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Fighting female cut: technology to the rescue

January 22nd, 2021
topic:Women's rights
by:Bob Koigi
located in:Kenya
tags:discrimination, female genital mutilation, ICUT, the cut, The Restorers

An estimated 200 million girls and women from 31 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia have undergone Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), leaving the majority of them bruised for life and nursing lifelong complications.

Data shows that in 27 countries where the practice is prevalent, governments spend $1.4 billion each year in treatment of health complications from FGM. Yet the harmful practice continues as proponents advocate for it as a mandatory rite of passage.

In Kenya, where more than 4 million girls have undergone the cut, a group of five girls calling themselves 'The Restorers' have decided to act. Stacy Adhiambo, Purity Achieng, Ivy Achieng, Cynthia Otieno and Macrine Akinyi have come up with an app dubbed i-Cut, which allows girls who have been subjected to FGM to seek medical and legal assistance, report the perpetrators or request help. The innovation has caught global attention with the girls receiving international accolades even as the innovation continues to attract warm reception across the country.

The Restorers talked to FairPlanet about their journey so far and the place of technology in fighting FGM.

FairPlanet: Why was the focus of your app FGM, and has the journey to coming up with the application been like?

Restorers: We felt like less was being done to address FGM and there were increasing cases of girls being subjected to the harmful practice. FGM has become very entrenched in many areas and despite numerous efforts to tackle it the practice has been too prevalent. So we looked at how we can turn to technology to reach as many people as possible with the anti-FGM message while using innovation to save many girls who were caught up in the harmful practice. We have always had a passion for tech so this became our labour of love.

How has been the response and uptake of the app so far, and how would you quantify its success?

The app has been successful so far and we are particularly happy at the progress we are making working with girls across the country by educating them on how to use the app and the kind of positive feedback we are receiving from them. We made this app for them.

Are you satisfied with the way the world has addressed female genital mutilation? How would you do it differently?

While there have been considerable efforts and campaigns at criminalising female genital mutilation and raising more awareness, especially among vulnerable groups like young girls, we are not quite there. It is heartbreaking to read media reports about young girls who were dragged from classes and forced into the cut. In certain instances [...] these girls have ended up dead.

There is so much more the world needs to do to address this scourge. For starters, we need to enforce strong rules and strict actions taken on these people who practice it. We should also have healthy alternative cultural practices that can replace FGM.

How serious a problem is female genital mutilation in Kenya and Africa, and are the current interventions working?

It has been a disaster especially in the past. It became complicated because traditional leaders and even some political leaders supported and endorsed it as a way of life; a rite of passage. But over the years, campaigns, cooperation, dialogue and legislation have played a huge role in bringing the cases down.

However, the war has still not been won. We are still getting numerous reports of the practice happening at night, girls ostracised and chased away from their homes if they refuse to participate in the practice and leaders continuing to support it, saying it is an integral part of their culture.

These are the realities we have to confront and understand that it is a complicated web that cannot be done away with so easily.

Closely related to the above, can discrimination against girls and practices like FGM be eliminated especially considering they are entrenched in many cultures in Africa?

As much these issues are culturally-based, they shouldn’t be allowed to get to the extent of affecting a girl’s health and life. The welfare of the girl child should be given top priority.

In this age and era, we shouldn’t be discussing discrimination of girls and harmful practices like FGM. We need to sustain a conversation with mothers, fathers, elders and leaders on the values of protecting a girl child and giving her a safe life and guaranteed future. Judging from experience, the more dialogue we have about these issues, the easier it becomes to address them comprehensively.

As young girls who have embraced tech for social good, what is the space of women in the innovation arena and what has been your experience been?

Most of the solutions that innovation seeks to address affect women predominantly. From health, agriculture, FGM, access to financing, among others. The tech space has created a world of opportunities for women and girls to come up with sustainable solutions that continue to make major impacts.

It is very heart-warming to see the growing number of women and girls who have taken up the challenge and embraced tech for social good. We have been very honoured to have used tech to find a solution to one of the most pressing problems in our country and continent, and the journey has been quite an exciting one. We look forward to innovating more in our pursuit to find homegrown solutions to local problems.

You have been feted both regionally and globally. What does the recognition mean to your campaign?

It is the honour of our lives when people know and appreciate what we do. More importantly, to the young victims of FGM when we let them know that there is hope and that they can heal. The recognition and accolades have given us impetus to keep doing this and raising more awareness until we change the situation.

What is the most difficult thing about what you do?

Sometimes, things don’t always go the way we want them to. It is of course frustrating when we hear of another case of FGM despite our spirited efforts. We are really trying to reach as many people as possible by creating awareness. Sometimes it is draining and there are limited resources, but we know we have to keep doing it.

What future plans do you have with ICUT and your anti-FGM campaign?

We have registered it as a foundation and our ultimate goal is to reach as many people as possible in Kenya and beyond and also foster more partnerships with like-minded people in order to amplify the anti-FGM gospel as far as we can.

Image by Karl Johan Ullavik Bakken.

Article written by:
Bob Koigi
Bob Koigi
Author, Contributing Editor
Kenya
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