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How can more accurate maps help to end FGM? And how can you help to create more accurate maps?

The International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) was first introduced in 2003 by the UN in an effort to eradicate female genital mutilation. To mark the day, which falls on 6th February, the Sexual and Reproductive Health Subcommittee teamed up with Crowd2Map Tanzania and Hope for Girls and Women Tanzania to host a ‘Mapathon’.

What is FGM? What is the context of FGM in Tanzania?

Female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) is widely regarded internationally as a violation of human rights. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines FGM as including all ‘procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons’.

In Tanzania, nationally approximately 10% of women aged 15 to 49 report having undergone FGM, but prevalence is much higher in the Mara region at 32%. The prevalence of FGM varies greatly by ethnic identity and within Tanzania these procedures are predominantly performed as a component of girls’ social initiation. FGM when performed on minors under the age of eighteen became illegal in Tanzania in 1998 and is punishable by up to fifteen years in prison. However, prosecutions and successful convictions have been very limited.

Finding remote villages in Tanzania can be extremely difficult as rural areas have not, historically, been sufficiently mapped. There is almost always time pressure to reach girls in villages as activists are often made aware at night that FGM is due to take place with just hours to spare. Crowd2Map plays a key role in being able to access remote areas of Tanzania where FGM takes place in secret. Their maps are used by police and rescue teams to reach these areas more efficiently.

(See more: FGM in Tanzania, Crowd2Map Tanzania)

🇹🇿 Who are Crowd2Map Tanzania and Hope for Girls and Women?

Founded by Janet Chapman, Crowd2Map Tanzania is an entirely volunteer, crowdsourced, mapping project putting rural Tanzania on the map. Since 2015, they have been adding schools, hospitals, roads, buildings and villages to OpenStreetMap with the help of volunteers worldwide and on the ground in Tanzania. This enables communities to navigate better, to plan their development and to progress towards the sustainable development goals (SDGs), and enables activists to better protect girls from FGM. (See more: What we do, Crowd2Map Tanzania)

Hope for Girls and Women was founded by the Tanzanian activist Rhobi Samwelly in 2017. Rhobi’s personal experience of being forced to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM) as a child inspired her lifelong commitment to fight for the rights of girls and women. Their organisation runs two safe houses in the Butiama and Serengeti Districts of the Mara Region of Tanzania, which shelter and support those fleeing FGM, child marriage, and other forms of gender based violence. (See more: About Hope, Hope for Girls and Women Tanzania)

📍So what is a mapathon?

A mapathon is simply a coming together of a group of people, (often in-person, but under the current circumstances mostly online), to participate in mapping over a few hours or throughout the course of a specific period of time. Volunteers are looking at satellite images to mark roads and various kinds of buildings to collaboratively improve the online map of a certain region, that is usually crisis-prone or disaster-hit. The updated maps are then verified by local people knowing that area. By crowdsourcing geographical knowledge in such a way, a comprehensive and accurate map can be created in a truly collaborative and volunteer-led, bottom up manner. The freely accessible crowdsourced map can be used by organisations and activists to more effectively deliver humanitarian aid to the region and support people living in the newly mapped areas.

🗓 About our event

Barely knowing what a mapathon is, our subcommittee was passionate about the idea of supporting the cause of putting an end to FGM in a tangible way. After coming across the work of Crowd2Map Tanzania and Hope for Girls and Women Tanzania, we decided that organising our very own mapathon would be a unique, fun and substantial way to contribute to the fight against FGM in Tanzania. Crowd2Map is the community of mappers who work on adding historically insufficiently mapped rural areas of Tanzania to OpenStreetMap, which is a sort of Wikipedia of maps, freely editable by anyone. Grassroots activists from Hope for Girls and Women in collaboration with the Tanzanian Social Welfare and Police Gender Desk can then use those maps to reach girls living in remote villages and rescue them to their Safe House before they would be cut.

In this unique event, 25 people got involved in adding roads and buildings to a historically insufficiently mapped rural area of Tanzania to create geographical data that FGM activists can use to reach girls at risk of being cut. Janet Chapman, founder of Crowd2Map Tanzania and Rhobi Samwelly, founder of Hope for Girls and Women were kind enough to attend our event and introduce their work to us. After taking questions from the attendees related to the incredible grassroots work that Rhobi leads in Tanzania, we started mapping together. Being completely beginners ourselves, we relied on the presence of more experienced mappers who were able to facilitate our event and walk us through the whole process of navigating the website and marking buildings on the satellite imagery.

In just 2 hours, 25 people were able to add 3668 buildings and 92km of road to the map of Kwekivu region in central-Tanzania! For people who live in those buildings, it is the first time that their home has been added to the map, and for girls who would potentially undergo FGM, this could be crucially important to receive urgent help. This is an amazing contribution, and we are happy to have been able to help in such a tangible way.

📣 How can you get into mapping to support the fight against FGM in Tanzania?

After getting in a good rhythm, online mapping can actually be a surprisingly therapeutic activity, which is substantially more useful than spending that same time scrolling through social media. Therefore we encourage anyone who is interested or is perhaps looking for a new purpose in the latest lockdown to get involved in mapping! It is a really great way to pass the time while doing something good and being part of something bigger. You can find some useful resources here that can help you get started with mapping to support the work of FGM activists in Tanzania:

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