Supporting Women Affected by Domestic Violence
Girl Guide alum Fairuz Ahmed and Girl Scout alum Megs Shah met in a single-mom group on Facebook. The admin for the group, Megs heard stories over the years from single moms about domestic violence of various kinds, including emotional, physical, and financial violence. As she observed, “There are so many ways a person can control you.”
“When the pandemic hit,” says Megs, “my first thought was how are people in abusive relationships going to ask for help now?”
Megs is an engineer and computer scientist, and Fairuz is an ecommerce specialist who has also worked in social services. The two decided they could use their training to make a positive difference in the lives of women. Their original idea: create an app to serve battered women at a time when reaching out for help and requesting services was harder than ever, with police seeing a spike in domestic violence calls.
“Domestic violence is such a huge issue globally: one in four women face these issues worldwide,” says Megs. “The issue was always there, but the COVID-19 pandemic heightened it.”
“I always liked fixing things, and that’s a large part of why I became an engineer and a consultant,” says Megs. “Fairuz and I always look for ways to solve problems, and that’s part of how we connected.”
For both women, Girl Scouts (and Girl Guides) was a place where they made important connections with other girls growing up.
Megs immigrated to the United States from India in junior high.
“I moved to Louisiana, and they embraced me in my troop—I felt like I was part of it. I was exploring the outdoors in a way I never had before. I fell in love with hiking and camping and all things that allowed me to get dirty. We got to be ourselves and not have any judgement; these girls were with me through thick and thin,” she recalls.
Megs’ troop disbanded in ninth grade because they didn’t have a troop leader. “It [the troop] was a short duration, but the friendships [weren’t],” she says. “There are six of us who still keep in touch. We are still friends to the point where we can see each other and know what the other person is thinking. They’re my soul sisters—I can’t be without them.”
Growing up in Bangladesh, Fairuz was a Girl Guide.
“My story is very different because I grew up in a conservative culture. For me, [Girl Guides] was a safe space where I could explore and learn new things and foster friendships beyond school walls,” she explains.
By June of last year, Megs’ and Fairuz’s initial concept of the app led to the creation of Parasol Cooperative, a membership organization for service providers designed to help them better serve domestic violence survivors, regardless any technical limitations. Over the past year, the two have clearly made a big impact in the lives of women who’ve found themselves trapped at home with their abusers.
The name of their organization comes from a Buddhist and Jain term that is a symbol in many faiths around the world and has become a universal symbol.
“In our culture,” says Fairuz, who has stepped down from the day-to-day leadership and is now on the board of Parasol, “we use the term umbrella [to mean] a way to protect from harm.”