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What if girls and women who have faced or are at risk of female genital mutilation could receive the services and support they needed at the time they needed them?

 This would help address the challenges of poor of access to timely services by survivors of female genital mutilation (FGM), according to social entrepreneur and tech developer Joseph Mulabbi. It was this conviction that led Mulabbi to create Axces mobile, a multilingual mobile tool that connects survivors of FGM to service providers in real time.

Mulabbi and his team of developers recently emerged second runner up at UNFPA’s FGM Innovation HackLab final pitch event.

The overall winner was Nigerian team Family360, whose SmartRR mobile application also helps survivors of female genital mutilation access services.

The FGM Innovation HackLab, a youth-led initiative was launched in September 2021 by UNFPA East and Southern Africa Regional Office, in partnership with the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation and the Spotlight Initiative Africa Regional Programme.

More than 100 innovative ideas on how to address FGM were received from young people in 18 countries across Africa and narrowed down to ten through a competitive selection process.  

On the pitch day, UNFPA Uganda hosted Mulabbi and fellow Uganda innovator Deborah Nassanga and their teams at a physical event in Kampala from which they connected virtually with the judges and other teams at the pitch event.

Mulabbi explained that Axces Mobile is premised on an internet-free app that enables the user make a toll-free call to a community volunteer (village volunteer agent) and report the occurrence of FGM. The agent then identifies the type of service required, and connects the survivor with a service provider.

Mulabbi’s inspiration for Axces Mobile comes from a deeply personal experience.

“While at school, a friend (from the Sabiny tribe in Kapchorwa, Eastern Uganda) lost her sister at the age of 16 after she underwent FGM. With the nearest health centre over 20km away, and with poor road network, the girl bled to death while being rushed to hospital,” Mulabbi says.

While national prevalence of FGM in Uganda stands at only 0.3 percent, in the six districts where it is practiced, including Kapchorwa, prevalence is much higher. In Kapchorwa, 13 percent of girls and women undergo FGM, according to the 2017 Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting survey report by Uganda Bureau Of Statistics and UNICEF.

“When I read about the FGM Hack Lab, I had a flash back to what I had witnessed years back. I tasked myself to do something to help girls and women access services when they need them. My solution had to be one that is very simple in terms of cost and ease of use, even for those with no access to smartphones or internet.”

Similarly, Nassanga created her app based on personal experience of a family member who underwent FGM.  Her innovation, HERStory! enables girls and women report FGM anonymously.

At the pitch event, UNFPA Deputy Representative Daniel Alemu, met with Mulabbi and Nassanga and their teams, applauding them for their commitment to finding solutions to FGM.

“Several interventions to end FGM have been implemented but what we are missing is what we have right now; the creativity and energy of young people. This is not just about winning; it’s about you having the courage to come together to find a solution to this crisis,” he said.

He encouraged them to build sustainable business models for their innovations by expanding their scope beyond development partners to include the private sector.

The two winning teams will each receive seed funding of $50,000 and will be mentored for six months by AfriLABs, an organisation that provides support to entrepreneurs, innovators, developers and youths across Africa through technology hubs.

By Martha Songa