The issues around women’s safety have existed forever. And frankly, it’s been on the political agenda ever since women won the right to participate in politics – at least in certain countries. But for me, the #MeToo movement was a game-changer. It really changed the level of discussion around women’s rights.
Before, whenever women talked about things like sexual harassment or even rape, there was a lot of victim-blaming and slut shaming. But there was something about #MeToo which prompted a real shift in the balance of the discussion – at least from my point of view and for my generation. It gave the conversation renewed relevance but clearly, recent incidents prove there is always more work to do. And it’s up to everyone to try.
As women, I believe we’re the ones who can create change. I feel so strongly about this because of a personal experience when I was a teenager. My friends and I went to a house party in Tel Aviv (where I live) and we quickly realised one of our friends were missing. Another friend and I searched the house top to bottom, and we eventually found her in a room – half naked – struggling with two men. It was shocking, and really changed the dynamics of our friendship group. We were lucky that night that nothing worse happened, but it made us all aware how easily it could. For the next ten years –until I came up with the ides of SafeUP – we had each other’s backs whenever we went out and tried really hard never to put ourselves in certain situations.
It wasn’t until #MeToo that any of us really thought it through. It sounds bad, but before, being safe meant avoiding certain things altogether – being out late on your own or walking in certain areas at specific times – but #MeToo made us realise that should change, and we decided to start on the streets by creating communities of women all over the world who can look out for each other. I’d already found myself working in the tech world, which gave me the idea for an app-based solution that could make a difference. There’s a lot more to do – by governments and other agencies – but we’re part of a grass roots movement which shows that change is possible.
On opening the SafeUP app, our users can see all the SafeUP guardians in their area. Everyone who uses the app has to create a profile and our guardians are women over the age of 18 who have all undergone serious training. Really, all our users want to know is that they’re not alone. So, if they find themselves in a new place or somewhere they’re not sure about, they can open the app and see how many other women are nearby looking out for them – all over the world.
The proof is in the data. According to the SafeUp data, 75% of users claim having the SafeUP community support them has made them feel safer and 50% said by using the app they’re spending one hour more outdoors every day – five hours a week on average. Finally, 80% said they feel less alone – which counts for a lot when you’re not feeling confident out there.
We suggest all our registered users become guardians so the community grows. It’s mandatory to complete the guardian training in the app, and we’ve also put tough protocols in place to check who everyone is, so nobody with predatory intentions takes advantage of the app. In the beginning, that was the job of a hand-selected team, but we’ve since developed a sophisticated algorithm to help the process be even more thorough. It goes without saying that men cannot use the app and we still have a customer support system that works round the clock to check things are working correctly.
The app is designed to instantly connect users to a call with three guardians if they feel unsafe. Most of the time, the guardians will just accompany you over the phone until you feel safer, but if you prefer, you can ask them to come and be with you physically until you get home or somewhere you feel secure. A lot of women want to be part of the change in making the streets a safer place for women at all hours of the day, and this is one way they can be. The community side of the business really is so important to us.
We also have community managers who are trained to manage the guardians in a specific area. They help us disseminate new information as it comes to light, as well as a lot of the education content we’re constantly putting together on women’s safety. Our end goal is to prevent harassment in the street – and while I admit it’s a problem, we’re unlikely to solve completely within the next five years – I do believe that by empowering women all around the world, we will see positive change in the statistics. We’re constantly checking our own data to see that we’re making a real difference.
We’re very aware we can’t solve this problem on our own. We need the help of governments and bigger agencies to create lasting change. We work really closely with a number of them to find a way forward – big data should get involved too, as it gives government a much clearer picture of what’s going on and what could be done to improve the situation. For example, it could be as simple as adding more streetlights in a certain area – but it’s difficult to convince those in power to spend the money if they’re not presented with compelling evidence.
It would also be good to see more women at the top of these government agencies. While some men claim to be listening to the issue, it’s ultimately very difficult to empathise with the problem. If more decision-makers were female, I suspect more might get done on this issue. We know there are resources available, but we’ve found the men struggle to come up with a tangible solution. More women in the room always helps.
There’s plenty women can do to help. Really, it’s about having honest, open conversations with the other women – and men – in your life to make them aware of the issue and that it needs to change in 2022. At SafeUP, we’re always looking for community managers in every city. So, if there are female activists reading this, please apply via our website. I can tell you from experience that the personal reward and satisfaction you get from knowing you’re helping other women out there feel less alone or frightened is incredible.