When you hear the word Maya Apa, it sounds like a human name. But it is not. It is an android-based mobile application. This application gives advice on a variety of health, social and legal issues to the women of Bangladesh.
Through this app any woman can ask any question without revealing her name — an all-important characteristic in a society where free speech often isn't free. The app maintains total anonymity for its users, who only need an email address to register. Expert advice is usually provided within 24 to 48 hours by a team of doctors, lawyers and counsellors. They respond in the language indicated by the user's questions.
The need for health answers is huge in Bangladesh. Each year 600,000 women die from complications related to pregnancy. Two-thirds of adolescent girls get married before age 18 and 64.3 percent become pregnant before that age. These young girls cannot talk about their health problems to one another because of the social stigma attached. As a result, various types of health, social and legal problems go unsolved. These women are the app's main constituency.
In Bangladesh, women's health and bodies are always discussed within the context of pregnancy, and prior to that it is as though their health is not an issue. she says. Maya provides a platform where women can freely speak about their emotional, medical, legal, and social needs anonymously, without being judged.
Taniza T., a doctor by profession, has seen problems connected to women's health up close in Bangladesh. She wrote a review of the App at the Google Play Store:
Impressive. Being a doctor I know how ppl hesitate to talk about their health related issues for long time before actually consulting to a professional. I love the concept and the app is phenomenal. But I would really like to see rapid response to questions. So 4 stars. I see great possibilities.
Maya village, the Facebook page of maya.com.bd, mentions that they earned positive responses from women who use the app to ask for advice on health, legal and psychological issues.
The free app can be downloaded from Google Play Store. Samsung Mobile Bangladesh also announced that this app is now available for all Samsung Smartphones sold inside Bangladesh.
The app has emerged at a time when the Bangladesh communications market is showing no signs of slowing its growth. In Bangladesh there were 121.860 million mobile subscribers as of the end of January 2015. Half were women. Furthermore, 80 percent of mobile phones will be internet-enabled by 2016. The app has been developed with basic Smartphones in mind in a bid to reach to everyone, especially rural women.
Beyond Bangladesh, women in any country in the world will be able to use Maya and take advice on their problems.
Ivy H. Russell, Maya's founder, wants to continue building the app.
She told local media:
We are motivated to continue innovating with the Maya Apa app. Our mission is to connect women to the knowledge they are looking for through technology, and there is a lot more on the roadmap this year.
Here is Ms. Russel's TEDxDhaka talk explaining the initiative:
Maya's team also won a prize at the Bangladesh Brand Forum's Inspiring Women Award 2015 in the Best Start Up category.