Celebrate Solutions: Preventing FGM Through Safe Technology: There’s an App for That

By: Juliana Bennington, Women Deliver

How do you get educational and life-saving information to girls if having that information may put their lives in danger? Petals, a web-based application, which launched 7 July 2015, aims to make it safe for girls in the UK to get information about female genital mutilation (FGM) and allows them to securely access help if they feel they are at risk. What makes this app so unique is a security feature which allows girls (and boys) to learn about FGM almost anonymously, protecting those who may be worried that learning such information would be a risk to their safety.

The app provides information about the dangers and risks of FGM, personal stories, and resources for getting help. When the app is opened in the web-browser of a mobile phone (set to “private mode”), it will automatically shut and purge the history if the phone is shaken. When opened on a computer, the app does not allow additional pop-ups and has a “close and remove” button at the top of each page which will immediately close the website and attempt to purge it from the browser’s history. These safety features protect young people who might otherwise fear seeking information about FGM.

The launch coincides with the start of summer vacation in the UK, a time often referred to as “cutting season.” It is common for girls to be sent out of the UK over the summer months to have FGM performed without teachers or friends being able to notice their absence or intervene. FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985 under the Female Circumcision Act, which was updated to the Female Genital Mutilation Act in 2003,addeing the provision that anyone found to abet FGM, even if the act did not occur within the UK, may be prosecuted. As of 2015, no one has been prosecuted.

Globally, over 125 million women and girls have been subjected FGM. This app could be replicated and used in developing countries to help girl’s access potential life changing information. The technology behind the application also has the potential to help people in other situations where seeking help or information if in danger, such as those experiencing intimate partner violence or girls who are at risk for child marriage.

Petals has the potential to save girls in the UK and around the world from a painful and harmful practice, and in doing so can help to end FGM.

For more information on the Petals web application, please click here.

Petals was developed by Coventry University with support from the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and funding from the Pamela Barlow, Eleanor Rathbone and 1970 Charitable Trusts. It was field tested by students at the Sidney Stringer Academy in Coventry to ensure the content is relevant, approachable and acceptably communicated. This involvement of adolescents is important to ensure young people are partners who can meaningfully engage in projects meant to ensure their rights are protected.

Flickr photo via DFID - UK Department for International Development

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