Equality Now has the privilege to partner with women’s rights activists from around the world. We’re sharing their unique perspectives and challenges advocating for change in their communities. We spoke to Mariam Torosyan, CEO & Founder at Safe YOU / Impact Innovations Institute in Armenia as part of a series highlighting activists across Eurasia, where we’re working with women’s rights groups to hold governments accountable for ending sexual violence and ensuring access to justice.
I spent many years of my life working as a lawyer and working directly with women who have experienced some form of psychological or physical violence.
I founded Impact Innovations Institute (IMIN) to develop the Safe YOU mobile application and platform so that women had access to an innovative solution that assisted them through prevention, protection, prosecution in the face of Violence Against Women (VAW). We wanted to make the Safe YOU solution work to raise awareness, educate, protect and empower women through knowledge sharing and community.
With my background in Human Rights Law, Social Anthropology, and Public Health I was able to outline key issues and gaps in response, prevention, and protection in solutions that were being provided to women. From this point, we understood our application could not focus on a single issue but needed to be multifunctional, and so we created and continue to improve Safe YOU.
What is the current situation in Armenia in terms of promoting women’s and girls’ rights? What challenges do you face doing your work in this environment?
In Armenia and Georgia, where we are currently operating, women’s and girls’ rights are promoted to the public realm, that being said these countries are heavily affected by patriarchal beliefs and systems and this is evident in private life and through societal stigmas around women’s issues and women’s rights.
The government of Armenia is now taking steps in improving the promotion of women’s rights. There is also a significant and active presence of International Organisations, such as UN agencies, in Armenia working hard on promoting women’s rights. The Human Rights Defender of RA and Civil Society organizations play an active role in this field.
While our solution is currently available in Armenia and Georgia, we have found that funding for such projects is limited across Eurasia. Although the issue of VAW is publicly presented as an important item on the agenda, this sentiment is not fully translated into the endorsement of such projects, projects that seek to do more in the preventative stages rather than only support women in the aftermath stages which currently is where we are seeing funding being prioritized (if at all).
What is the most important reform or action that the government in your country should do to improve the situation for women and girls?
We believe that to see real change at all levels of society we must first target education (that being one of our key pillars of the application) however this education should not only be focused on women but also on men. It is especially important to target the youth to introduce these ideas and understandings. Children are not born with their beliefs, they develop them. We must protect and guide them towards beliefs that empower them rather than endanger and disadvantage them.
Education and knowledge sharing should not only be focused on younger age groups as this will do little to transform the cultural stigmas engrained already in the older generations. There must be true cultural transformation amongst adults to bring about women’s equality and to end VAW. Without collective transformation we are left with continued perpetration of violence in its different forms, this affects all genders as patriarchy is harmful to all.
What are the achievements made by your organization in the last five years?
Safe YOU has been recognized as a Digital Public Good. It’s an important step to scale up the solutions and to be a part of a strong community of innovators supporting and empowering each other.
In Armenia and Georgia, only after a little more than a year we are seeing that over 16,000 women across both countries have benefited from Safe YOU. More specifically, the app was credited with saving 2 lives – a mother and her 3-year-old daughter. The mother was able to alert the police via Safe YOU when being threatened by her ex-husband, and she was then successfully able to use the audio recording from the application in court as a pivotal piece of evidence.
Most recently, Safe YOU has been launched in Iraq in August of 2021 in partnership with UNFPA Iraq. This cooperation was initiated on the part of UNFPA Iraq based on the successes of the application in Armenia and Georgia.