An app to steer pedestrians toward safer streets

The idea behind Malalai, says founder Priscila Gama, is to allow users to avoid dangerous situations before they happen

Like many women in Brazil, Priscila Gama doesn’t always feel secure when walking alone down city streets. And she knows she’s not alone.

“I heard a woman screaming at 4:30 a.m. near my house,” says Gama. “When she got to safety, I heard that she said that she was being followed.”

That’s why the former urbanism and architecture student decided to create Malalai, a subscription-based safety app that functions as a virtual companion.

The inspiration for the app came at the end of 2015, when women across Brazil took to social media to denounce sexual violence using the hashtag #myfirstharrassment.

Priscila Gama says knowing how much women are harassed on city streets inspired to create the app Malalai.

“I read a few of these posts regarding sexual violence in public places and it got me thinking because some of the cases were absolutely shocking,” she says.

Named after the Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai, a strong advocate for the rights of women and girls in her native Pakistan, Malalai shows users the safest routes for walking in Brazilian cities Belo Horizonte, Rio de Janeiro, and São Paulo.

Malalai took home one of the top prizes at the São Paulo Creator Awards, sponsored by WeWork. Gama says the $180,000 will help her grow her business even faster.

Because of the record number of violent crimes in Brazil—there were 64,000 murders reported last year—Gama says that police are less likely to prioritize reports of harassment. The idea of Malalai, she says, is to allow users to avoid dangerous situations before they happen.

To assess the safety of a chosen route, users simply enter their final destination into the app. The system analyzes five factors: whether the streets are well lit, the amount of pedestrian traffic, the presence of open commercial establishments, whether there are police nearby, and whether there have been registered reports of harassment in the past. Information and mapping is updated in real time.

The app also features a panic button that can be used if users feel threatened or intimidated. It can be synced with optional wearable technologies, such as rings and pendants. Three of the user’s contacts are automatically informed if the panic button function is used.

Gama says that although Malalai is principally aimed at women, men can also benefit from it.

“I believe that Malalai could help build cities safer — not just for women, but for everyone,” she says.

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