BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA — Today, United for Iran, a Bay-Area NGO working to promote civil liberties and civil society in Iran is announcing the release of Michka: a new Android app that serves as an e-book designed to help adults teach their children how to identify and report sexual abuse.
Michka is the story of a gender neutral insect whose wings are a private part that should not be touched by others. When one day Mr. Koopoom, an adult insect, touches Michka’s wings, Michka becomes confused about what it should do. The story tells a tale of how children can talk to their parents about things that are confusing.
Sahar Shams, the project lead behind Michka, is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. She created the app, with the approval of child psychologists, as a resource for Iranian parents to talk about the difficult topic of sexual abuse in a language that is appropriate, understandable and non-threatening for children.
Unfortunately, there is no data on the prevalence of sexual abuse of children in Iran. But, in 2016, the issue of child sexual abuse became part of the national conversation when number of complaintants came forward in Persian media outlets accusing Saeed Toosi, a prominent qari (someone who recites the Quran), of sexual misconduct, including rape of children.
“Iran is not immune to the use of sexual abuse as a weapon of control waged by the powerful over the powerless,” explained Firuzeh Mahmoudi, Executive Director of United for Iran. “Michka empowers vulnerable children with the tools to recognize inappropriate touch and provides an invaluable resource for parents to talk to their children about this sensitive issue.”
“Michka is a story I wish I was told when I was a child. Unfortunately, the issue of childhood sexual abuse is not an openly and intelligently discussed issue in Iran– nor in many places worldwide,“ explained Sahar Shams, Michka Project Lead. “People believe it’s an issue bigger than what they are capable of dealing with, so they prefer to pretend it doesn’t happen. I hope this book encourages an open, productive discussion about childhood sexual abuse so we can address the issue, preventing future incidents and providing support to the silent victims.”
Michka is the sixth app to come out of United for Iran’s app incubation project, the IranCubator.
Key facts about United for Iran’s IranCubator app development project – The IranCubator:
- United for Iran launched its new app incubation program in June 2016, seeking to match civil society activists with app developers and programmers to build smartphone applications for the 40 million smartphone users currently living in Iran.
- IranCubator provided financial and technical support to winning developers and activists with projects that advance civil society in Iran.
- All submissions were judged by the IranCubator Advisory Board consisting of notable technology and security experts, internet freedom advocates and social entrepreneurs including Allen Gunn, Christopher Allen and Danny Kennedy.
- Ahead of the IranCubator competition, United for Iran conducted an extensive Community Needs Assessment with Iranian activists to determine the specific tools for advancing civil liberties. Based on those findings, the IranCubator Advisory Judges prioritized apps and ideas that fight against the legal and socio-cultural discrimination against women, immigrants, people with disabilities and LGBTQ communities, as well as projects that promote education for underserved communities.
“Today, there are more than 40 million smartphones in Iran and a million more are added every month. But the number of human rights apps remains close to zero,” added Firuzeh Mahmoudi, executive director of United for Iran. “We’ve seen technological advances transform the global human rights movement and mobile-phone apps have the capacity to enable Iranian citizens to more easily and securely organize, assemble, and express themselves.