Mapping has helped save 3,000 girls from FGM, says British-Tanzanian charity

FGM survivor and activist Rhobi Samwelly (left) with local volunteers in a Tanzanian village using opensource mapping to quickly reach girls at risk of being cut (Hope for Girls and Women/PA)
FGM survivor and activist Rhobi Samwelly (left) with local volunteers in a Tanzanian village using opensource mapping to quickly reach girls at risk of being cut (Hope for Girls and Women/PA) ((Hope for Girls and Women/PA))
19:04pm, Fri 06 Nov 2020
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An innovative mapping project has helped save more than 3,000 girls from female genital mutilation (FGM) in the five years since volunteers began using it, a British-Tanzanian charity has said.

Teenagers, sometimes barefoot in their rush to escape being cut, have been successfully rescued by teams using volunteer-created maps for vast rural expanses of the East African country which were previously unmapped.

Crowd2Map, which was set up five years ago this month by London woman Janet Chapman, has added nearly five million buildings in Tanzania to previously blank areas on OpenStreetMap.

FGM survivor and activist Rhobi Samwelly with girls at the Mugumu safe house in Tanzania (Hope for Girls and Women/PA)

It works by volunteers – more than 14,000 to date from around the world – adding roads and buildings from satellite images while locals on the ground in Tanzania input their knowledge.

FGM the intentional altering or injuring of the female genitals for non-medical reasons, is against the law there on under-18s but continues to happen in many villages.

Ms Chapman, chair of the Tanzania Development Trust (TDT), said activists will generally get a phone call in the middle of the night saying girls are about to be cut in a particular village.

She said: “Together with the police gender desk and social welfare, they go and rescue the girls and bring them back to the safe house.

“Previously there were no maps meaning it was often hard to find these girls in time. Now they (activists) can use their phones to navigate offline, to find them quickly.”

Rhobi Samwelly and Crowd2Map founder Janet Chapman at the United Nations in 2018 (Tanzania Development Trust/PA)

Better maps helped prevent some 2,257 girls from being cut in 2016. Since 2017, some 945 girls have come to safe houses fleeing FGM, she said.

Since the beginning of last year, it is estimated that better maps have helped prevent 1,170 more girls from being cut. This comes after “digital champions” – local volunteers who alert activists to when a cutting or other gender-based violence is happening – were trained up to work in all 87 villages of Serengeti District.

The victims, mostly adolescents with an average age of 14, are often “very scared” after their ordeals, more than 30% have health issues, 90% need counselling and almost a quarter (23%) have never been to school, Ms Chapman said.

FGM survivor and activist Rhobi Samwelly set up the project Hope for Girls and Women which aims to provide safe houses as refuge and a place for education.

She also trains the digital volunteers, most of whom are first-time smartphone users.

Ms Samwelly, who has previously addressed MPs and the United Nations on the issue of FGM and is TDT’s representative for Mara region, said: “At Hope we are so glad for the Crowd2Map project. It has helped us a lot and makes our work reaching villages and rescuing girls much easier.

“Also, girls now know the safe places in their village to flee to. We thank everyone involved in the project.”

As well as helping support rights for girls and women, TDT – which is celebrating its 45th anniversary this month and is an entirely volunteer-led organisation – works to improve education, livelihoods, and access to clean water for rural villages.

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