Female Genital MutilationIn 2017, five female Kenyan students created i-Cut, a female genital mutilation protection app that provides medical and legal assistance for girls who will or have gone through genital mutilation (FGM), a process where the outer part of the genitals are either partially or completely cut off.

The creators of the female genital mutilation app are Ivy Akinyi, Stacy Owino, Cynthia Otieno, Mascrine Atieno and Purity Achieng, who refer to themselves as the Restorers. According to CNN, Dorcas Adhiambo Owino was the girls’ mentor on the project.

The female genital mutilation protection app i-Cut, as explained in Ebony, has five options: “”help”, “rescue”, “report”, “information on FGM” and “donate and feedback”.” “Help” alerts the authorities when FGM is about to occur, and “Rescue” gives young women information about places to receive medical treatment after FGM. “Report” informs the authorities that an instance of FGM has occurred.

Although FGM is illegal in Kenya, it is still heavily practiced, with one in five girls experiencing it. According to Mashable, FGM is seen as a rite of passage in many communities, preparing young women for marriage and purportedly discouraging premarital sex. These traditions are commonly found in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

Unfortunately, girls experience many challenges after FGM. According to Mashable, young girls are often unable to go to school, which prevents many of them from being employed. There is also a connection between girls who become young wives and mothers and FGM. Worse still, many girls die as a result of the process.

The creators of the female genital mutilation app have a personal connection with FGM: even though their tribe is opposed to the practice, a friend of theirs from school went through it. The friend, as they explained to Reuters, was intelligent, but dropped out of school after the procedure was done. The app is meant to combat situations like this.

i-Cut is currently one of the technological innovations competing for the Technovation Challenge award of $15,000, and is the only African country represented this year. “Sponsored by Google, Salesforce and Adobe, Technovation challenges girls aged 10-18 to create an app that solves problems faced by their communities,” according to CNN.

Regardless of whether or not they receive the prize, the young inventors of the female genital mutilation protection app are content that the app gives young girls a way “to decide their own destinies.”

Cortney Rowe

Photo: Flickr

App Fighting FGMFive Kenyan teenage girls have been invited to participate in the finale of the international Technovation Challenge in Silicon Valley in August. They have developed I-Cut, an app fighting FGM, or female genital mutilation.

I-Cut offers help to girls that are in danger of FGM or have already experienced it: it connects them to rescue centers and gives them information about where to get legal or medical help. In situations of immediate risk, girls can also use the app’s panic button to alert local authorities.

FGM was outlawed in Kenya in 2001 already. Its prevalence has since declined: from 37 percent in the late ’90s to 21 percent in 2014. Young women today are less likely to get cut than their mothers.

A 2014 study found that the prevalence of FGM in Kenya gets linked to the levels of education, socioeconomic status and media exposure. Additionally, girls are at a higher risk of being cut in rural areas. The highest prevalence got found in the North Eastern province, where 97 percent of women had undergone the procedure.

FGM does not entail any health benefits, but the risk of numerous immediate and long-term risks to the victims’ physical and mental health. Possible effects include infections, death, urinary and sexual problems, death, childbirth complications, PTSD, depression and anxiety.

I-cut was developed by Ivy and Macrine Akinyi, Cynthia Awuor, Stacy Adhiambo and Purity Christine, aged 15 to 17, who call themselves the “Restorers.” In an interview with Reuters, the girls said they had friends who became victims of FGM, and that they wanted to “restore hope to hopeless girls.”

The team beat nine other Kenyan semi-finalists and qualified for the finale of the Technovation Challenge, an annual event sponsored by Google, Verizon and the United Nations. Technovation challenges girls to create apps that address problems in their communities and translate them into a business. It aims at teaching girls entrepreneurial and leadership skills.

The girls will compete against five other teams of girls from all over the world in the competition’s senior division and hope to win $15,000 with their app fighting FGM.

However, it is not merely about winning. As Owino states, “Whether we win or not, our perspective of the world and the possibilities it has will change for the better.”

