For tennis star Serena Williams, joining the fight against domestic and financial violence is crucial to not only being a strong role model, but to being a mother to 9-month-old daughter Alexis Olympia.
The athlete has teamed up with Allstate Foundation’s Purple Purse initiative where she aims to be a powerful voice to speak up for others who may not be able to.
“These women probably can’t use their voice so it’s important for them to know that there are people out there that are using their voice and letting them know that there is a place, that we can do something about it,” the superstar said at an event for the initiative on Wednesday.
According to Allstate, one in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime, with 99 percent of cases being financial abuse. As a new mother, these shocking statistics really hit home, Williams, 36, told PEOPLE.
“Having a daughter means that she’s one in four. Hopefully those stats don’t go up by the time she’s dating and meeting people, but they can if you don’t make people aware of it,” she said.
Williams recalled wanting to join Purple Purse after realizing how little she knew about the subject, figuring that many other people were in the dark about the issue as well.
“[Domestic abuse] is a subject that people are not really comfortable talking about, but sometimes talking about the uncomfortable is what we have to do,” Williams said. “We’re doing that now with Me Too, with Times Up, and I feel like we’re making those steps. We want to make this a movement.”
As a frequent advocate for women’s rights and equal pay in sports, Williams doesn’t shy away from reminding women that their voice deserves to be heard. The best advice she can give to both her daughter and women today is to “always speak up, and from the first day.”
“If you keep letting it go on, the situation gets worse and worse until you’re just completely downtrodden,” she added.
As an ambassador for the organization, Williams wants to bring awareness through education and social media. Last fall, the four-time Olympic gold medalist designed a purple purse in honor of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month and is gearing up to unveil her new design for this year.
“When I designed it, that was kind of the mindset…for it to be enough for you to take just what you need, your essentials,” Williams told PEOPLE.
On Wednesday, Williams took part in unveiling Purple Purse’s first installment of six “Instagram-able” murals as part of a national campaign to educate the public on the issue of domestic abuse. The first work was done by local artist Isabel Castillo Guijarro in NYC, and five additional murals will be created by local female artists in Houston, Seattle, New Orleans, Los Angeles and Chicago.
Williams snapped a picture in front of the mural with Allstate’s Senior Vice President of Corporate Relations, Vicky Dinges, and is using her strong following on social media to help make the invisible weapon of financial abuse more visible to the world.
“By tapping into the growing popularity of free street art and turning it into a vehicle for social good, we hope these murals will bring financial abuse and domestic violence out of the shadows, and inspire a new network of allies for domestic violence survivors,” said Dinges.
As a mother to young Olympia, Williams expressed her strong belief in educating young boys about what is acceptable and not acceptable, and to know that they need to support the cause. “The key word for me is men,” says Williams, adding, “It’s a human rights issue. We should just want to be better humans.”