Não Me Calo allows users to review restaurants based on how they treat women. The data then helps other patrons decide which restaurants are safest for women, and publicly encourages restaurant owners and government officials to fix harassment hotspots.
The team competed against coders from India, Taiwan and the United States to create the best app addressing the challenge of creating safe spaces for women. They will now work with partners from the Global Fund for Women, which organised the hackathon, to fully develop the app.
“If girls aren’t accessing the internet and aren’t creating culture themselves online and using their own voices online, then that means other people are doing that.”
Sara Baker, Take Back the Tech!
Catherine King, the executive producer of the Global Fund for Women, says that the hackathon is meant to address the gender gap in access to information technology, and to encourage women to create and shape technologies.
“If girls aren’t accessing the internet and aren’t creating culture themselves online and using their own voices online, then that means other people are doing that,” Sara Baker, the coordinator of Take Back the Tech!, a global campaign to get more women online, told SciDev.Net.
The hackathon, which gave teams 24 hours to create their app, took place in February, and the winners were announced last month.
King says that the teams’ responses to the challenge were influenced by experiences in their own communities. For example, teams from India designed apps for learning self-defence and sex education.
Women’s safety apps or features are becoming increasingly popular, particularly in India where they are seen as a way to respond to public violence against women. Earlier this year, Uber, the taxi-hailing app, added a new ‘SOS button’ to their Indian version after a driver raped a passenger in December 2014.
But Rohini Lakshané, a researcher at the Centre for Internet and Society in India, points out that these technologies can only go so far towards preventing violence against women, and must be part of a broader approach that also addresses the underlying social and cultural causes of gender inequality.
She adds that many apps fail to protect women because they are designed by men who don’t understand the intricacies of women’s safety. According to the UN Development Program (UNDP) there are 200 million fewer women than men online, a gap that could grow to 350 million by 2016.
“Those kind of disparities in the global South mean that men have more control over ICT than women, and boys have more control over ICT than girls,” says Baker.
Some apps have been criticised because they take the onus off society and the government to ensure public safety, and do not address domestic violence.
But Lakshané says that crowd maps in particular, such as the one used by the Não Me Calo app, can be an effective way to help women fight back by providing information that both women and policymakers can act on.