Fighting FGM with Maps

On November 16, Crowd2Map founder Janet Chapman and Hope founder Rhobi Samwelly, discussed how they use mapping tools to rescue girls at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM) in rural Tanzania during the How Mapping Can Protect Girls from FGM virtual event.

Rhobi talking at an earlier event
Rhobi talking at an earlier event
in Northern Tanzania

Tanzania has been a quiet champion against FGM since its independence and criminalised the practice in 1998. But despite its unwarranted health risks, some families – particularly in remote, rural communities – still force girls to undergo FGM to secure higher dowries and align with cultural practices.

FGM cases particularly accrue during the school holidays, otherwise known as “cutting seasons.” Rhobi mentioned that forty-one girls were rescued during the day of their webinar alone, and two girls were in the process of being rescued by local officials. The team expects to rescue around 350 girls in December based on their intel from educators, community programs, and local activists.

Hope runs two safe houses in Mugumu and Butiama to harbor girls at risk, while also conducting outreach, re-educating families, and supporting prosecutions against gender-based violence. Rhobi estimated that teams are currently supporting around 20 prosecutions, primarily with families and cutters.

Mapping has been a critical step towards fully combatting FGM. Since these FGM cases occur in unmapped regions of Tanzania, local officials are forced to drive through unmarked roads during the middle of the night to retrieve girls. Maps visualise their areas and enable officials to secure the safest routes for driving girls to safe houses.

For five years, Crowd2Map has been working to ensure that every village and person is counted. They now have a global team of around 14,000 online volunteers who map buildings and roads from satellite images. These maps are then shared through a collaborative geodata platform called OpenStreetMap. Janet and Rhobi have also facilitated Youthmappers groups in eight universities across Tanzania. 

In addition, Crowd2Map and Hope have trained local volunteers on the ground with funding from WomenConnect. A woman in each of 87 villages was trained on how to use a smartphone, map their village, and use open-source data collection (ODK) to report gender based violence for authorities in their district. These Digital Champions have continued to be a force for change. They provide the locations of victims, monitor case reports, and follow up with girls after being returned to safer environments. With ODK, Digital Champions can securely submit forms offline and easily visualise data. Anyone interested can read about their work with the University of Nottingham.

When “cutting seasons” end, Hope coordinates with local police to meet the families of girls staying at the safe house. They strive for a period of reconciliation and request parents to sign an affidavit ensuring an environment free from gender-based violence. If families refuse to sign, Hope continues to support the girls in the safe house and encourage them to attend a nearby school.

During the webinar, Crowd2Map and Hope recounted other pertinent initiatives. Rhobi described her speech at the UN General Assembly and the launch of UNFPA’s annual report Against My Will about defying practices that harm women. She also mentioned her interview with BBC World Service. Teams are also working to standardise health centers’ response to FGM by providing guidance on how practitioners discuss FGM with a girl’s parents. They also explained their efforts towards providing girls with education, since many girls face profound difficulties in attending secondary school.

Watch the full webinar recording here:

It is always inspiring to hear about Janet and Rhobi’s work to empower and elevate girls at risk. For anyone interested in being a part of the mapping community, Janet and Rhobi recommend visiting the Crowd2Map website. Anyone linked to a university is suggested to visit the Youthmappers website to create a group of mappers against FGM. You can also visit the StoryMap article to learn more.

Bringing Hope to ending FGM, via film

Earlier in 2020 we were joined by Liz and Alex as they concluded their round the world trip. They came to Hope to share their skills by producing a film that would reflect the determination, energy and compassion of the team and the work delivered here. Watch the film here:

The film is about an amazing Tanzanian woman, Rhobi Samwelly, and the organization she founded that is rescuing young girls from female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage in the Serengeti district of Tanzania. It highlights the stories of girls who have fled FGM, as well as the staff and community leaders involved in this effort. We learn about Rhobi’s story and what led her to create the nonprofit, Hope for Girls and Women in Tanzania. The organization manages two safe houses among many other initiatives and programs, such as school and community education, and community mapping. In this film, we sought to highlight the individuals involved in this effort to rescue the girls, and to show the audience all the amazing collaborative work they are doing.

Alex and Liz with the Hope team
Alex, Liz, and Herry Kasunga of the Hope for Girls and Women team

My husband Alex, and I (Liz) were taking a career gap to travel around the world full-time when we learned about Hope for Girls and Women in Tanzania. When first planning our around the world trip over 5 years ago, we knew we wanted to spend some time working with a nonprofit in Sub-Saharan Africa. Having both spent time volunteering in Sub-Saharan many years prior, we knew we only wanted to volunteer if we were able to bring a unique set of skills to the table that would have a lasting benefit to a nonprofit.

We both have had an interest in video creation for years, but had only put together a few videos for fun mostly related to travel before we left on our around the world trip.

We created a YouTube channel to document our travels and develop skills that would enable us to create documentaries, which has always been an interest of ours. I have spent most of my career working in the nonprofit/public sector so while I was learning editing and video creation, I immediately saw the potential to utilize these skills to benefit nonprofits by highlighting the amazing work they do which could then be used to reach additional funders and donors. While not everyone can visit rural Tanzania, we thought a film that brings to life the work being done would be the next best thing. 

We had a very strict set of criteria for the type of organization we were looking to work for and we both could not have imagined a more perfect organization than Hope for Girls and Women in Tanzania. We were looking for an organization that is:

  • community run;
  • working to improve a human rights issue;
  • focused on women and children.
The Hope team
Liz (right) joined the wider Hope team including FGM survivor and Hope founder, Rhobi (middle)

Hope for Girls and Women not only met, but completely exceeded all of our criteria. We loved that it was founded and led by an amazing, passionate Tanzanian woman, Rhobi, who was such an inspiration.

