FFGM seeks technological solutions such as telemedicine to fight female genital mutilation. For example, our team is currently researching the potential of telepsychiatry and other branches of telemedicine to reduce any present costs and barriers to health care access in parts of Ethiopia ravaged by the culture of FGM. We are also interested in other current technology that may facilitate the mass education of the youth on the deleterious health and social consequences of FGM and address more aspects of medicine. In order to expose ourselves to these possibilities of technology for global health impact, we attended the Impact Summit in New York City on June 2-3, 2018. The Impact Summit is a conference for students to learn about and take part in the creation of technology for social good. Impact Summit fellows continue to use skills in computer science and technological innovation for humanitarian and social impact, such as building a video game on menstrual health. At the meeting we learned about blockchain and other technologies that could potentially be applied to FFGM.
Before the Impact Summit, I had no understanding of blockchain, and my comprehension is still lacking today. A basic definition of blockchain is that it is a distributed database removing the need for intermediaries for exchanges and transactions. Furthermore, the database or virtual “ledger” of network transactions is write-only, preventing fraud and dishonesty. As a result, blockchain is peer-to-peer, decentralized, and immune to attack. The renowned Bitcoin is just one example of blockchain. Its other applications today include fundraising via cryptocurrency—which may be used for FFGM—and in the future, creating self-governing, stable anarchy. Blockchain’s possibilities for social improvement are infinite, including for FFGM, and they are only just beginning to be explored.
Besides blockchain, technology related to political activism and fundraising that could help FFGM were introduced. First, in political activism, especially in the grassroots level, tabling and reaching out to strangers can be difficult, especially because of the inherent struggle to connect. Activism would be more effective if people reach out to others they know and start a spreading effect. This spread is easy through the medium millennials communicate, online. The Team app is a platform facilitating this progress and is a potential product to use to spread awareness of FGM among Americans and fundraise. Another fundraising tool for FFGM is GiveDirectly, which utilizes blockchain to give universal cryptocurrency directly to recipients. Intermediate steps of currency exchanges that decrease the donation amount from donor to recipient are avoided, maximizing the true amount that the recipient was supposed to receive. Finally, Call9 is a telehealth company in the United States that uses a screen or computer to connect physicians to a video chat with patients at the bedside to avoid costs of time and money from transportation and visitation. This concept is similar to that of the implementation telemedicine for victims of FGM in Ethiopia and could provide a useful model to emulate for FFGM.
The Impact Summit concluded with an end keynote by Yasmine Mustafa, who inspired me with her story of illegal immigration and her struggle to get to her current position as a social entrepreneur creating wearable technology to prevent violence against women. The conference as a whole inspires me to continue to pursue Computer Science at Duke to learn more about these technologies in depth. I feel grateful to be at my position as a college student and will seek to pursue social innovation. My next stop is the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) on October 19-21, 2018 at the University of Chicago. CGI U is a conference for students, leaders, experts, and celebrities to come together and discuss and develop innovation solutions to global challenges. I’ll be able to focus on Education and Public Health goals for FFGM and get mentorship, workshops, and ideas on how to further progress our project to combat FGM.
Female Genital Mutilation – it’s a cultural practice that is maiming millions of girls every year, yet I had not even known about its existence until I had stumbled upon the Wikipedia page for women’s health in Ethiopia. I had come upon the webpage while researching the statistics of domestic violence and violence against women in Durham, North Carolina (where I go to college) for an organization I wanted to begin to teach self-defense to women because of Duke and Durham’s high sexual misconduct rate, during the heat of the #MeToo movement. Out of curiosity I looked up the world’s highest rates of domestic violence and learned it is most prevalent in Ethiopia. I read on about women in Ethiopia and began my education of the cultural context and circumstances of female genital mutilation (FGM).
This basic knowledge of FGM and its prevalence in Ethiopia (~65%) led to a further discussion with my friend, Sofia Alejandro. She and I have had many long conversations about our respective cultures—mine being Korean American from New York, hers Ethiopian-Puerto Rican from Texas—and I knew she could give me more insight into the issue. We began researching FGM together to learn more and see images to further our educations. We drew conclusions, such as that FGM is ingrained in culture and no law can efficiently end its practice because to those who grew up with the tradition, it may be all they have ever known. To them, the definition of a girl’s purity may be inseparable from the practice of FGM. It would take a gargantuan effort for organizations such as the United Nations Population Fund, which is not even receiving any U.S. government funding today, to try to directly stop its practice.
We started thinking about how FGM could be addressed effectively and differently from other interventions. We understood that using the resources available to us as Duke students, such as DukeEngage, we ourselves could make an effort to combat FGM. We brainstormed ways two mere college students could make such an effort and realized we could use what we were passionate about from the beginning—Sofia being passionate about youth civic engagement from her experience with the Young Democrats of America in Texas and me about telemedicine from a previous medical internship at the Wilmer Eye Institute. For youth civic engagement, we could create mandatory workshops in Ethiopian public schools to change the face of the future of Ethiopia—specifically young boys. Telemedicine is a cost-effective intervention not prevalent today but would benefit from more research in its applications, such as for FGM, and help women in the present time. Thus began our independent research project, FFGM, and our journey with social innovation.
We are extremely fortunate that we do not need to worry about undergoing FGM. However, instead of being bystanders, we choose to be activists, using our voices and resources available to us. Along the way, we get the opportunity for a self-education in women’s global health and innovation, giving us direction for our futures, undergraduate and beyond.
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