At a village high school near the shores of Lake Victoria, Kenya, five pupils are boldly making waves with their idea for a life-saving app.
The group of girls, who refer to themselves as “The Restorers”, have designed a mobile app they hope will put a stop to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), while also helping those who have already suffered through the procedure.
Called i-CUT, the app – which has already caught the attention of Google - allows girls to alert authorities with a distress call if they feel they are in danger. It also offers advice for victims, along with directions to their closest resource centre.
Set to launch in spring next year, the app could prove vital in the fight against the alarming ritual, which has unsurprisingly been deemed a violation of human rights.
FGM is the act of removing or permanently injuring the female genital organs for non-medical cultural and social reasons.
And the issue of FGM is no small one - especially in Kenya, where a quarter of women are forced into having the procedure. Globally there are some 200 million women and girls affected by the practice, which is almost always carried out on girls under the age of 15.
Besides the emotional and psychological impact of the act, FGM poses serious health risks, including infection, long-term urinary issues and an increased risk of complications in childbirth. It makes girls less likely to finish school and more likely to marry in their adolescence. It can even cause death.
Often practiced as a rite of passage or a coming of age ritual, some cultures believe FGM preserves sexual purity, or that it helps prepare a girl for adulthood and marriage. Many of these views are deeply ingrained, so apps such as i-CUT could prove crucial for helping protect a new generation of young girls.
“FGM is still a big problem affecting girls worldwide and it is a problem we want to solve,” Synthia, a 17-year-old member of The Restorers, said in a statement shared with stylist.co.uk.
Synthia was inspired to act in the fight against FGM after witnessing first-hand the devastating affect that the procedure had on one of her closest friends.
“She was a very friendly and bubbly girl that everyone liked. We were good friends with her,” she said. “However, after she was cut, she never came back to school. She was among the smartest girls I knew with a great future ahead of her.”
Following this, Synthia and The Restorers, Stacey, Purity, Mascrine and Ivy – all of whom are aged between 15 and 17 – began developing their idea for the app.
Designed to be as easy to use as possible, i-CUT has a simple interface with five buttons, including help, rescue, report, information on FGM and donate. Within this, the app performs a number of important functions, from connecting girls at risk of FGM with local rescue centres, to offering legal and medical help to those who have been cut.
In August, i-CUT received worldwide attention when The Restorers were selected to take part in this year’s Technovation Challenge, an international competition which encourages girls to use technology to solve problems in their community.
The group were the only African team whose app was accepted by the competition, which is sponsored by tech heavyweights including Google and Verizon, alongside the UN for girls in tech entrepreneurship.
The team was invited to the Google headquarters in California to present the app and compete with other teams from around the world. It was here that they scooped second place and were awarded $10,000 to develop the app for use in their community and, hopefully, the rest of the world.
As a collective, the girls are not only paving the way for future generations by tackling the global issue of FGM, but also challenging cultural norms and gender stereotypes by pursuing their passion for technology and computer science.
The lack of girls studying STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) has long been an important global issue, with only 28% of the world’s researchers being women. However, groups such as The Restorers are helping to break down these barriers and prove that girls and women can do anything that boys and men can.
“It’s the ideas that one possess and not their gender which gives them the ability,” Synthia said.
As the eldest of 11 children, living at home with parents who have a combined income of £37 a month, things could have been very different for Synthia. Four of her younger siblings have already had to drop out of school due to financial difficulties, but Synthia is enrolled in her local Compassion project, with the charity providing access to nutrition, social care and, crucially, education.
“I fell in love with technology,” Synthia said. “I used to love to play video games and draw things on the computer. Who would have thought that years on I would be developing code?”
Now, she wants to be a role model for other girls who are looking to make a difference.
“I want to aspire to be somebody in life,” she said. “I have been given an opportunity to become a role model to others and I intend to set a good example.”
The next step for The Restorers’ crusade against FGM is to finish developing the app and get it onto the Google Play Store, where it will have limitless potential to help victims and those at risk.
“I am determined to use this opportunity as a stepping stone,” Synthia said. “I want to develop solutions that will help the world become a better place.”
If you want to help, head to Compassion’s website here to learn how you can donate
Images: Courtesy of Compassion