Web-App Review: Petals

Ground breaking-anonymity features, and well-presented information, but needs to follow through.

Petals is an online web application, developed by Coventry University, which aims to provide information and assistance to those who wish to know more about, or who are at risk of, FGM.

Using the site is fairly straightforward. Accessed through the Petals homepage, it contains a home screen which demonstrates the subsections relating to advice, a quiz on the user’s knowledge of the subject, how to take action, and the details of organisations which support those who have undergone and those at risk of FGM. It also has examples of the views of different people and organisations about FGM, collecting together material already produced elsewhere.

One striking aspect of the application are the baked-in anonymity features. The website has a feature which allows the window, or tab, to be closed and the details of the page removed from the browsing history, without further intervention needed by the user. It also contains some easy-to-follow instructions for those who to remove the browsing history manually. Part of the reason behind the app’s name is that it is not directly connected with the practice of FGM, meaning that the user can hide within obscurity if they cannot anonymise their browsing. The webpage also does not use any images of FGM, presumably for the same reason.

The information in the website is presented in a clear and easy-to-understand manner. It does not rely on gimmicks, or attempt to appropriate youth cultures or speech, which means that it retains a mantle of respectability, and appears authoritative. At the same time, the ideas are presented in a way which is accessible.

The app’s slant towards persons who may not themselves be in danger of FGM, friends or male relatives, is a useful inclusion. These groups may not agree with the practice, but may feel powerless to bring about change, yet their inclusion is key to the eradication of the practice: if FGM is seen as undesirable in a female partner, market forces should prevail.

Criticism of the app is that it does not include information for those who have been victims of FGM themselves, and by emphasising the harm of the practice, without any information as to whether or not it can be reversed, or solutions to the health problems it lists, it may risk instilling a sense of powerlessness and shame in victims. Also, whilst it may have noble intentions by providing information as to what happens to adults who perform or are complicit with FGM, it provides little reassurance to those who wish to report that they can do so anonymously, or how to go about this, bar contacting the NSPCC helpline. Whilst young people may be synonymous with rebellion in the eyes of some, informing the authorities about goings-on within your family, is something that may have long term impacts on family relationships. Some information about how to mitigate or avoid this possibility may encourage reporting.

Overall, Petals has taken a really groundbreaking stance with its efforts to present information to young people in a straightforward manner, and offering vital protections with user anonymity, but needs further refinement to support those taking action.