Lena Riebl
Photo: Flickr

No one knows for sure when female genital mutilation (FGM) began. Egyptians practiced the procedure as a way of differentiating the aristocracy as far back as 2000 years ago. People practice FGM for cultural and social reasons, but there is no evidence that it is based in religion. Neither the Bible nor the Quran mention FGM. There are also no reasons to perform FGM for medical reasons. Here are 10 facts about FGM.

10 Facts About Female Genital Mutilation

  1. Female genital mutilation occurs when part or all of the female genital organs are cut or removed. In some cases, the vaginal opening is sewn together using folds of the surrounding skin. A small opening is left where urine and menstrual blood trickle out.
  2. The practice of FGM is found mainly within 30 countries of Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Today, over 200 million girls are alive who have had the procedure.
  3. The procedure is most often practiced on girls between infancy and the age of 15. Belief in the benefits of the procedure varies from culture to culture. Some believe it suppresses sexual impulses, guarantees virginity until marriage or reduces the potential for extra-marital affairs.
  4. The four countries where the highest percentage of women and girls have been cut are in Africa. Those countries are Somalia, Guinea, Djibouti and Sierra Leone.
  5. The United Nations campaigns against the practice of FGM and believes it is a violation of human rights.
  6. In 2008, the United Nations Population Fund and the United Nations Children’s Fund created the largest joint program to increase the abandonment of the practice and also to provide care for the consequences. Together these groups published the piece  “Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: Accelerating Change.” The program’s major accomplishments, as summarized in a report published in 2014, were enacting better policy and legal environments to eliminate FGM, providing greater healthcare and social services and increasing acceptance amongst the population against the practice.
  7. The United Nations passed a resolution in December 2012 that officially banned the practice of FGM.
  8. The U.N. General Assembly adopted Resolution A/RES/67/146 in 2012 to observe February 6 as the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation to enhance awareness and begin taking steps against FGM.
  9. In 1996, the U.S. passed a law making female genital mutilation illegal. It is also illegal to leave the U.S. for the procedure. However, only 24 U.S. states have enacted laws to make FGM a crime.
  10. In April 2017, two doctors and the doctors’ wives were arrested in Detroit on the grounds of performing FGM. This is the first case in the U.S. of an arrest since the passage of the law.

There is good news to report on FGM. As awareness of the issue has increased, the percentage of girls aged 15-19 that have been cut has declined in the countries where FGM is most prevalent. Unfortunately, just the opposite is happening in the U.S. The number of cases of female genital mutilation has tripled since 1990 as the number of people from countries who practice FGM immigrate to the U.S. Efforts must continue to decrease or entirely end this practice.

Jene Cates

Photo: Flickr

Women-Only Villages of Kenya Defy Patriarchal Laws
In some countries, structural change fights systemic oppression. Historically disenfranchised groups will organize and work their way through the existing power structure in order to undermine the ruling class.

The women-only villages in the foothills of Kenya have a different approach. In order to fight the patriarchal laws of the Samburu region, they’ve formed gender-exclusive villages where their peers support the women and provide resources to raise their children without husbands or other family members.

Umoja, which means “unity” in Swahili, is the most prominent of the women-only villages in the southeastern region of Kenya. It is home to about 50 permanent residents who support themselves by opening up their village to tourists and selling handmade jewelry.

Chairlady Rebecca Lolosoli established Umoja 25 years ago with 15 other women. They had all experienced rape and abuse by British soldiers and felt unsupported by their communities. In Samburu tradition, women are considered men’s property and therefore not legally protected in cases of rape and abuse. A group of men brutally beat Lolosoli for speaking out against the patriarchal standards of Samburu culture; she was recovering in the hospital when she got the idea for Umoja.

Today, the women of Umoja share in the day-to-day responsibilities of maintaining the village and protecting it from angry neighbors. They build homes, operate a school for their children, conduct jewelry sales and sleep in shifts in case men from nearby villages come to claim their wives. Many of the current residents consider themselves refugees, coming to Umoja after escaping abusive marriages.

