Femme Smart is a new segment at continnect. In this segment, we look at apps created by or for women. We talk about newly created apps- Apps that help with social gains and empowerment, lifestyle apps and apps that are used particularly by women every day and apps that are popular with women across the globe.
This week, we head to Bangladesh and explore Maya – an online forum connecting Bangladeshi women across the globe.
“Salam Apa” — Most questions begin with this greeting on the website. A first of its kind in Bangladesh, fondly referred to as Maya Apa (elder sister)- the website and its app is the new age Agony Aunt helping women in Bangladesh discuss, debate and open up their thoughts on issues of pregnancy, motherhood and women’s health.
Maya began as a blog. Ivy Russell first started Maya in 2009, soon after having her first child. She named it after her mother who was fighting breast cancer at that time. All Ivy wanted then was to create a digital space to gather, create and share female oriented content in Bangladesh.
“She found there to be a massive gap between the information/knowledge women needed in a country like Bangladesh, and how they could access it,” says Tamanna Ahmad, who heads the communications team at Maya. The goal then became to provide high quality, locally relevant content to women, especially mothers. “On a whim, she added a very basic comment box on the homepage with the call to action, ‘Ask Maya Apa anything’.”.
Maya soon grew from being a blog to being a women-focused website. And the team behind this inspiring website is mostly led by women. “The engineers who created our first app and website were women, and most all of our internal teams are headed by women. We believe strongly in living our values of empowerment inside and outside the office and one of the ways we do that is by encouraging women in our office to ‘lean in’.” says Tamanna.
Team Maya began by responding to the few questions that they would get every day. The number of questions grew from 15 to 30 a day. “We realized quickly that this was the ‘killer feature’ and in 2014, Maya pivoted to focus primarily on becoming what the Maya Apa service is now,” she says.
A glance at Maya’s homepage tells us just that. From simple health tips, sex education, pregnancy and motherhood related queries Maya Apa has answered over 100,000 questions from women across the country. Other than the questions the site also features articles related to these topics.
The open question and answer format is a hit among women as they do not have to share their personal details while seeking answers to sensitive questions. Maya is also encouraging women to speak up on topics of violence and abuse. The website allows the user to filter topics by clicking on the apple icon on the right corner of the page which answers health questions, or the heart icon, that deals with the more social issues. “The nature of our platform is to keep users anonymous — Maya doesn’t even ask users for their names. It’s not easy to ask for experts advice in developing countries and even when you are ready to ask a question there are barriers,” says Tamanna.
The VAW (Violence Against Women) Survey in Bangladesh shows an increase in domestic violence. The report further states that 87 per cent of the women in the country have claimed some form of abuse but only a third of them report it. “Hence, for a country like Bangladesh, an anonymous service connecting users to experts where people can anonymously post a message and receive an answer in couple of simple steps, is the need of the hour,” adds Tamanna Ahmad.
Maya’s App which functions similar to the website has helped the team to reach more women in the country and also women of expat Bangladeshi women. The android app was launched in February 2015 and is gaining popularity among women in the country. It has been downloaded more than 80,000 times.
“After partnering with Free Basics of Facebook, our reach has expanded even further. Queries are coming from almost every district now – we want to reach every corner of the country.” says Tamanna.
The Android app also has the option of including pictures with a question, or submitting a question through a voice recording. The App and the website are available in Bangla and English.
Maya’s focus is not just the tech-savvy women but also those living in rural areas. There are also those who do not have a computer to begin with. Internet for them is a far cry. Maya has teamed up with a few partners providing a platform through their local centers and hubs. Maya has been partnering with BRAC’s Gender Justice and Diversity programme, since summer of 2014. “They are the ideal partner for us, offering us the financial support we need to build our service. Moreover, they have unrivaled expertise in the development space and offer amazing reach for the service, helping us bridge the digital divide,” says Tamanna.