KAMPALA – AXCES MOBILE, an innovations project by young Ugandans has on Tuesday beaten seven other groups to become the second runner of United Nations Population Fund – UNFPA’s competition grant to fight against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
The competition won by Team Big family 360 from Nigeria had registered about 100 innovation groups from different countries in African including Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, Burkina Faso among others.
The AXCES MOBILE group led by Joseph Mulabbi, a business consultant is a multilingual mobile tool that relies on an internet-free mobile App alert trigger and a USSD code menu for users to easily report FGM and related cases in real-time.
Through the App alert trigger or a USSD code menu users are able to trigger an instant toll-free call to the nearest deployed Village Volunteer Agents (VVAgents), as well as activate an instant SMS notification to other distant VVAgents, Anti-FGM board and its partners.
Based on the VVAgent’s case assessment, one using a contacts directory on the App chooses the type of immediate service assistance needed and instantly connects victims with both physical or remote service providers.
“To implement the above, we IDENTIFY, RECRUIT, TRAIN and DEPLOY Village Volunteer Agents (VVAgents) who are residents within the same community and onboard them on a multilingual mobile platform (app & USSD) for easy community mobilization and sensitization against FGM practices, as well as work as prompt response points to enable community members and FGM victims to easily and instantly report FGM cases, track cases, and help in offering quick referral service assistance needed by victims to available or distant service providers,” Mulabbi told the judges.
Be informed that FGM is a human rights violation which has impacted the lives of millions of women and girls around the world, and especially on the African continent.
According to UNFPA, globally, an estimated 200 million women and girls alive today have undergone some form of FGM, “and if present trends continue, another 68 million women and girls will be cut by 2030.”
According to Uganda’s Gender Ministry, the FGM hotspots are in the districts of Kapchorwa, Bukwo and Kween (within the Elgon sub-region) and in the Karamoja region among the Pokot, Kadama and Tepeth who live in Amudat, Moroto and Nakapiripirit districts.
National prevalence stands at 1.4 percent in (UDHS, 2016), but Uganda’s six FGM practicing districts have an average prevalence rate of 26.6 percent, much higher than the national average, with district-level prevalence ranging from 13 percent in Kapchorwa to 52 percent in Moroto, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund – UNICEF and Uganda Bureau of Statistics – UBOS 2020.
UNFPA says that FGM has serious implications for the sexual and reproductive health of girls and women, such as hemorrhage and infection, fistula and complications during childbirth. Very recent estimates by WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA and the World Bank reveal that most of the high-FGM-prevalence countries also have high maternal mortality ratios and high numbers of maternal death.
This prompted UNFPA to take the eradication of FGM and other harmful practices seriously and has led a number of interventions to prevent its occurrence.
UNFPA through its UNFPA FGM Hack Lab project called for innovative ideas from young African people to end the harmful practice of female genital mutilation (FGM). More than 100 submissions were received from young people right across the continent, 60 percent of them from young women. From a shortlist, selected innovators joined a boot camp to develop commercially viable and impactful solutions for ending FGM. Nine of these solutions were selected to make their pitch to a panel of judges at this Final Pitch Event on the sidelines of ICASA, the International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa, two of which were from young people in Uganda.
Mr. Mulabbi attributed the success of his project to incorporating the aspect of village volunteers, being multilingual and being relatively low to fund.
“Becoming a second runner is really exciting to me and to us as a team. First of all, we didn’t expect it because even watching fellow entrepreneurs and innovators pitching their projects, we thought our project cannot win but I think incorporating the aspect of village volunteers could have been something that caught the judges’ attention,” he to the press.
Mulabbi says in Uganda, the practice of FGM being already illegal is the reason why it takes place in very remote areas.
“Now, in these areas, infrastructural development is still very poor, so incorporating the already people who are experiencing this problem could have been a trigger for the judges but also I think our platform is very easy to develop because we had projects asking 2.5 million dollars and we decided to give our project a small fee because with $15,000 we are able to develop our project and get off the ground and start running.”
“Also, I think it being multilingual because the victims definitely are school dropouts, some of them even have not attended school as a result of the poor nature of the communities, so, being it multilingual it appeals to the user and meets the user’s need where they are, is a very critical point I believe could have made the judges to consider our project,” said Mulabbi.
Having won the grant, Mulabbi said that they are going to get back into the field because “we carried out a survey but it was brief now we need to get back to our user’s and interact with them visa vee our project so that we probably understand better their pain points and based on their feedback, we are able to design not just any other mobile platform but a solution that we believe can be used by the users in order to eliminate the practice of FGM, not only in Uganda but also across East Africa and eventually Africa.”
He said that in the period of six months what they intend to get partnership and mentorship.
“Mentorship is very key because we believe that out there even including the UNFPA, and UNICEF, have key people who are knowledgeable enough in the field of FGM and even who are technical enough as far as the practice is concerned. So if such technical people can join with us, I believe that their mentorship, collaboration and advice will be very paramount for us to be able to carry out this project.”
Another Ugandan innovator who made it to finals was Ms. Deborah Nassanga with “HERStory!”, a user-centric digital communication system that makes young girls and women safer through the use of crowdsourced data, and community engagements to create timely institutional response to FGM.