Another reason women come to Umoja is to escape the culturally-ingrained practice of female genital mutilation (FGM). Historically, FGM is used as a mechanism to disempower women and enforce strict patriarchy.

Once “circumcised,” girls as young as eight can be given away to older men. Despite its reputation in traditional cultures for being safe and healthy, FGM frequently results in long-term health consequences, like urinary problems, menstrual problems, life-threatening infections and psychological trauma. The World Health Organization considers FGM a human rights violation and strongly advises against its practice worldwide.

Umoja provides a type of mobility that women of the Samburu tribe don’t have in a traditional setting. The opportunity to earn and save her own money liberates a woman from relying on her husband or family.

On top of that, living in Umoja allows women to raise their daughters beyond the confines of traditional Samburu culture, protecting them from FGM and forced early marriage. For single women who don’t wish to marry or have children, Umoja offers a safe environment in which they can work and live.

There are several other women-only villages in Kenya, including Nachimi and Supalake. In contrast to Umoja, men in Nachimi are allowed in the community, but they must respect the women’s authority.

In Supalake, gender rules still exist, but reversed; men complete chores like house maintenance and water retrieval, while women make the laws and conduct business. Each village serves as a place of refuge for women who have faced oppression or victimization of harsh Samburu traditions.

The women-only villages of Kenya are important to understanding the obstacles women face in traditional tribal cultures. Seeing how women live beyond the confines of patriarchal laws can help people understand the kind of institutional changes needed for gender equality. Places like Umoja, Nachimi and Supalake show us that economic independence is a requisite for social mobility.

Jessica Levitan

Photo: Flickr

Potential of Women in AfricaOver 60 percent of women living in developing countries make a living from working in agriculture. However, only 10 percent of women in Africa own livestock and approximately one percent own their own land.

Women who work in agriculture do not generally receive training or supplies in return for their work. These disparities demonstrate that the potential of women in Africa isn’t fully recognized—although women are responsible for the majority of production, they are not able to influence the policies that affect them.

Kenya suggested a bill for political parties to attempt to reserve 30 percent of parliamentary seats for women, but the bill was not passed. Involving women in these political decisions could significantly improve the economy since the majority of work is done by women.

The economy of Africa could be improved by involving more women in policy changes or by investing in those who do agricultural work. Gender roles are not only hindering the potential of women in Africa, but they are also hindering Africa’s potential. About 90 percent of Sub-Saharan Africa’s food is tended to by women who have little say in the economy that affects their work.

While women in Africa do the lion’s share of work, they are not valued the same as men. The potential of women in Africa is great. Women will typically work a day that is 50 percent longer than their male counterparts and in less than favorable conditions. In a society that revolves around men, the women are the force of the economy, though they remain largely ignored.

These women not only deal with harmful pesticides and rudimentary tools but also suffer considerable abuses at home after their difficult days of work.

The violence against women in Africa includes rape, sexual harassment, forced pregnancy, forced marriage, forced sterilization and much more. A cultural practice called female genital mutilation (FGM) causes infection, injuries, and death in women across Africa.

Approximately 130 million girls have already been subjected to this practice, though measures are being taken to prevent further mutilation. This violation of women’s human rights in Africa is illegal but often carried out in secret to continue the cultural tradition.

FGM is considered a way for women to be socially accepted and can only be ended by educating those who enforce it and stopping the stigma surrounding the tradition. Linah Jebii Kilimo, the chairwoman of Kenya’s Anti-FGM board, calls this “the worst form of gender-based violence.”

Those subjected to gender-based abuses are forced to stay with their husbands because women in Africa are not financially supported by the vast amount of work that they do. Husbands must provide the necessary financial security. Many of these women are illiterate and uneducated, though women who have received a secondary education are better able to provide for themselves and control their personal lives.

The 1979 United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women assisted women and governments in changing abusive practices but has not been entirely successful.

