CW: mentions of sexual violence
In 2018 I was conducting an applied drama programme with 11 and 12 year old girls. During that period, they began telling stories about their experiences of gendered violence, and one girl brought up that she had two cousins who were sexually abusing her. We met with the families involved to facilitate a process of restorative justice, alongside the family’s decision to report to the police. After hearing other similar stories of sexual violence, we started talking to mothers in the neighbourhood and got the mandate that this is an issue they wanted to take on.
A community conference was held in 2019 where we spoke to 20-30 people in the neighbourhood, as well as Whampoa Family Service Centre (FSC) and even the police. The moment that really solidified for the community that they wanted to take ownership of this issue was when a 13-year-old girl read out a heartbreaking letter representing the voices and stories of youth in the neighbourhood who had experienced sexual violence, asking the adults to step up. The community took the opportunity to tell the police what kinds of responses would be helpful to survivors.
From there, the members created ideas about different community structures to prevent and respond to sexual violence. They also highlighted the importance of community relationships and bonding in increasing the feelings of overall safety in the neighbourhood.
In 2021, they formed action groups (which we typically call ‘circles’), and launched a community campaign. The focus of the campaign was a community pledge where residents committed to supporting survivors and creating a safer neighbourhood. The campaigners collected around 60 signatures for it, in the process having many meaningful conversations. They also envisioned creating a collective of first responders, a youth support network, a parent support network and community safe houses where children and youth could go to when they needed help.
The youths are all amazing. I care deeply for them and feel a strong connection with them. In the beginning the boys were ambivalent about this issue, but through the process their resolve in caring about this issue strengthened. They would do door knocking and talk to parents about the issue, especially one the boys who is a talented, aspiring rapper and has performed for the community and written songs about the issue of gendered violence as well. He tried to talk to other boys of his own accord. And when he noticed that some boys would try to bring girls to a vulnerable situation in order to try and pressure her to have sex, he told us: “I would stay with them the whole time to make sure they didn’t do anything to the girl”. He’s naturally reflective now. He would ask about community events, and he’s excited to perform for them.
Another youth shared that in the past, she was even sexist towards other girls and didn’t know how to get out of her own abusive relationship. But through the space, reflections, and reading up more about the issues, she took a stand in her relationship and even helped other friends in difficult or harmful situations. She was the one who energized the other girls to get involved, she created the pledge together with another girl, set up a WhatsApp group for the girls to join, always shares powerful opinions, and influences the other girls to examine how some of their perspectives may be harmful to women. Towards the end of the year, she told me she really cares about this issue and wants to be a community worker in the future. That’s the goal she wants to work towards and she wants to do well in school to achieve it. Other people in her life may think she doesn’t have goals, but we know she is a neighbourhood leader.
– Sobi, Community Worker
With your support, we can build stronger families together, one building block at a time.
Contribute now at: bit.ly/bssbuildingblocks