Five teen girls from Kenya have combined forces to create a potential solution to the prevalence of female genital mutilation (FGM) in their country. While the cultural practice has been banned from Kenya since 2011, the Daily Dot reports that one in four women and girls are still forced to undergo FGM. According to the World Health Organization, over 200 million women and girls have been cut across 30 countries, and the non-medical procedure continues on despite policies outlawing it.
“FGM is a big problem affecting girls worldwide and it is a problem we want to solve,” Stacy Owino explained to the Thomson Reuters Foundation News.
Owino, along with fellow students Ivy Akinyi, Purity Achieng, Cynthia Otieno, and Mascrine Atieno, has developed a phone app called iCut designed to combat FGM in Kenya and perhaps eventually across the world. The app allows girls who are being forced to have the procedure signal authorities for help, and it provides a wealth of resources and services for those fearful that their family will have them cut, or for those who have already been a victim of FGM. With iCut, women and girls in need of help can easily find advocacy organizations for both legal and medical support, and a way out of a brutal tradition.
"The Restorers," as the girls call themselves, aim to "restore hope" in women and girls facing the threat of FGM or who have already had their lives forever altered by it. None of the five girls have been cut, but they have friends who have had some or all of their external genitalia removed. Achieng remembers how she lost a close friend after the girl was forced to undergo FGM:
"We were very close but after she was cut she never came back to school," she told reporters for the Thomson Reuters Foundation News. "She was among the smartest girls I knew."
To spread awareness and hopefully receive funding essential to further develop their app, the teens are traveling thousands of miles to participate in California's 2017 Technovation Challenge as the sole team from Africa. The competition is meant to empower girls to become solutions in their communities through technology, specifically through mobile apps. The inventors with the winning app will receive the substantial sum of $15,000 to be used towards their idea, and with that kind of money the Restorers could be a hand for progress in Kenya.
"This whole experience will change our lives," Owino said. "Whether we win or not, our perspective of the world and the possibilities it has will change for the better."
The competition will most likely be fierce with all the inventors coming from communities with a lot at stake, but these teens have already done something for Kenya just by entering. They are showing their country and the world that FGM, while far from successfully eliminated, has strong opponents that remain innovative and optimistic on behalf of women and girls. The fight's never over until it's over.
Banner and thumbnail credit: Wikimedia Commons user MONUSCO Photos