Many cultures still practice FGM and forced marriages despite laws against such practices. Rwanda’s gender desks at police stations have provided legal assistance to women who are victims of any type of violence, a system that should be expanded to other countries in Africa. By expanding these gender desks, many women would be able to take better action to improve the situation of gender-based violence in their cultures.

Greater investment in the potential of women in Africa could equate to a significant boost for the economy. Countries could benefit by improving conditions for women and improving gender equality as well.

Amanda Panella

Photo: Flickr

Rope isolated on white background
Yemen will soon vote on the inclusive Child Rights Act in hopes to alleviate child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM.) According to the United Nations, more than half of Yemeni girls get married by just 18 years old, and these marriages are often synonymous with abuse, sexual violence and FGM.

FGM is still prolific in almost 30 countries, where most girls are mutilated before the age of 5. Countries such as Egypt and Ethiopia, where FGM victims hit the 20 million count, often rely on traditional practitioners to perform most of the procedures. Banned from Egypt in 2008, the procedure is still a not so taboo, yet illegal, “tradition”: more than 90 percent of women in the country have been subjected to FGM.

Labeled a human rights violation by the U.N., FGM has absolutely no health benefits for women. Procedures can cause heavy bleeding and problems urinating, and can eventually result in cysts, infections, infertility, complications in childbirth and an increased risk of newborn death. The procedure, which removes and damages healthy and normal female genital tissue, poses a serious risk to the natural functions of women’s bodies. Yet FGM, like many other cultural traditions, is difficult to completely erase even by law. An act of patriarchal control, FGM works under the intent of controlling women’s bodies to ensure “virginity, purity and modesty.”

The Child Rights Act would work to eliminate mental, emotional and physical abuse and would ban child marriage and FGM. Establishing a minimum age of marriage at 18, the law would impose fines on guardians, marriage officials or any other persons aware of the transgression.

Yet FGM is not only common in Eastern countries: it happens here in the United States, too. An estimated 228,000 women in America are either at risk or have received the procedure, and this number is increasing. Sent to countries where the practice is still legal, many victims are beginning to speak out against the procedure, demanding more attention from the U.S. government. Subsequently, the 2014 U.S. Department of State Human Rights country reports include a mandatory question regarding FGM for the first time.

Yemen, which is set to vote on the Child Rights Act this coming month, has a long way to go before it gets passed. If approved by the prime minister and cabinet, the legislation would then go to a parliamentary vote. Ultimately, the president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, would have final say regarding its passing. After an unsuccessful push to make 17 the legal age of marriage in Yemen in just 2009, human rights groups around the world are hoping the Yemeni government will act judiciously in passing this potentially life-saving legislation.

– Nick Magnanti

Sources: The Guardian, Liberty Voice, UNICEF 1, UNICEF 2
Photo: ViralNova

Female Genital Mutilation
Soheir Battaa was 13 years old when she was brought to a doctor who would perform a procedure known as “thara,” the cutting of a girl’s external genitalia. Although she did not want the procedure, she knew she had no say in the decision. Her father took her to the doctor, Raslan Fadl Halawa, in a small village northeast of Cairo and requested the procedure for his daughter. Her death was originally reported as a result of an allergic reaction to penicillin.

Battaa died from the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM), but her death may bring hope for thousands of other girls. The doctor is being prosecuted by human rights organizations and this is the first time in Egypt’s history that a doctor is standing trial for FGM. He is being accused of practicing FGM, medical negligence and running an illegal clinic. The father also faces charges for requesting the procedure for his daughter. This trial has the chance to create a precedent-setting judgment against FGM.

Since 2008, FGM has been outlawed in Egypt. Egypt’s health minister decree 271 states: “It is prohibited by doctors and members of the nursing staff to make any cut or reform to any natural part of the female reproductive system (circumcision), whether in government or non-governmental hospitals and other places.”

