The current situation means that a lot of Canadians are stuck at home. For some, that can be a dangerous situation, especially if there is abuse in the household. The Canadian Women's Foundation has created a way for people in these situations to discreetly ask for help.
The most important aspect is that it doesn't leave any sort of digital trace, like sending an email or a text would.
Anyone using the signal turns their open palm toward the camera, tucks their thumb in and closes their fingers around it like a fist.
Andrea Gunraj, VP of Public Engagement with the Canadian Women's Foundation, told Narcity that it isn't based on existing sign language in order to avoid confusion or crossover and so that it can't be done accidentally. It also only needs one hand so that someone holding a device could do it.
The foundation notes that gender-based violence, including emotional or sexual abuse, can dramatically increase during emergency situations, like the one currently unfolding.
"Public health directives on home isolation compound the danger for those living in abusive situations, and abusers may monitor their devices to ensure that what is going on inside the home is not shared,” Paulette Senior, President and CEO of the foundation said in a press release.
While it is a Canadian initiative, the signal is getting international attention.
Gunraj said that the gesture has been taken up in different regions of the United States, Spain, and Australia. She has also heard people are using it in Japan.
While Gunraj doesn't know of specific instances where the signal was used, she's heard about companies telling their employees to be aware if someone is using it during video conferencing, like one Canadian engineering firm that sent information about the signal to its 600 employees.
"Even if we don’t know how individuals are using it, it’s an example of how companies can be proactive and recognize that home and work are blending more than ever," Gunraj said.
If someone sees the signal, the foundation says they can call the person and ask yes or no questions so they can answer without raising suspicion.
They also suggest reaching out in other ways like texting and asking general questions like "How are you doing?" or "How can I help you out?"
Gunraj recognized that there are limitations with the gesture, particularly for people with bad internet connections or other social barriers.
However, she says they wanted to offer a tool for some people to use, which can facilitate a wider discussion about increased abuse at home during this time.