'Youth is the hope of the future' - Using visual art and animation to end female genital mutilation

Woman in blue t-shirt speaking with youth
The FGM HackLab provides support to innovative FGM solutions. Above, Afyatoon meets with a girls' secondary college. Photo: Afyatoon
August 8, 2023

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania - In honour of International Youth Day on 12 August, Spotlight Initiative shares the work of one young activist who is working to make the world safe for women and girls. 

Glory Charles Mlagwa, 25, is a medical expert and public health specialist. She is the winner of the 2022 Spotlight Initiative-supported FGM (female genital mutilation) Hackathon, which invests in new ideas and technology to end FGM.  Below, she shares what motivates her.

As a young girl growing up in a typical African family, I was afraid to have a conversation with my elders and parents concerning my sexual reproductive health. Luckily for me, my mother initiated the conversation and gave me the opportunity to make decisions concerning my welfare with her guidance. 

“We believe that innovation solutions are the next generation efforts needed to end multiple harmful practices that exist in our society.” - Glory Charles Mlagwa, HackLab winner

The same cannot be said for the majority of young people, particularly girls in Tanzania and Africa at large. I grew up in northern Tanzania and although I am of a different tribe, I had Maasai friends. Among other cultural practices in their tribe, was a ritual to mark the transition from being a girl to a woman that includes female genital mutilation and cutting.

Seeing my friends, their young sisters, and eventually, their daughters living in fear [of FGM] is something that I cannot accept. I want to make a change, be their voice and share their stories and experiences without making them relive the awful experience.

To be able to end these harmful practices we must be able to have conversations with the whole community and unite to put an end to it. This is why I decided to join hands in the push to end FGM by 2030.

I learned of the FGM HackLab in August, 2022 and participated in the pitch event that brought together six finalists from different African countries to present our innovative solutions to FGM. The experience has helped us understand the existing causes of  female genital mutilation and efforts to mitigate this harmful practice. We have been able to understand what has been done so far around the continent and what can we do to strengthen this effort. 

Men and women in matching shirts with arms crossed
The Afyatoon team. Photo: Afyatoon/Jofrey Amos

Our winning project, Afyatoon, uses animation to make health education accessible, especially to youth. Content on female genital mutilation is co-created with the target group and the stories are created and tested against the community. Content is age-specific, targeting youth and change-makers, and it is appealing and attractive to keep the discussion from seeming scary or intimidating. We use widespread internet coverage to reach areas where community education on FGM is low.

The project has been piloted and tested on social media, where each individual animation has reached around 3000 people. Some animations have been broadcast on Hope TV and comics printed in the Mwananchi newspaper. These milestones have been achieved in partnership with fellow youth-based organizations and companies as Mobile Afya, the government and media outlets.

"As African innovators, we have so much to offer if given the chance to showcase our abilities." - Ms. Mlagwa, HackLab winner

But we can't stop there. The seed funding [from this win] will help us to establish a stable, running animation studio and a base for production, and to increase community engagement and outreach. 

We believe that innovative solutions are the next generation efforts needed to end harmful practices. Youth is the hope of the future and for making a positive change. As African innovators, we have so much to offer if given the chance to showcase our abilities. Join me in supporting this innovative approach to bring an end to FGM and create a brighter future for all.

Background on FGM InnoHack

UNFPA East and Southern Africa Regional Office with funding and support from the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on the Elimination of FGM and the Spotlight Initiative Africa Regional Programme initiated an FGM innovation project that is engaging young people to find innovative solutions to ending FGM and harmful practices across Africa. In 2021, the project identified over 100 innovative solutions, providing up to $70,000 in seed funding and six months of business incubation support to scale four winning solutions into viable products. More than a million young people were engaged with information about FGM innovation. 

Building on the lessons from the 2021 HackLab, the 2022 FGM HackLabs explored direct engagement with community-, youth- and women-led innovation incubation hubs. The HackLab engaged over 80 innovation hubs across Africa through the application process, reaching over 300 innovators working to progress bodily autonomy, especially on FGM. 

Over two years, the project has identified and provided financial and technical/business support to innovators from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria and Burkina Faso. 

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