However, the practice is still widespread in the country, especially in rural areas and among uneducated communities. FGM is common in both traditional and religious communities which believe that it is a form of purification and discourages sex before marriage. FGM is supposed to protect the girls’ virtue, that is, until her family marries her off.

Female genital mutilation has long-term negative physical and psychological effects upon a woman’s health. Most girls do not have a choice in deciding whether or not they want the “operation.” It is a practice that stems from the lack of women’s rights and female empowerment in those communities.

The doctor is confident that he will be cleared of his charges because he was simply obeying Battaa’s parents. Although female genital mutilation is banned in Egypt, it is still deeply ingrained in the culture and customs of the country. Battaa’s village mourns her death, but the villagers “quietly defend” the practice that killed one of their own.

– Sarah Yan

Sources: Los Angeles Times,  Egypt Independent,  Girls’ Globe
Photo: Wiki Spaces

Immigration in the United States has been an issue throughout this millennium. Reform for the immigration system has been discussed in various forms, yet presently there still seems to be no progress on the issue. This deadlock affects immigrants of all forms, but particularly for many potential immigrants in the West African region.

A recent PBS Newshour report detailed the plight of a family living in Baltimore struggling to deal with the intricacies of the immigration system. This family left their home in Mali after worries that their daughter would be subjected to the female genital mutilation (FGM) that is a common practice in that part of the world. The mother, who still suffers pain from her mutilation, says that at any time someone “can just come and take your daughter, and just do it.”

FGM is a practice that has deep roots in the West African region. The practice has been mentioned as far back as the Ancient Greek historians, like Herodotus. Community members consider it shameful for women to not undergo the process, leading to the sort of animosity that lead the Newshour profiled family to leave for the U.S.

Health issues and the difficulties in adjusting to a new country lead the family to miss the initial application for asylum that is required after one year of residency. Since they missed that initial application, the members of the family have no path to citizenship under the current system and are left to appeal annually for residency. There is still a definite risk that their requests could be denied by the courts, leading to their final deportation.

This difficulty in applying for asylum will remain until the immigration issue is finally settled in Congress. The Fofana family profiled by PBS Newshour is not alone in its struggles. Reports from the BBC describe Gambian women seeking asylum for the same reasons in the United Kingdom with hundreds being rejected for using the peril of mutilation as a basis.

The World Health Organization states that over 125 million females are living today after undergoing genital mutilation. Like the matriarch of the Fofana family, many times the procedure is involuntary and will cause the females lasting pain down the road. One can only imagine if this was a practice that was prevalent in the Western world and the outcry that would come about because of it.

Studies on the practice of genital mutilation show the benefits of educational programs in the areas that still carry it out. The Tostan program in Senegal shows how the end of the practice will provide health benefits for women and will bring about better overall respect for women in the community. However, programs like that one are few and have to be much more prevalent to have a serious impact in Western Africa.

For nations in the Western world, spreading education about the female body could bring benefits in Africa and the West. A successful program could lessen the immigration demands on the West and give women a better chance at being leaders in the communities of Africa. For the women that live in fear and pain due to this practice, funding by the nations of the Western world might go a long way towards improving the world as a whole.

– Eric Gustafsson

Sources: Stanford University, BBC, World Health Organization, PBS
Photo: MintPress News

Traditionally held beliefs and social values are stubborn to change through government policies and legislation. In many societies, this includes social acceptance or tolerance of child marriage, child labor, domestic violence, discrimination, rape and sexual abuse. Government policies have difficulty eradicating these practices because not only are these practices deeply ingrained in their societies, but governments of developing countries are often unable or reluctant to protect those who are most at risk.

Community-based programs have the power to transform these traditionally held beliefs.

Through groups, individuals are educated about their legal and humans rights. These programs utilize community groups to change social norms through collective discussion and decision-making. Communities can address, prevent and respond to the problems that exist in their circles.

Democratic participation of the families and children is a key proponent of boosting the success of these programs. Individuals, such as women and children, who are usually marginalized in communities, are given the chance to share their stories.

