the lives lost in Paris, Beirut, Baghdad, or elsewhere.  Each life is important, and this tragedy in Paris was horrific and unprecedented.  Many people are genuinely grieving, and they grieve in different ways. It will take some time for those affected and the broader community to understand, process what has happened, and fully grieve.

In this time of grief, is anger really right response?  Is it right to deny someone else’s right to mourn? There is much to be frustrated about, no doubt, but perhaps the core message must be that we do not need less empathy, but more – much more empathy.  We can all show more empathy for tragedies and victims and survivors in our own backyard but also across the world. We can all take moments in future tragedies to seek out information, read what is happening on the ground, understand, share with our networks and take action. We can all do more to highlight on our newsfeeds what is happening not just in our own countries, but also in the most marginalized of communities. We can seek out alternate media and figure out new, different ways to inform ourselves about what the mainstream sources are not always reporting. More empathy paired with action could be crucial in changing the status quo.  And so, let’s call for this change with empathy for all those lives lost, without devaluing a single person’s grief, and with a change in our own behavior and the way we consume and process media.

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