One of the prevalent acts of gender-based violence across Africa is Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). It is defined as the cutting of the female genitalia for cultural or religious reasons. Perpetrators are emboldened by some primitive cultural beliefs that were used in the olden days (especially in rural areas) to reduce promiscuity and immorality among women. Interestingly, women are the major perpetrators of this inhumane act which is acceptable in the socio-cultural setting they find themselves in.

The Criminal Code of Ghana 1960, (ACT 29) of section 69A, spells out that:

(1)  Whoever excises, infibulates or otherwise mutilates the whole or any part of the labia minora, labia majora and the clitoris of another person commits an offence and shall be guilty of a second degree felony and liable on conviction to imprisonment of not less than three years.

From what is stated in the Criminal Code of Ghana 1960, we can conclude without a shadow of doubt that FGM is against the laws of the land and perpetrators must be dealt with severely. Ghana is not the only country that is fighting this dangerous practice. Today, we will put the spotlight on FGM in Tanzania and the amazing work some concerned individuals and organizations are doing to help end it.

(Pictured here is Neema Meremo, lead Community Mapper for Crowd2Map Tanzania and a leading member of Hope for Girls and Women Tanzania. She made a presentation at the Free and Open Source Software for Geospatial conference in Tanzania about how mapping has been used in rural areas in the country to combat Female Genital Mutilation).

In Tanzania, an advocacy group called ‘Hope for Girls and Women’ is actively working on the grounds to curtail the practice of FGM especially in the rural areas. The goal of this group is to help with community development, by abolishing all forms of gender-based violence, like FGM and child marriage in rural Tanzania.

School holidays in rural Tanzania are known as the ‘cutting season’ because it is during this time that young ladies are back from school and have no academic engagements. Holidays thus give perpetrators of FGM the opportunity to carry out this heinous act on young girls. The organizations working in these communities have set up safe houses where young girls who are the potential targets for those who mutilate the genitals of girls either for cultural or religious reasons can run to. This is laudable. However, the location of these safe houses are unknown to the beneficiaries of these houses, the young girls. Also, the staff of the safe houses cannot find these young girls. It is as if the Safe houses alone do not solve the problem. There is a gap that needs to be filled to make the establishment of Safe houses a sure way to save potential FGM victims. What device or system can fill this gap and make young girls locate safe houses or staff members of the safe houses locate young girls who need a place of refuge? Maps!

 

 ‘Hope for Girls and Women’  in collaboration with Crowd2Map Tanzania and other volunteers have joined forces to map routes leading to safe houses for potential victims of FGM to follow and find a safe refuge. The houses of some of the activists on the team resident in the area are also mapped so that these young girls can take refuge there as well. The project was put online which allowed for some volunteers to map remotely and others to map locally. The local volunteers validate the data and send it to the remote volunteers. In the end the remote volunteers create PDFs out of the village maps and send them back to the local volunteers.

The main tool used for mapping is the smartphone. Most of the women in these areas do not own one. Interestingly, some men who own smartphones, volunteer to contribute in the mapping exercise. The use of maps to help curb the practice of FGM in rural Tanzania has helped some 3000+ girls to find safe houses and escape being cut. And this has reduced the rate of FGM related deaths to 75%. Over 600 local mappers have been trained 40 % of those are females. This is remarkable feat that deserves a lot of praise and recognition.

 

The female mappers specifically face some challenges from some men who either plot to lure them to remote places to rape them or to assault them. Some men have even tried discouraging some of the ladies from taking part in the mapping exercise. According to them it is a waste of the ladies’ time hence they should out a stop to it and rather concentrate on their house chores. But the teams working on the ground are not running out of steam at all in their pursuit to provide a safe place for young girls and not also help them locate it. The Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team provided a mini grant for this project and that has helped in the recruiting of more female mappers.

Also to reduce these incidences that might discourage some women from taking part in the project, the team also educate people on the importance of maps, they also educate men in the village on gender equality and they are advocating for there to be an increased number of security personnel in the village to secure the safety of these young girls.

They believe that mapping is a tool that can be used to achieve gender equality in rural Tanzania and as such, they are advocating for more people to be trained – targeting mainly, the women.

Their next big focus is in the month of December, which is the major ‘cutting season’. Preparations are underway to launch a publicity campaign against FGM and also to do a pilot using phones to improve livelihoods in 87 villages in Serengeti via Women and Children’s Protection Committees.

The team has identified some major hurdles they would have to leap over to make the project a success in the Serengeti area, two of which are listed below:

  • Female phone ownership in Serengeti villages low (20-40%)
  • Male concerns over women owning phones (fear losing control, women using them to contact other men etc)

Hence for the project to be successful, the team needs about 180 phones and 5 laptops. It seems like an impossible task but it can be done once concerned persons all over the world contribute their quota to making this project a success. It is an amazing thing that the ‘Hope for Girls and Women’ and the Crowd2Map Tanzania teams are doing in Tanzania. All of this is proof that until we leverage the power of technological tools to solve problems around us, they are nothing more than toys in our hands.

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