A case in Ethiopia shows the capability of community-based programs to change social norms. In 2000, female genital mutilation (FGM) was still extremely widespread in Ethiopia. A local NGO, Kembatti Mentti Gezzima, began working to “empower women and communities to fulfill their rights and to be free from abuse” by organizing public workshops called the Community Conversations. They were held twice monthly for at least a year to facilitate discussion and promote understanding of the harmful practice of FGM.

In 2008, a review study found that only 3.3 percent of respondents still practiced FGM. The community not only altered traditional practices of FGM, but changed the legal norms surrounding it as well. This in Ethiopia demonstrates that creating change through community-based programs is a slow process, but it can lead to lasting social and legal transformation.

At the moment, there is relatively weak empirical evidence to support community-based programs. Organizations largely focus on collectively qualitative evidence and testimonies from the communities. However, beyond anecdotal support, organizations can use a program evaluation with a high quality methodology, data collection and data analysis to ensure a strong evidence base that includes more quantitative evidence.

Short-term successes are projected to be limited, while long-term successes are anticipated to be long lasting and highly beneficial for the communities.

In many developing countries, government policies cannot reach those in need due to weak and lack of enforcement. However, community-based programs have the potential to bottom-up reform and alter beliefs that discriminate against the marginalized and the weak.

– Sarah Yan

Sources: UNICEF, CPC Conference
Photo: UNICEF Australia

Female genital mutilation (FGM) or female circumcision, has been occurring for hundreds of years in mostly sub-Saharan and northeast African regions. The term “female genital mutilation” encompasses every procedure where partial or total removal of the external female genitalia occurs, as well as any general injury to those organs without a distinct medical purpose.

The practice of FGM is internationally seen as a violation of human rights for women and young girls because it emulates the inequality between genders and represents extreme discrimination against women. On top of this, the following rights are also violated: the right to security, physical integrity, health, freedom from torture and from inhumane treatment–especially when the procedure can result in death.

There are four general classifications of FGM: clitoridectomy, excision, infibulation and an “other” category. Clitoridectomy entails the removal of part of or the entire clitoris and is one of the most common types. Excision is where they remove part of or the entire clitoris and labia minora, and this can be with or without cutting the labia majora. Infibulation includes the reduction of the vaginal opening by cutting and repositioning the labia majora to make a covering, with or without removing the clitoris. The “other” category classifies any other harmful procedures to a woman’s reproductive organs in a non-medical way.

FGM is in no way beneficial to a woman’s health, and in fact, it is harmful in several ways. Short-term effects include hemorrhage, severe pain, tetanus and urine retention. Long-term effects include cysts, recurrent urinary tract and bladder infections, infertility, childbirth complications and newborn deaths. This kind of procedure is mostly done to newborns or girls around 15 years of age that are going through puberty. Today, over 125 million women and girls in the Middle East and Northern Africa have been circumcised. By 2030, it is estimated that a further 86 million young women around the world will experience this procedure as well.

Many officials at UNICEF disagree with the practice of FGM and state it is not necessary in Islamic countries. They say it is a very old practice, traced back to the Egyptian pharaohs, and that the Koran says how humans were created in the perfect way, so changing them is not justified by religion.

Fahma Mohamed, a 17-year-old student that leads the Guardian’s campaign to end FGM, has acquired over 212,000 signatures in her petition against the issue. She has even gotten recognition from the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, who has made it a priority to end FGM because of how it threatens the empowerment of women.

There have been progressive signs in the worldwide campaign to end the practice of female genital mutilation with multiple countries like Kenya, Uganda and Guinea-Bissau adopting laws against it. The girls themselves understand the risks of being circumcised, and mothers who have dealt with the ordeal are fighting more and more to protect their daughters from the same fate. Schools can be directed to address the issue so that the people in these countries can learn about the issue and how to shield their young women from it.

– Kenneth W. Kliesner 

Sources: The Guardian (1), The Guardian (2), World Health Organization
Photo: Girls’ Globe