Five Kenyan teenagers, aged 15 to 17, have been selected to take part in the Google Technovation software development competition. Their innovative app design addresses female health challenges, in particular raising awareness of female genital mutilation.
Stacy Owino, Cynthia Otieno, Purity Achieng, Mascrine Atieno and Ivy Akinyi are students at Kisumu Girls High School, in Kisumu, Kenya. They belong to the school’s science and technology club, and focus on developments that help their community, in particular women and young girls. They call themselves the Restorers, dedicated to “restoring hope for hopeless girls”.
The five have designed and developed an information app, called I-cut, that helps teenage girls learn more about the effects of female genital mutilation, as well as gives information about rescue centres and legal and medical assistance.
The app has grabbed the attention of Google, which has invited the girls to compete in its Technovation competition. Competing app and software designers from around the world can win $15,000 in prize money and an opportunity to further develop their winning app for global users. The Kisumu girls are the only Africans represented in the competition.
The Technovation demonstrations took place on 6 August 2017 at the Google headquarters in Silicon Valley, in San Francisco, California. The competition is co-sponsored by the United Nations, and is aimed at encouraging technology skills in girls and young women from developing countries, ultimately with the goal of creating a new generation of tech entrepreneurs.
Kenya is known as one of the most technologically advanced countries in Africa, particular for its pioneering mobile technology industry.
Female genital mutilation is a non-medical procedure that involves the total or partial removal of external genitalia. It is still practised in Africa and Asia as a cultural rite of passage and a prerequisite for marriage. Despite it being an illegal practice in Kenya, one in four Kenyan women undergo the procedure, according to the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO). Globally, the practice affects more than 200 million young girls.
The procedure generally does not take place in clinics or hospitals. Many of the young victims suffer from health problems and severe medical side-effects. Most never return to school afterwards, which is exactly what spurred the Restorers to address the problem.
“Female genital mutilation is a big problem affecting girls worldwide and it is a problem we want to solve,” Stacy told Reuters, before leaving for the United States. “[The competition] will change our lives. Whether we win or not, our perspective of the world and the possibilities it has will change for the better.”
Ivy added: “We just have to use this opportunity as a stepping stone to the next level.” The girls hope to use the experience to become programmers and software developers when they leave high school.