Team Não Me Calo during a hackathon hosted by the Global Fund for Women.
Team Não Me Calo during a hackathon hosted by the Global Fund for Women.

PITTSBURGH (WOMENSENEWS)–When she was growing up, Tina Gong felt alienated from her body. It wasn’t until she was in college, away from her conservative Chinese family, that she felt comfortable recognizing her own sexual desires. For Gong, who graduated from New York University with a degree in linguistics, the next step was clear: create an app that teaches teen girls that masturbation is a healthy and natural part of life.

“We need an alternative story that tries to give girls the alternative message; that their bodies aren’t for male pleasure, but can be for their own,” Gong, 25, said in an email interview. “I think every product naturally comes from trying to solve a problem that you have, or in this case, finding a place of harmony for parts of yourself that feel dissonant.”

Through gaming and crowdsourcing technology, young female programmers such as Gong are creating digital tools that serve a growing population of female consumers of online and mobile applications. Women lead men in mobile use for commerce and app usage, according to research by Ogilvy and Mather.

While Gong made “HappyPlayTime” for others, the application, which is now open to public users for testing, has been an important tool in her own development.

“Making the game and being able to externalize these scary parts of myself and transform them into this has actually brought me a lot of peace about my own internal conflicts about sex and sexuality,” Gong said. “I’m more able to accept myself as a sexual person, and because it’s so much a part of one’s identity, it’s been a lot of weight off my shoulders.”

The original version of HappyPlayTime–which was built in an operating system designed for mobile devices manufactured by Apple–was rejected by the Apple store last year for pornographic content. This setback meant Gong had to rebuild the game in JavaScript in order to make the game more accessible to the public, regardless of their digital platform, which she is doing from her New York City studio apartment when she’s not working as a marketing analysis.

Other Apps

Other young developers had an easier time getting the Apple store to offer their product.

Andrea Gonzales and Sophie Houser also created an app designed to make young people more comfortable with their bodies. In their case, however, the high school teens took on menstruation in their game Tampon Run.

Tampon Run features a girl running and throwing tampons at her enemies – boys clad in red baseball caps – while collecting tampon boxes and avoiding bumping into foes. One online reviewer said the game was “Almost like Temple Run with a gun.”

Safety for young women was on the mind of the Brazilian women who created the website and app Não Me Calo, or “I Will Not Shut Up.”

A social networking site, Não Me Calo allows users to rate public venues and nightlife based on how women are treated there. There was a 24 percent increase in reported rape cases between 2011 and 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, according to a recent study by the state’s Institute of Public Security. It’s statistics like this that convinced the four creators–ages 18 to 22–that the app was vital to the safety of young Brazilian women.

The goal, said Adriane Fernandes, 22, a member of the development team, is to have “a society where initiatives like ours would not be necessary.”

“We built the site to be a complaint tool and support for all women who feel unsafe in establishments and public places,” Fernandes said in a phone interview, speaking through a translator. “But even with focus on women, anyone can use it, since the information is fed by anonymous reports.”

Fernandes, along with Ana Paula Daros, Karen Garcia dos Santos and Manoela Rivera, noticed that although there were sites that ranked hotels and restaurants, none were tailored to a specific niche–the safety of women in those environments.

“Here in Brazil there are some sites that purport to record harassment and violence against women, but the vast majority of them work only as a way of concentrating information in one place. We were missing a project that promotes an effective solution, rather than just collect information. That’s what inspired us when we created Não Me Calo,” Fernandes said.

Closing the Gender Gap

Tara Brown, a social entrepreneur and technologist based in Los Angeles, said these women are closing the gender gap in the technology field and play an important role in furthering gender equality.

“There are way fewer females in app development and software design than males,” Brown said in an email interview. “Women can face a lot of challenges working in software development, which is a male-dominated job. They may not be treated as equals to their male counterparts, passed over for promotions and even harassed.”

Não Me Calo came out of an international girls hackathon hosted in April in Porto Alegre, Brazil, by the Global Fund for Women. The women, who are currently in college or are recent graduates with majors in technology and communication, plan on making iOS and Android apps available soon.

Fernandes recognizes the vitality of integrating technology into modern issues. “Social networks work so well because they are collaborative and fun,” she said. “It is important to realize that we can use the power of the Internet to create solutions that promote safety, such as Não Me Calo. Once we understand that we can impact our society or culture over the Internet, making these moves become a must.”