[DASH of SAS] Girl+: This mobile app saves girls
As night starts to set in, Kaye begins to get ready for work. It will still be dark when she clocks out of work at 5am, just as the rest of the city begins to awaken.
As a customer support and marketing officer for a Maritime company with round-the-clock operations, Kaye’s working hours are in the dead of night.
“When the office was in Manila, it was relatively easy and safe to get to and from the office. I would take the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) after leaving the house at 9pm,” the 39-year-old said.
Kaye relies on public transportation for her daily commute, varying from taking the train, the bus and an occasional cab when she feels lazy. In between rides, she takes walks to get her from bus depot or train stop to her final destination.
She remains vigilant no whatever form of public transportation she chooses to take.
“In the bus, you have to be wary of everyone – especially if you are sleepy. I need to stay alert.” Kaye does not indulge in plugging in her earphones for fear of not being able to hear what is going on around her. She always takes care of her belongings.
“When I take the cab, I’m on watch for a driver na salbahe, (ill-intentioned) but you never know that just by sticking your hand out and hailing a cab,” she said.
At times, harmless chatting with cab drivers turns into macho talk that Kaye finds to be “offensive.” She deflects these topics by shifting the subjects to politics and current events, but the uneasy feeling does not leave her until she gets to her stop.
“When girls commute alone, it’s not only criminal activities like muggings that she has to look out for, it’s also street harassment,” noted Kay.
Ayrie’s late nights are both for work and leisure when she goes out with friends. Like Kaye, the street harassment is something that she finds herself on guard for when she commutes alone.
“I get catcalls or someone will try to initiate conversation and get upset if you don’t acknowledge them,” Ayrie said.
And even when no words are uttered, there’s the violation of personal space.
The seemingly innocuous hand that lingers where it shouldn’t, the hand that fleetingly grazes the chest.
“Nakakawalang dignidad mag-commute. (Commuting makes you lose your dignity.)” Ayrie said. “It is irritating and degrading. You are subjected to all sorts of unwanted attention and you can’t even sit properly.”
Both girls have taken it upon themselves to protect themselves on the road. Ayrie has downloaded an app that sends out an SOS to customized list of contacts in case of emergency. (READ: Protecting more women and girls through technology)
Kaye takes with her a can of pepper spray that she regularly replaces when its expiration date is up. She has even gone on YouTube to learn self-defense classes. When she’s walking home alone during “houra de peligro”, she arms herself with her keys, the pointy end ready to stab someone who dares to attack her.
Camille, a media officer who often has to attend evening events, makes sure she texts the plate number of her cab to her parents and the person she was last with.
The news stories making the rounds about girls getting mugged or worse make the girls feel more vulnerable.
“Violence against women is one of the biggest issues we need to deal with today,” Ria Lu, an app developer for Unlock & Load, a Filipino technology company, said.
It is because of the many inconveniences and potential dangers that girls face during their daily commute that Unlock & Load, together with international socio-civic organization, Soroptimist, came up with Girl+.
Girl+ is a free downloadable app that can turn into your own emergency alarm at your fingertips.
“We wanted to come up with something on the phone, something that girls can always carry without drawing unnecessary attention,” Lu said.
Once downloaded, Girl+ will take over as your phone’s default lock screen where you can easily access two buttons.
Once is a panic button that when pressed will set off a siren to scare off attackers or stalkers.
A second button is an actual call button that links up to the 1343 Action Line on Human Trafficking in case of abuse or attempted trafficking.
In between, subscribers to the app can get lock-screen notifications linking them to articles about safety, being empowered and career or economic opportunities for women.
“Girls should feel safe when on the road or commuting late at night. They should feel safe when going to work. We hope Girl+ can help do that.” Lu said. – Rappler.com
Ana P. Santos writes about sex and gender issues. Seriously. She is a regular contributor for Rappler apart from her DASH of SAS column, which is a spin off of her website, www.SexAndSensibilities.com (SAS). Follow her on Twitter at @iamAnaSantos.