Five Kenyan schoolgirls are headed to the 2017 Technovation Challenge in Silicon Valley to present an app that's inspired by a cause close to their hearts. The teens created I-Cut to help victims of female genital mutilation in their country and hopefully end the practice once and for all.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a non-medical procedure that involves the total or partial removal of a woman's external genitalia. Although it's illegal in Kenya, FGM is still practiced in the country and the teens headed to Silicon Valley know girls who have experienced it.
Through I-cut, girls who are being forced to undergo FGM can alert authorities by clicking a distress button. The app also provides survivors with resources to get help by directing them to the closest rescue centers.
The app's creators, Stacy Owino, Cynthia Otieno, Purity Achieng, Mascrine Atieno, and Ivy Akinyi, have dubbed themselves "The Restorers."
Otieno told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that it's their mission to "restore hope to hopeless girls."
These five teens are the only African team to be accepted into the Technovation Challenge, which is sponsored by Google, Verizon, and the United Nations. If they win, they'll receive $15,000 to help them continue I-cut's development.
"This whole experience will change our lives," Owino said. "Whether we win or not, our perspective of the world and the possibilities it has will change for the better."
Over 200 million women and girls worldwide have undergone FGM and an estimated 1 in 4 Kenyan women have been forced to undergo the procedure. The physical and psychological impact is devastating — girls who undergo FGM are more likely to drop out of school, and in some cases the procedure can lead to death.
The I-cut app has the potential to be life-saving, but it's best introduced into communities alongside educational empowerment programs. Because FGM is such a deep-rooted social practice, there are concerns that girls who are spared will be exposed to other forms of violence by members of their families and communities.
The team's tribe in Kenya has technically denounced FGM, but the app creators personally know girls who have been cut. They spoke of one classmate in particular who was incredibly bright, but stopped coming to school after undergoing the procedure.
"We were very close, but after she was cut she never came back to school," Achieng told the Thomson Reuters Foundation . "She was among the smartest girls I knew."