DHAKA • The Maya App is perhaps one of the biggest initiatives undertaken to create a virtual safe space for people from all walks of life in Bangladesh.
It builds on the popularity of the open question and answer platform of maya.com.bd called Maya Apa Ki Bolen (Ask Sister Maya), and is supported by the leading development organisation in the country, BRAC.
The app has been a blessing for many, especially women who had problems that no one else was willing to discuss in a conservative society.
The idea behind the app is a simple one: Users sign in, create an anonymous profile and then post a question. The question is answered within 48 hours.
Legal, medical and other professional experts address the questions pertaining to their fields and find solutions or offer sound advice to individuals.
The community takes part too and thus constructive discussions take place on matters people generally shy away from discussing.
"We hope that the information generated through this app will promote advocacy for the formulation of new policies or the revision of policies in favour of women's and girls' rights," said Ms Sheepa Hafiza, a director with BRAC.
For Shamima Parvin (not her real name), the Maya App provided a platform to talk about domestic violence and seek legal advice.
"No one in my family was willing to help me - they didn't want me to leave my abusive husband. They kept on telling me: What would people say about a divorced daughter! Learn to adjust," she says.
"The walls were closing in on me. My husband threatened that if I left I would never see my child.
"At last, I heard about this app and posed my question, not really expecting much. But then I was surprised at the support I received.
"In addition to providing me a step-by-step answer, (it) also connected me to a legal aid organisation which helped me through the process."
Given that Maya App receives hundreds of anonymous messages every day, it is no easy task to ensure that each user receives the best possible service, free of judgment. Each query is screened and then passed on to the appropriate expert.
The Maya App is the first help service app for women in Bangladesh that is designed, developed and implemented by female engineers, doctors and entrepreneurs.
It is also used as an important tool for patient management, with the entire history of the user stored, which may be critical to a doctor providing treatment.
In some ways, the growing use of the app has also highlighted the harm that the creation of taboos can cause, many times resulting in women or men refusing to seek help that they may urgently need.