App Fights Female Genital Mutilation By Arming Girls With Information

A woman from the Hausa tribe, with a red mark on her thumbnail indicating she has already validated her voting card, looks at
A woman from the Hausa tribe, with a red mark on her thumbnail indicating she has already validated her voting card, looks at her smartphone while she waits for friends to finish the process, at a polling station located in an Islamic school in Daura, the home town of opposition candidate Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, in northern Nigeria Saturday, March 28, 2015. Nigerians went to the polls Saturday in presidential elections which analysts say will be the most tightly contested in the history of Africa's richest nation and its largest democracy. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

While the U.K. government has made grand statements about ending female genital mutilation, advocates are concerned about a lack of action, so they’ve taken matters into their own smartphone-using hands.

Researchers at the University of Coventry unveiled “Petals” on Tuesday, an app that aims to inform at-risk girls about FGM and about how they can seek help if they need it. The developers intentionally coincided the app’s release with summer break, a period when parents are more inclined to get their girls cut.

FGM, a practice that involves the partial or total removal of the female genitalia, has been illegal in the U.K. since 1985 and Prime Minister David Cameron has vowed to pursue parents who still carry out the act, but the procedure has shown little sign of slowing down.

So, with support from Women’s Minister Nicky Morgan and donations totaling 8,000 British pounds (about $12,000), Petals' developers devised a simple app that they hope will help difficult-to-reach girls, according to the Telegraph.

The app, which doesn’t feature any gruesome images, offers basic facts about FGM and contacts for nonprofits, and law enforcement officials that cater to this specific demographic.

Such basic information is often crucial for these girls who often have no idea what FGM entails up until the moment they are put under the knife, the news outlet noted.

The app has also taken privacy issues into consideration so that users can take advantage of the app without fear of getting caught.

For example, the app will disappear if a user shakes her smartphone, according to the Telegraph. It has no pop-up windows, so it can be shut down quickly and the site explains how to use it in “private” mode.

Getting the app into girls’ hands is of crucial importance at this point in the year when parents often transport their daughters to their native countries where the practice is still legal. Families are more likely to cut their girls during the summer when they have time off and their daughters can “heal” before school starts again.

In the U.K. alone, 100,000 women are living with the effects of FGM and 60,000 are at risk, according Forward, a nonprofit that works to protect African girls.

Though advocates are concerned about the perceived inaction on the part of the government to end the issue, Cameron continues to press forward with his expanding initiatives.

Last summer, the government pledged 1.4 million British pounds (about $2.37 million) for an FGM prevention program.

The prime minister also recently announced new legislation that would penalize those who take girls abroad to get cut. Those suspected of transporting girls will be asked to surrender their passports or travel documents, and people who actually go through with it could face up to five years in prison, Reuters reported.

"Everyone has the right to live their life free from the fear of violence and abuse, and without experiencing the lasting trauma of female genital mutilation," Morgan said, according to Reuters. "We need to raise awareness of this barbaric practice and ensure people know it is unacceptable and illegal.”

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