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If you have a friend or a family member who you suspect might be dealing with gender-based violence in their home, or if you are the one dealing with it, the concept of using a secret keyword or phrase is important to know.
According to a news article on CNN.com, during the national lockdown in France many women found themselves trapped in a home with a violent partner. So the French government encouraged women to go to a pharmacy, one of the few places you could go during their lockdown in March this year, to seek help. If the women didn't feel comfortable or safe enough to ask for help, they could ask for a 'mask 19' and the pharmacist will know that they need to call the police.
When the national lockdown was implemented in South Africa many local women found themselves in a similar situation, being trapped in their home with a violent partner. Caroline Peters, a co-ordinator of the Cape Flats Women's Movement, wanted to find a way of helping at risk women in Cape Town. She applied the same secret safe word concept she heard was being used in other countries.
Many women messaged her the phrase "Are you selling koesisters?" This was the secret way of sending a message asking for help. The secrecy was to ensure the woman's safety, by not alerting her partner who might be reading her messages. Koesisters, are a Cape Flats delicacy, a spicey doughnut, dipped in syrup and covered in desiccated coconut. Caroline doesn't sell any koesisters, but during the lockdown she would respond to them saying that she has a food permit to deliver them which would allow her to get the woman's name and address. She remained in contact with the women, checking in with them periodically to chech if they still needed a koesister delivery. If the situation escalated she would share the information with aurhorities who would go to the house and to intervene.
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