Amioboli ensuring important stories get told
Violence against women is a social, cultural and economic epidemic in Bangladesh, where almost 2 in every 3 people have experienced gender-based violence in their lifetime, and domestic violence is a very common occurrence, but very little talked about.
That was until AMIOBOLI.COM was launched this November. The website created by HerStory Foundation, is a simple two-page site. The Loud Wall where visitors can type their submission anonymously, does not collect email IDs or names. Once a testimony is submitted it is reviewed to ensure that no names are used and then published on the wall. As gender-based violence continues to dominate the news but still gets treated as fiction, AMIOBOLI.COM is providing a much-needed reality check.
HerStory Foundation, a nonprofit organization that creates innovative content for development, with an emphasis on gender equality, youth empowerment and women's rights. They create conversations through storytelling, illustration, design, and dialogue to instill empowering and inspiring messages in children, youth and adults. They have been working relentlessly to change how women are portrayed and thought about in Bangladesh. As part of a conversation with Katerina Don, curator at HerStory said, "The crimes that surface in the news are just the tip of the iceberg. Daily thousands of crimes and abuses happen in the dark and are never reported or even acknowledged. There are many complex structural and socio-emotional reasons for the silence that protects the violence." With that vision, HerStory launched AMIOBOLI.COM, an online platform to anonymously share stories of gender-based violence.
What prompted/inspired you to start the initiative?
KD: Imagine that as you walk down the street, every person you pass has a broken fibula that they are hiding, because they are afraid they will be shamed for being broken. To address the problem, we must first create the spaces and the opportunities to talk about it. AMIOBOLI comes from that idea - that a safe anonymous space will encourage people to express what they experienced. There is no feedback, no action is taken - but the act of speaking is cathartic in taking back the narrative and furthers healing.
How many people are currently working on this project?
KD: The website was built from scratch by the HerStory Foundation team and the sponsoring partners were The Asia Foundation, Plan International and Goethe-Institut. Network partners were Actionaid Bangladesh, RukheDarao, SPaRC, Feminists Across Generations and Badabon Sangho. Corporate partners were EBL Women, IPDC and Shohoz.
Every single person who visits the site and contributes to the Loud Wall is a part of AMIOBOLI. They are giving us insight and chipping away at the silence which burdens us all.
How has the response been so far?
KD: The testimonies we have received are very varied. There are instances of physical abuse, mental manipulation, intrafamilial abuse. The Loud Wall is still small, but already it is clear that there is no ‘type’ of victim. It affects people of all genders, ages, sexual orientation. What is also becoming evident is how the culture of silence is driving people to cope by internalizing and normalizing trauma. This is dangerous, on a personal and a social level.
Has there been anything in the responses that really shocked you?How do you/your team decompress after reviewing so many intense stories?
KD: All the testimonies are shocking because they are all incredibly personal, in tone and content. In many of them there is the sense of an explosion happening, a revelation. People are saying something out loud for the first time. It is incredibly loud.
The 4.30 reminder in the calendar to check testimonies is not the easiest part of the day, but we are honoured and grateful that people are trusting us and using this as a vehicle of healing and resolving something major for themselves. We decompress by discussing - talking is the best medicine in this case.
Any future plans?
KD: The AMIOBOLI website will stay up and running. We plan to design some campaigns around it to make sure that people are aware of it as a free and safe resource. We are adding some features to it, to make the experience smoother. One such thing is the option of showing support to the writers. This will be through a ‘GIVE CARE’ button and the option of adding anonymous comments - which will be screened, to keep things safe and kind.
The Loud Wall is a statement - it is there for everyone to learn from. We are asking permission from writers to use the testimonies in events, and plan to stage readings / performances. We are also exploring possible partnerships to take this forward and looking for innovative and different ways to work with the website.
The launch of AMIOBOLI.COM was timed to align with the Global 16 Days of Activism Campaign which is an incentive for people and organizations to create content and activities to tackle the issue of gender-based violence. HerStoryorganized several conversations around the themes. The first was ‘Desire, Silence and Violence’ and explored the connections between the three topics. The second was a workshop led by Banishikha on Active Listening. To make others feel more at ease to share, we must all work on becoming better, attentive listeners. And the last in this line of conversations was a webinar of The Act of Speaking Up and explored the incentives that drove a group of activists to become more vocal.