A life after gender violence: how you can “stand tall”

As part of our ICTforWomanity interviews, we talked to Esther Marshall, founder of sTandTall, an initiative that helps women and girls who have been abused or bullied get back on their feet.

When Esther Marshall was younger, she thought she had found someone who loved her.

“Sometimes he did seem to love me. But at other times — after the drug taking and the drinking he became a different person. He would hurt me to the point that I was scared of him. What happened shook me and my self-confidence to rock bottom. I would sit in the bathroom crying and in pain. But I never told anyone any specific details — because I was afraid. Afraid of people thinking I was weak.”

“Then in 2014 I went to a conference called One Young World where I heard about other young people overcoming the adversity they had been through. It had a deep effect on me. I couldn’t stop thinking that other people had achieved amazing things and inspired others. And all I had done was hide from the issues. I had written down my feelings but not shared them. So — I had to do something. I went back to my room each night and started to draw up a plan of what I’m most passionate about.

Safety. Safety for women and girls.

When I used to sit in that bathroom scared I would write down my feelings. I carried on writing for a year and a half once the relationship was over. There was one day when I said to myself, ok, today is the day. Today I stop writing and start getting on with my life. The final sentence I wrote that day was:

“One day, I will stand tall”

After the conference Esther began the work to set up sTandTall. Unilever have helped in this process with both the CEO and Chief Sustainability Officer fully on board and supporting the platform.

Esther and her team now hope to bring together girls and women all over the world to build their self-esteem, achieve their full potential and sTandTall.

Womanity: How would you describe sTandTall?

EM: StandTall fits into 3 categories: It is a tool for survivors to share their stories and help others, it is a tool for advocates to help create a safe environment and it is also a tool for empowerment.

W: How do you harness technology?

EM: The sTandTall platform does 3 things: it provides NGO’s, charities and organisations working in this area with an online platform to publicise their services and tools that help victims to find them, broadening their positive social impact.

It also provides an anonymous platform for people who have been through abuse or have seen others experience abuse with a cathartic opportunity to share their story, with the added benefit of helping others.

It also gives access to relevant resources on a variety of topics to help girls and women dealing with abuse, for example, safety tips.

W: How has the platform evolved?

EM: A lot of people have spoken about the importance of anonymity on the site as well as being able to get information needed at high speed. We therefore reduced the amount of clicks it would take for someone to find what they needed and made the overall end to end user experience less than a minute as time is crucial on this site as if people use it they will most likely be in crisis and need help.

W: Can you share a short story of success that your platform triggered?

EM: I have had one girl come up to me and share her story and say that because of StandTall she is getting help and has left her partner who was abusing her. It was a real pivotal moment for me where I realised this could actually make a real positive difference to people’s lives.

W: What was a pivotal moment in the development of your programme?

The pivotal moment was when we managed to get budget signed off to create the website and in the same week we found the creative agency who matched what we were looking for. They understood the brief and really wanted to make the site the best for the user rather than just look pretty. It was an amazing week and was pivotal for sTandTall.

W: If I tell you “measuring your social impact”, what are you telling me?

EM: We will be measuring the impact in a number of different ways. Firstly though the number of charities, NGO’s and organizations we get to sign up to StandTall. We will then speak to them regularly to check what traffic they are getting from the StandTall website and if it is helping. We will also track how many stories are posted and how many are read. We will also track how many people have read the safety tips as this will be an indicator as to how many people are learning. We are also in the process to try and get funding so that we can translate the website into a few different languages so that we can have a bigger social impact with a wider group in society.

W: What is your ultimate ambition for sTandTall?

EM: We want to build centres around the world that provide holistic restorative care to victims of abuse, ensuring they are able to overcome their trauma and achieve their incredible potential.

The houses will offer medical care, counselling, financial planning advice, budget classes, CV writing classes, interview practice, and importantly, a safe and comfortable place where women and girls can come to recuperate — beds, showers.

Explore sTandtall and follow their development on their website.

If you are part of an organisation that harnesses ICT/New Media to prevent violence against women, get in touch and connect to our #ICTforWomanity learning network, here.