The challenge for women navigating our complex social and professional world is often one that requires sacrificing their sense of personal safety. But with ConnectHER, an app that will compete in this year’s Invent Oregon Collegiate Challenge, women will be empowered with a tool to connect them with professionals they’ll have fewer reasons to fear: other women.
Conceived and created by a duo out of Southern Oregon University, Sophie Haney and Russ Wonsley, ConnectHER seeks to challenge the paradigm that minimizes the risk that women face when they seek out interpersonal services, like rideshares or home repairs.
“The idea behind ConnectHER is that it's a virtual marketplace for women in any area to find other women doing freelance work or offering mutual aid services that they can contract work with, as well as just creating a virtual space for them to connect socially and post about events that are going on in their community,” said Sophie Haney.
In essence, ConnectHER is an app that allows its users, women in search of professional services in a context that assures them of safety and security, will have an opportunity to scroll through services in their area that include everything from car repair to child care, elder care, tutoring and other services of that nature.
Until now, that kind of search required combing through Yellow Pages or Craigslist, or even more modern platforms like Angie’s List, which despite their innovation do not entail the kind of gender support that would ensure safety for a higher-risk demographic. ConnectHER would provide women an opportunity to decide what kind of work needs to be done, connect with women who have registered their services, and communicate directly with professionals in a context that builds trust.
“We know that there are obviously women in every community who want to connect and want to be involved with each other, but don't necessarily know how. The idea is that this app would afford them the opportunity to find each other.”
Issues confronting women in the US have moved to the forefront in recent years, with movements like #metoo elevating the conversation around gender equality and building momentum toward justice and equality.
Haney, an undergraduate in gender studies, conceived of ConnectHER in part to help address these issues. “A lot of women feel really uncomfortable using interpersonal services because they don't feel safe,” she said. Conversations Haney had with women in her circles revealed that many hesitate to take advantage of community spaces and community services simply because they didn’t feel safe—and to Haney this is unacceptable.
“As a young woman in her early 20s, I'm living on my own and knowing that things are going to come up. What happens when my car breaks down or something goes wrong in the apartment?” Haney said. “It would mean a lot to me to know that, when those things come up, especially as young adults, when it's your first time dealing with these sorts of experiences, having a baseline level of safety and comfort going into them puts young women in a much better position to receive that help and that assistance.”
To Haney, ConnectHER is about empowerment. “This app is more than just creating another Craigslist or creating another social platform, Haney said. “It’s really about giving women the opportunity to create safe spaces for themselves and making it a more mainstream topic to talk about how we don't create safe spaces for women.”