Female Genital Mutilation: Understanding Connections and Practices. Getting to know the digital champions.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is an endemic problem in parts of Tanzania. Working with Hope for Girls in Tanzania, we are trying to understand why this practice continues and where girls are most at risk of being cut. This year over 100 girls arrived at Hope’s safe houses due to being at immediate risk of being cut and there were many more in the villages who were unable to protect themselves and reach help.
Introducing the digital champions
Hope has been instrumental in changing attitudes to FGM in the northern Tanzania, and we are working with them in this research project to better understand this practice. In 2019, Hope worked with Crowd2Map, HOTOSM and officials in the Serengeti district to train a woman in each of 87 villages in the region to use a smartphone as part of a project called WomenConnect. They were trained on using the phone’s camera and map and learnt how to report cases of FGM a free app called ODK on their phones.
For these women, this was their first time using a smartphone and using it in such remote locations with poor connectivity and access to electricity for charging is often challenging. But the women were selected for their community leadership and work tirelessly to protect the girls in their villages from FGM and educate other villagers on the risks of the practice, as well as advocating against Gender Based Violence more widely.
The digital champions are rising to the challenge and monitor girls at risk. So far they have stepped in and made direct interventions to prevent 25 girls from being cut, as well as persuading many more families to abandon the practice.
Here you can watch interviews with four of the champions, Tabu, Sikujua, Hulda and Deborah.
Understanding how the villages are connected with each other is important to finding the villages where girls are most at risk. Connections between villages can mean roads and paths, but we’re also interested in villages which share resources. Sharing water sources, markets and schools can help us build a picture of the community and how information is shared between them. Schools and education are the best way of protecting girls from being cut, so finding which villages share schools can tell us about the safety of the girls in these villages.
Personal connections between villages give us a vibrant picture of the life the villagers are leading and tell us how practices such as FGM propagate through the region. We’re interested in hearing from the digital champions if they have friends in other villages, or if it’s common for girls to move away from the village after getting married.
Working out the lay of the land
In late October, some of the digital champions travelled to Mugumu town to learn about our project and be trained on how to fill out the survey. This was a really good start to the project, and soon after returning to their villages, they started telling us about their village and the connections to other villages nearby. Seeing the photos they sent us of their villages was the most exciting part. We quickly noticed that each village had a pharmacy and the quality of the pharmacies was similar for all villages. However, we were surprised by how different the water sources are in each village.
We’re now building up a network of the villages and to help us understand which villages share which resources.
The muddy path ahead
Not everything has been smooth so far. Soon after we started the project, the rainy season began. As many of the roads to the villages are dirt roads, they quickly became muddy. This has made reaching the villages much more challenging for hope staff and training the champions a slower process. Tanzania is in the middle of election fever too, and the digital champions have had some difficulties accessing the internet and the WhatsApp group they use to talk to each other. We’re not letting this hold us back, and we’re persevering through these challenges.
The next step in the survey is for the digital champions to ask other people in their villages about their views. We’re very grateful to their digital champions for taking part in this project and for the support they provide to women and girls in their villages.
This article was written by Rowland Seymour, Madeleine Ellis and Katie Severn of the University of Nottingham.
Posted on Wednesday 11th November 2020