Worried for her daughter’s safety, filmmaker-turned- entrepreneur launches app for safety of women, vulnerable communities
On a summer day in 2014, at around 6.30 pm filmmaker and activist Madhureeta Anand was out for a stroll along the road adjacent to a highway in South City 1, Gurugram. A man assaulted her from behind and when she somehow managed to fight back, he ran away. On approaching a nearby police station to report the incident, the police remarked that she should not have gone out alone at that time.
In India, a country ranked the most dangerous for women, such insensitive and indifferent attitudes towards women’s safety is rampant – the latest of which came from Chandramukhi Devi who is a member of the National Commission for Women (NCW).
Responding to the horrifying case of gangrape and murder of a 50-year-old in Badaun, Uttar Pradesh, an event that outraged the country, she told the victim’s family, “Even under any influence, a woman should keep track of time, and should not venture out late. Perhaps, had the victim not gone out in the evening, or gone along with a family member, she could have been saved.”
Madhureeta says, “They really just think that safety is the responsibility of the women. If they get attacked, it's their problem, and if they don't, good for you. Society has abdicated the entire responsibility while it is their duty to protect the vulnerable communities.”
Shifting the onus
Madhureeta has not recovered completely from her own experience. “To this day, I keep looking over my shoulder. I may be walking on a beach in Los Angeles but I will be constantly on guard,” she says.
When her daughter became a teenager and wanted to go out in the city with her friends, Madhureeta would stay up all night, worried when she missed a curfew. She would constantly call track her in every way she could, and wondered if there was a way to tell if a particular area or street was safe.
When such information was not available, she initially allowed her daughter to visit only the places she approved of – which she says “felt like imprisoning her.”
That is when Madhureeta decided to work on the Phree App in July 2019. Launched officially nearly four months ago, it is simple to use and allows users to mark streets, areas, or establishments whether they are safe or not based on their experience. They can also state the reason in the review.
Aimed at ensuring safety of women, LGBTQ people, and other vulnerable groups, users have told Madhureeta that the app is helping them plan family outings at safer places as well.
“We hope that in time, law enforcement like police and local guards will have access to the app to see what people are saying about a particular street/location. The same goes for bars, restaurants, and taxi services,” she says.
She adds, “If we can express what place is safe or unsafe as a group, it will shift the onus onto where it belongs. If a thousand women say a bar is unsafe, something's wrong with the bar and not the women.” The safety app has over 3,500 active users and sees around 700 downloads in a month.
Having raised a seed fund of Rs 2 crore to build and design the app, Madhureeta is now looking to raise a Series A round soon.
Parallels between filmmaking and entrepreneurship
Madhureeta has always highlighted the need for gender equality as an independent filmmaker and activist simply because “one can’t not be doing anything to challenge the status quo.”
However, she says there are some stark similarities between the world of entrepreneurship and filmmaking. One has to sell their vision and dream and ensure the stakeholders of the road ahead.
“But what is also familiar is the bias against women. During meetings, I get the vibe that people don't believe women can be founders of tech companies. Honestly, when such a situation arises, I leave the meeting if I can or just let it go because a person with such beliefs is not the right person for my company anyway,” she says.
The entrepreneur also says that people in the startup world perpetuate a belief that founders should spend every minute of their time towards building their company and throw up examples of ‘Elon Musk not sleeping’.
Madhureeta believes women are natural multitaskers and approach problems differently than men, which allows them to take on any task and complete it.
Edited by Rekha Balakrishnan