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Hera Hussain

Web Foundation · March 12, 2021

Hera Hussain is the founder of Chayn, an online volunteer community that creates intersectional resources for survivors of gender-based violence and works to improve the online experience of women seeking support. Chayn has reached more than 380,000 people around the world since launching 8 years ago. 

When survivors of gender-based violence search for support online, Chayn is there with information and tools to help them recover from trauma and live happier, more independent lives.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, we quickly realised that survivors of abuse were facing new challenges: more time with abusive family members and no access to usual support routes including group therapy. When lockdowns started, calls to domestic abuse helplines jumped by up to 30% across the world. Chayn’s own web traffic tripled. Our vision was to recreate a physical group setting, often run by shelters and local authority support programmes, as an online experience.

This project uses simple technology with end-to-end encryption that enables extremely secure conversations, safely recreating in-person group therapy online for vulnerable people. This is a win-win for privacy and usability and offers the sector insight into how new modes of communication can be integrated into frontline delivery. A typical in-person support group is run for a maximum of 14 people. We are able to run it for hundreds of people within just three part-time employees and a few volunteers.

Women are often misinformed about their constitutional rights, which deters them from seeking justice. We are smashing these walls and filling the information gaps. You would think making it easy for women to find support online would be a no-brainer, but we frequently hear women describe the search for information as going down a ‘rabbit hole’. One survivor told us:

“It took me 15 clicks to find the information on a local refuge. If you only have five minutes alone, that’s at least 10 clicks too many.”

We’re turning these rabbit holes into easy-to-understand digital guides and tools – resources that are easy to find, understand and use. Our projects have been described as a “warm hug”. Our feminism is intersectional and we believe in creating an open culture of collaboration in both the tech for good and women’s rights sector, redistributing power dynamics for a fairer world. We’re transforming lives by redistributing power to survivors of abuse who are organising through Chayn to create powerful resources that could have helped them. 

If technology is not diverse by design, it will be unequal by outcome. Our guides and digital services are not only designed with survivors, they are often led by them too, because we believe that the process of creation must be empowering. We design feminist technology around the needs of women and non-binary people but our products are open and useful to people of all genders. 

I hear from survivors who tell me that they’ve spent weeks and months trying to get in touch with organisations for help but haven’t heard back, but then they talk to us, and our resources help them process their trauma and know there is someone out there who cares.

I talk about the web as a common good — a garden of gardens for all of us. It’s up to us to sow seeds of hope and progress in the corners where darkness and dismay fester. If all young people had access to the web and digital skills, the world could be a creative and happy place where young people are able to build communities, connect with ideas and people local and far from them, build businesses, learn about their rights and get justice. 

The web has to be common for all of us. Not only do we need to build tools and understanding around how to practise digital citizenship, we also need more proactive legal and platform approaches to curbing harassment and surveillance. A place like home. I like thinking of the web as a garden for us all.

Share Hera’s story:
Thank you @herahussain for using the open web to build @ChaynHQ and get vital support for women & non-binary people facing gender-based violence #WebChampions

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