FemSMS, an innovative messaging program launched after the start of the 2022 escalation of war in Ukraine has received funding to enable it to continue to the end of 2023.

NEW YORK, USA/PARIS, FRANCE, November 19, 2023 /24-7PressRelease/ — FemSMS is a one-way trauma-informed compassionate text messaging service that provides rapid access to information and resources for all those affected by war, gender-based violence and/or forced displacement.

The service shares information and resources (for example, hotlines, articles, websites) with women, offering trusted information and social connection. It focuses on women’s safety, mental health, trafficking prevention and resources for women and those vulnerable to gender-based violence.

It was conceived and designed by Dr. Kristen Ali Eglinton, co-founder and Executive Director of Footage Foundation and the Footage team. “As far as we’re aware, this is the first time in a war zone that an iterative human centered design process has been used to build an information sharing system. It is also the first compassion based trauma-informed messaging system built through this process,” says Dr. Eglinton. “The initial phase of the project tested language and our compassionate approach. We analyzed and evaluated responses to establish trust and have Ukrainian women’s voices at the center of the initiative. We’re extremely happy to have secured this additional grant funding from the Forix Foundation to continue to deliver and scale the program and to fund employment of three young Ukrainian women to run the service.”

Messages are delivered using compassionate language and insights to end information poverty, increase resilience as well as build social connection and belonging. A test program was trialed in Ukraine in May 2022 after initial seed funding provided by Project Kesher Ukraine (PKU) who continue in partnership with Footage Foundation and the young Ukrainian women to deliver the messages and resources.

In the first year of running FemSMS, between May 2022 and May 2023, around 1,000 women in Ukraine received text messages and it saw an open rate of 98% with an average ‘pass on’ readership of 45% with some trials as high as 75%.

“Project Kesher Ukraine has supported funding and delivery of FemSMS because there is a huge need to address a lack of access to trustworthy information in crisis settings and other challenging geographies where the most vulnerable do not have access to crucial information,” says Vlada Nedak, Executive Director of PKU. “Our focus is on getting much needed information out to those who are hardest to reach. The program was developed using trauma-informed and compassionate text messaging because the research showed that women needed to know that they were not alone.”

The new funding has enabled Footage and PKU to work with Viber to provide a platform to deliver the messages. It will employ three young Ukrainian women, themselves displaced by the war, as communications specialists. They will administer and write, edit, test and send messages on mind, body and compassion as well as collect data to evaluate the impact of the service.

“In this hard time that we live in, we need to support each other and we need to receive this support. FemSMS is like communication with online friend that really loves you. Working on this project, is a good way for me to share and use my experience for the benefit of others,” says 26-year old Alyona (we’re using first names only to project identity) who is from eastern Ukraine and was displaced by the Russian invasion in 2014.

Maria, 39, who is co-ordinating the service says: “This project is very special for me because I am also from Ukraine and temporarily have to live in another country. Through my own experience I feel what many Ukrainians have to go through and their feelings and emotions. This project is small now, but there’s a very important community on Viber where every woman can find support and understanding. It’s very important to me to be able to participate in the project because it’s an opportunity to provide real help to Ukrainian people.”

Thirty-three year old Iryna, who is displaced and studying in France, says: “For me FemSMS is a mission, my contribution to helping women during the war. This is a necessary project in such difficult times. I am very happy that I am part of the FemSMS project and can help women with my messages.”

The service has proved life-saving for women like Vira, a 40-year old Ukrainian woman who, seeking safety from the Russian invasion in February 2022, was already struggling with intimate-partner violence, and was met with a grim new reality: shelter in place with an abuser, or face death and displacement.

As Vira grappled with the growing threats to her safety, a message came through on her phone. “This can be hard to talk about. But violence against us, as women, is part of this invasion. Whether you’ve experienced violence or not, the next text includes some trusted resources to turn to.” Vira immediately understood that she wasn’t alone and there was somewhere for her to turn.

“The more challenging the landscape, the more oppression, violence, and injustice we see, as a feminist organization, the stronger our resolve becomes to do everything possible through compassion to elevate the voices of those who are most at risk of gender-based violence and displacement, wherever they are in the world,” says Dr. Eglinton.

To help deliver Footage’s mission to reduce the gap in information poverty and provide connection through building resilience, belonging and compassion, funding will also be used to host an online conference on 9th December 2023. The conference will bring together young women and participants from across the region to share their experience and focus on Mind, Body and Compassion – the same theme as the texts to be sent out over the course of November and December. The conference will be hosted by Footage Foundation. You can register your interest in taking part here.

About Footage Foundation: Footage is a U.S. based feminist organization raising voices to elevate lives through creative research, wellbeing interventions, and advocacy—all advancing the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Footage has received nine Public Diplomacy awards from the U.S. Department of State to design and implement programs focusing on women and violence primarily in the Post-Soviet region. A nonprofit organization founded by PhD colleagues at Cambridge University, Footage uses narrative and expressive approaches empowering young women around the world to connect as agents of social change. Our programs provide connection — a community for women on the frontlines of gender inequality where their ideas matter and their voices count. We have a particular focus on forced displacement and gender-based violence and believe compassion and connection are as important to sustainable development as food and water.

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