The coronavirus outbreak was declared a pandemic a little more than a year ago and this period hasn’t been easy for anyone. People are still struggling financially, psychologically, and emotionally. The issues we had before the pandemic started to become even more evident when everything was locked down. One of those issues is domestic violence.

The Women’s Funding Network recognized the issue early on and, in connection with the Canadian Women’s Foundation, launched the campaign “Signal for Help” in April of last year. It is a one-handed gesture that anyone who feels threatened can show another person, who could then report the situation to the authorities. These days, people are spreading more awareness about this hand gesture so that those experiencing abuse will know how to discreetly get help and so that others will be able to recognize it and take action.

People are spreading awareness about the universal hand gesture meaning that a person is in danger

Image credits: Canadian Women’s Foundation

The hand gesture is simple, but easily recognizable

Image credits: Canadian Women’s Foundation

The hand gesture is really simple. You face the palm towards the other person, tuck your thumb inwards, and then cover it with your other fingers. It’s even better than codewords, because it was designed to be discreet and you can let other people know that you’re in distress without making any sounds or noticeably moving. The gesture can be shown during a video call, which has become our main means of communication during the pandemic, or when answering the door. It is simple enough to make, but also distinct enough that those who know it will recognize it instantly.

That is why it is so important to make more people aware of this hand gesture, because the victims can only be helped when the person they are showing it to knows what they are trying to say.

Image credits: Canadian Women’s Foundation

A lot of people don’t feel safe in their own homes and previously depended on their workplaces or shelters to hide from their abusers. When everything closed down, they were forced to stay in an environment they didn’t feel safe in and couldn’t escape.

The Women’s Funding Network, the largest philanthropic network for girls and women aiming for gender equality and justice, realized right from the start of the Covid-19 lockdown that domestic abuse victims would be spending more time with their abusers and that they should have a way of communicating non-verbally that they need help. So they worked with the Canadian Women’s Foundation and launched the hand signal as part of the #SignalForHelp campaign.

She is not asking for a banana bread recipe

Image credits: Canadian Women’s Foundation

Last week, people on social media re-discovered the hand gesture and started widely sharing it on social media. It was prompted by the murder of Sarah Everard, who never came back home in Clapham, south London. The news about the murder spread all over the world and sparked a conversation about women’s safety on the streets and at home.

She is experiencing abuse and signaling for help without leaving a digital trace

Image credits: Canadian Women’s Foundation

Elizabeth Barajas-Román, the President & CEO of the Women’s Funding Network, says that if you are shown this gesture, you should ask simple yes or no questions to keep things discreet, as well as questions like: “Do you want me to reach out to you regularly?” And: “Can I check in with you?” The goal is to not alert the abuser and keep the abuse victim safe.

On the Canadian Women’s Foundation website, they say that you should check in with that person carefully to find out what they would want you to do, because someone in an unsafe situation knows best what is the safest for them. But if you know that a person is in immediate danger, you should call your local emergency services.

Image credits: Canadian Women’s Foundation

One video in particular, shared by Twitter user Harjinder Singh Kukreja, showing how the sign can be used in various situations went viral with over 6 million views. It was also shared over 100k times; people are acknowledging that the sign should be made famous, which is what the author of the tweet encourages people to do. Even though the sign was created for abused women, the video shows that it can be used by anyone feeling that they’re under threat.

Here are some of the reactions people expressed under the viral video

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Image credits: KateGladstone

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People started sharing not only this gesture, but also tips that women can do when they have to walk alone at night, or things men can do to make women feel safer in certain situations. You can look at these Bored Panda articles about tips that were shared by internet users of how to be “street smart” and how men should behave so that women won’t feel uncomfortable around them.