Three months ago 21 year old Shadw Osama received a call from her friend. “She was walking alone and there were some men following her. I was not able to help her because I was too far away.” Shadow stayed on the phone to her friend until, finally, the men disappeared. Though the crisis was averted to Shadow and her friend it felt like a near miss.
“It was this feeling of helplessness that made me think I have to do something. The idea came to me right that second. Straight away I called my friend and she said that she knew two guys who could help create the app.” Shadw’s idea has become ‘Rescue’, a free app that would connect women who felt afraid whilst walking in Cairo to ‘rescuers’- men who would sign up to come and provide help in this situation. The app works by connecting the phones of these women via GPS to those of the rescuers. The rescuers will then be sent an alert on their phones with the GPS location of the woman who has asked for help. It is an app that will hopefully be available to download within a month on android and its creators are hopeful that they will also be able to create a version for Apple phones.
Feeling a little skeptical we asked her how many men she really thought would sign up to be these rescuers. “We did a poll,” she told us, “and 88% of the men said that they would sign up to help on such an app”. It was a statistic that shocked the Rescue team into hope.
It was a hope that Shadw had been waiting for a long time, “I never walk in Cairo,” she told us. “My friends laugh at me because I go from my home to the car, to uni, to the car, to home.” On a recent trip to Europe Shadw looked forward to finally feeling safe enough to walk on the streets but, when asked how she found it, she said “On my first walk I was harassed.”
The streets aren’t the only place where Shadw has encountered sexism, she told us that “As a woman starting a business, especially in the world of technology I am not always taken seriously.” For street harassment in Egypt is only a symptom of the patriarchal culture that restricts women here. We asked her what she would say to the criticism that her app only dealt with a symptom of a larger problem but was not in and of itself a solution. “I know this is not everything,” she said, “but it is a start. It is dealing with a problem happening right now.” Asked what the eventual solution was Shadw was clear, “Education.”
Until then however this is a start. It is still early days for ‘Rescue’ as Shadw and her team look at how it might work best and who could help them. However, it is undeniable that Shadw and her partners, without whom this app would still be a dream, have achieved a lot since the idea for ‘Rescue’ first came to her three months ago.
While waiting for the car to take her home after our interview we asked Shadw why her app was so necessary. “We are living with fear,” she said, “it is not right. I should be able to walk around my city.” And like that the taxi pulled up and whisked her away waving, hoping, like us, that Egyptian women might one day be able to reclaim their streets.
But even if that takes a while Shadw would like us to hold this in our minds, the biggest lesson she has learnt during the making of ‘Rescue’: “Never underestimate a small idea.”