I had some background knowledge about FGM in Tanzania, having written my final cumulative paper on it while completing my Master of Public Health.

So not only did it align very well with my interests, I also was able to see that they were implementing all of the best practices I had learned. They were the first and only organization we reached out to, while we were living in a van and exploring New Zealand. We had a quick phone call with Janet and Rhobi after sending a few samples of our work. We were then invited to come to the remote town of Mugumu in the Serengeti district of Tanzania. Getting to Mugumu from New Zealand was quite the experience! Our total travel time was over 60 hours consisting of 5 flights, and a very long car ride.

Our experience in Tanzania at Hope for Girls and Women will remain as my favorite experience on our around the world trip.  The entire team was so welcoming and accommodating to us following them around with video equipment. Without their language translation, logistical support, and the stories shared by the girls, the film would not have been possible. We really appreciate the kindness that was shown to us by the whole team while we were in Tanzania. 

While we were in Mugumu, COVID-19 was declared a global health pandemic. American citizens were urged to come home or plan to stay away for an indefinite time period. We were so torn and heartbroken about this, but made the hard decision to return home. As a result, we were unable to finish filming everything that we had set out to film. However, while quarantining in the United States, we had enough footage to compile and edit the film over the next two months. 

We are extremely grateful for this opportunity to highlight the work of an organization that truly deserves it. We were so inspired by the girls and all of the staff there. We will forever cherish this experience. 

Thank you!
Liz & (Alex) Clark

Against my will: A collaborative effort to end gender inequality

<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80"><a rel="noopener" href="http://www.unfpa.org&quot; target="_blank">United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)</a> has published its State of the World Population 2020 paper. <em>Against my will: Defying the practices that harm women and girls and undermine equality</em>, has contributions from many important figures focused on improving female prospects globally through a combination of determination and ongoing action.United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has published its State of the World Population 2020 paper. Against my will: Defying the practices that harm women and girls and undermine equality, has contributions from many important figures focused on improving female prospects globally through a combination of determination and ongoing action.

Front cover of State of World Population 2020: Against My Will

Rhobi Samwelly tells her harrowing story of experiencing near fatal female genital mutilation and seeing it kill her friend, and how this galvanised the founding of Hope for Girls and Women and the team’s ongoing work. Rhobi is featured from page 67 of the report.
There is a wealth of important information about gender inequality within the document.  We were therefore keen to share it as a wider reading resource for those campaigning for an end to FGM and those interested in learning more about this and other practices that aim to prohibit the rights of women.

The full report can be downloaded via the UNFPA site from the button below:

Improving the impact of our data

‘Female Genital Mutilation’ and ‘data visualisation’ might not be two terms that you would immediately put together. However on June 1st, the Viz5 team and makeovermonday.co.uk did just that. Their global community of data enthusiasts were challenged to help communicate some of Hope for Girls and Women’s critical stats through a range of different visualisation techniques. 

Created by: Priya Padham

Data can, at times, be quite impenetrable and dry. Being able to identify a logical flow and narrative using data visualisation techniques on a webpage, presentation or report, can help the information become more digestible and intuitive for the audience. According to t-sciences.com,  ‘the human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text, and 90 percent of information transmitted to the brain is visual.’ 

Created by: Liam Spencer

As part of the monthly #Viz5 data visualisation challenge, the team featured data from Hope in an effort to support our advocacy work and raise awareness of the fight to end FGM. There were so many great data visualisations produced! These were reviewed by Eva Murray, Technology Evangelist & Tableau Zen Master at Exasol and Seth Cochran, Founder & CEO at OpFistula.org.

  • You can see and hear the feedback they provided here.
  • The shortlisted visualisations are also available to view here.

Hope has a relationship with the Viz5 team through our association with the Tanzania Development Trust and Crowd2map. They have supported with our data collection and mapping of Tanzania, and were keen to use their platform to help us drive awareness around the challenges we face with FGM and the support we provide through the safe houses. Viz5’s passion comes across in the feedback session – we look forward to collaborating again soon!

To read more about the outstanding efforts and this important collaboration, please find the Viz5 article here.

Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival (CPH:DOX)

WhatsApp Image 2018-03-21 at 07.00.40

Canadian filmmaker Giselle Portenier’s new documentary ‘In the Name of Your Daughter’ about our director Rhobi Samwelly’s work to end FGM premiered this past March at the Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival! The premier was attended by over 200 people, followed by two more screenings with Q & A sessions and screenings for students at Virum Gimnasium and St. Joseph’s Catholic Institute. Rhobi along with two girls featured in the film, Rose Makori and Neema Chacha, were able to travel to Copenhagen with Giselle to attend the screenings.

Below is a trailer of the film, which also played at the NorthwestFest Documentary & Media Arts Festival in Edmonton, Canada earlier this month.

 

Rhobi says what she enjoyed most about their trip to Copenhagen was meeting so many different people interested in learning more about FGM, including the ambassador of Canada to Denmark Emi Furuya, the Minister for Development Cooperation Ulla Tørnæs, and MP Trine Bramsen. The film’s positive reception has encouraged her to continue working hard to help communities in Mara and she said that many people in Denmark were surprised parents could do such a practice to their children.

What Rhobi found most surprising about the trip was learning during a Q & A session after the film that male circumcision isn’t a social norm in Denmark, unlike in many parts of Tanzania. In addition to speaking out against FGM at village community outreach events, Rhobi also encourages boys to get circumcised in hospitals rather than as part of traditional Kuria initiation.