Written by Lana Weal on the 16th of November, 2018
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This is a guest post from Zoë Condliffe, founder & CEO of She’s A Crowd – a social movement that uses crowdsourcing technology and storytelling to close the data gap in sexual assault and gender-based violence.
When I was in grade two, our class had a tradition of doing a “special show and tell” when it was your birthday. You had to talk about something special and significant about your life.
I remember going home and asking my parents: “What do you think my special show and tell should be about?”
Mum and dad said, “Why don’t you talk about the time we lived in Cambodia as a family? That was a pretty special time.”
The birthday, the day of sharing my story came, and I was excited. I had a speech planned, some photos to share and I stood up in front of my class. I said: “When I was little, I lived in a crocodile farm in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.”
And I began to tell my story.
My teacher interrupted me. “Sit down. Don’t tell lies.”
My show and tell was cut short. She didn’t let me continue my story.
That’s how felt in that moment. My face burned. Tears welled up in my eyes. I sat down. I felt ashamed.
I didn’t know what I had done wrong but it was at that point that I realised: maybe there was something unusual about living on a crocodile farm in Cambodia for a kid in Queensland.
Because I felt that somehow it had been my fault that class hadn’t gone according to plan, I didn’t tell my parents about what had happened for years.
But that experience sparked the realisation that something that I had experienced was not normal, and therefore, it was something to be ashamed of.
My curiosity for Cambodia only grew as I grew older, and I ended up living there for much of my early twenties, running my first social venture.
When I was living in Cambodia, I was on top of the world. I was doing what I loved, studying my undergraduate and I felt like I had a bright future ahead of me. And then suddenly, everything changed.
I found myself in an abusive relationship. I didn’t think that something like that would ever happen to me. I was educated, I was liberated, I was successful. I thought that would keep me safe, but it didn’t.
I hid what was happening because I was ashamed. I was ashamed that I’d let myself get into that situation, I was ashamed for not leaving the relationship, and I was ashamed because I blamed myself.
But I eventually managed to leave, and that was thanks to the people around me who supported me.
Getting out of that relationship was the hardest thing that I’ve ever done. I had the determination and the strength that an education and a wonderful family can provide, and I knew I had a lot more power and resources than many other women in my position.
I begun to realise that what had happened to me must be happening to so many others.
I became a national ambassador for the International Day of the Girl, and began publicly sharing my experience.
Something magical happened when I started telling my story: other people came forward and started telling me theirs.
I could see that when I stood up in front of a room of people and was vulnerable enough to tell my story, that somehow, the shame in the room just withered and died before my eyes.
I knew, when I told my story, that I was giving other people the strength to tell theirs. And I knew, when I told my story, that other people felt less alone, and that I did too.
This experience changed everything for me. I felt that this was the thing that I was going to dedicate my life to.
The poet Muriel Rukeyser asks:
“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.”
I’m passionate about the power of storytelling, and when it comes to gender based violence, our stories are shrouded in shame, our stories have not been recorded, or reported, or believed.
Our stories have remained invisible.
“Getting up here & sharing my story makes me feel powerful & visible. And I want every woman in the world feel that way.” @zoe285 is making the world safer for women with #ShesACrowd by helping decision-makers understand & prevent gender-based violence & sexual assault 🙏 pic.twitter.com/F9P2ZWZmNS
— SheStarts (@shestarts) August 9, 2018
I was privileged enough to share my story in the recent SheStarts Documentary. The series documented my experiences starting my feminist data-driven tech startup, She’s A Crowd.
SheStarts made me feel like my story does matter, and that it’s a story worth telling.
I started She’s A Crowd because that’s how I want every single woman in the world to be able to feel.
Watch the 2018 SheStarts Documentary to hear more about Zoë’s story and the stories of the other SheStarts female founders.