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Arming Girls in the UK Against Female Genital Mutilation with a Mobile App

Coventry University launched the app on Tuesday, hoping to raise awareness of FGM now that summer vacation — when young women are especially at risk of going abroad to undergo the procedure — is in full swing.

by Rachel Browne
Jul 7 2015, 6:30pm

Imagen de la manifestación en 2004 contra la MGF en Somalia vía EPA.

Now that school is out and summer vacation is in full swing, thousands of young women and girls in the UK are at risk of being taken abroad to undergo female genital mutilation, according to activists and British border security agents.

That's why researchers at Coventry University launched a new mobile app on Tuesday that aims to raise awareness about the practice and offer advice to girls who are being pressured to get cut.

Female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as female circumcision, is a practice that involves cutting or altering female genital organs for cultural reasons. It happens mostly in Africa, and among immigrant communities in Europe, to young girls under the age of 15. The World Health Organization (WHO) identifies four types of FGM.

Type one and two involve the removal of the clitoris. Type three, called infibulation, is the most extreme form, as almost the entire outer genitalia is removed and the labia are narrowed, leaving only enough space for urination. Type four, the least invasive form, is when the genitalia is cut, pricked, or pierced.

According to the WHO, as many as 140 million girls and women around the world are living with FGM, and another three million per year are at risk of having it done to them. In 1997, the WHO and UN bodies called for the eradication of FGM.

The free app, called Petals, is the first of its kind in the UK, which outlawed FGM in 1985 and made it illegal to take children abroad for FGM in 2003, even to countries where it's legal. There haven't been any successful prosecutions yet, according to the Guardian.

A 2014 report from Equality Now and The City University in London found that 137,000 women and girls living in England and Wales have had the procedure — and those numbers are likely on the rise.

The app includes a quiz, facts about FGM and its health impacts, and links to a hotline and other social services in the UK. There are also short video clips of testimonies from FGM survivors, including a woman from Somalia, now living in Ireland, who says she was circumcised twice.

There is a lack of data on effective strategies to prevent FGM, but research suggests a key way is through community leadership and education, according to the WHO.

Mary Wandia, FGM Program Manager for Equality Now in Nairobi, told VICE News in an email that while the new app is a helpful tool in the fight against FGM, it's only part of the broader effort.

"It is fantastic that the UK is continuing to ensure that FGM is urgently treated as a human rights violation and that it has recently strengthened its legislation to protect girls at risk," Wandia wrote. "We hope that this country can become a model for others in terms of ending FGM, but psychological, emotional, and further medical support is still urgently needed for survivors, so we can break the cycle once and for all."

Last month, British Prime Minister David Cameron introduced new measures that would fast-track protection orders for girls thought to be at risk of being taken out of the country for FGM. The protection orders, issued by the court, would force any individual suspected of taking a girl abroad for FGM to surrender his or her passport and other travel documents.

Follow Rachel Browne on Twitter: @rp_browne 

Watch the VICE News Documentary, "Reversing Female Circumcision: The Cut That Heals:"

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