Soudeh Rad’s App Sneaks Info On Sexual Health Into Iran, Where Gender Violence Is Legal

Posted: March 13, 2019

Women in Iran barely have any sources of information about sexual health or legal protections. Through her app, Hamdam, disguised as a period tracker, Soudeh Rad (she/they), a queer feminist is sneaking that information to them.

Soudeh Rad is an Iranian women’s rights activist who lives in France. When in Iran, she was married. Her husband used to beat her. When she asked him for a divorce, she realized that, “I had no rights, like the right to file a divorce, the right to leave the country without permission. When I wanted to leave Iran and come back to France, I realized my husband was trying to ban me from leaving the country.”

She left on the first flight out.

This experience, along with her observations about the life of women in Iran, prompted her to submit the idea for the Hamdam app to IranCubator, a contest held by the NGO United for Iran, to make Android apps that protect Iran’s oppressed by promoting civil liberties. She knew that there was a great need for this, as the little information available to women, is “biased, heteronormative, and male pleasure–centered.”

“In Iran, anything related to women’s bodies is taboo. I recognized that there was an urgent need for education about women’s sexual health, which gave me the idea for this app. I decided to develop an app because the Iranian population is very young and the majority of them spend many hours every day looking at apps on their phones,” she says.

The innovative and convenient features of the Hamdam app are:

  1. It offers period tracking and information on menstruation. However, it also includes information on contraception, STDs, rape, sexual harassment, domestic violence, and legal information that women can use to strengthen their rights in a marriage contract, such as information about child custody and the ability to work, to continue education, or to seek a divorce.
  2. It can be used offline i.e. without the internet.
  3. It is the first period tacking app to use the Persian Jalali calendar.
  4. It is trans-friendly, and does not assume that all users who menstruate are women.
  5. The app is designed to be very secure. Personal information fed into the app is only be stored on the user’s phone. Screenshots are disabled, which means that only the user can view their data.
  6. In order to prevent the app from being tagged as having sensitive content, and to avoid attacks by conservatives, the information and text were drafted carefully, without explicitly references to “feminism,” “women’s rights” or even “sexuality”. Anatomical pictures were also avoided.
  7. A special button connects users with a local helpline.

The app has received a lot of support among Iranian women. It has been downloaded more than 165,000 times. “I get a lot of positive feedback not only about the period tracker part but also about how we are raising awareness about domestic violence and … putting a name on the things many women are already living under,” says Rad.

Iran’s Constitution and laws institutionalize violence against women, and sanction the cruel punishments of flogging, stoning and blinding. Sexual harassment, forced marriages, compulsory veil, etc are realities that they live with. Iran also has one of the tightest internet censorship regimes in the world. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have been blocked in Iran for several years. Telegram was blocked last year, and recently, there was talk of banning Instagram. In such a scenario, where access to information and freedom of expression is tightly controlled, apps like Hamdam are an invaluable resource.

The theme of International Women’s Day, 2019, which falls on March 8th, is “Think equal, build smart, innovate for change”. #IWD2019

With women still a minority in science, technology & related innovation, it’s time to shine a spotlight on female innovation champions! Enjoy our Women Innovators Around The World series, where we profile 19 inspiring women innovators, from 19 countries, whose work has a big social impact.

Want to know what other innovations women around the world have pioneered? Read about Sooinn Lee here.

Image source: YouTube

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Vijayalakshmi Harish is a book blogger and writer. To paraphrase her librarian, she is a

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