Education & FGM

Preventing FGM at school


The French saying : ‘Mieux vaut prévenir que guérir’, which is literally translated as prevention is better than cure, is even more relevant in the case of FGM due to the damage it causes, some going beyond possible physical damage and more often too difficult or impossible to repair.  

And what other better prevention settings than school? Schools are the main hubs for socialisation and hence have the ability to change the current realities while protecting the future.  

During the 2022 International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation,  UNICEF mentioned that when girls are not able to access vital services, schools and community networks, their risk of female genital mutilation significantly increases – threatening their health, education and future. Today, girls are a third less likely to be subjected to female genital mutilation compared to three decades ago; however, progress needs to be at least 10 times faster to meet the global target of elimination by 2030. Multiple overlapping crises, including COVID-19, rising poverty, inequality and conflict, are putting millions of girls at increased risk of female genital mutilation. This calls for more focus and creative ways of working with the communities to accelerate progress.  

In the previous note on education and FGM, it was mentioned that one of strongest outcomes of education is to foster questioning and discussion in general and that education provides opportunities for individuals to think differently about social roles. Because of that, people would make choices that are not dependent on the practice of FGM for acceptance.

Current prevention lies mainly in access to information, awareness, and a reminder about the law. Based on this observation, we wondered what additional means of prevention could be put in place. We thought of the most accessible environment in which potential victims evolve: School. Thus asking ourselves: should we develop a better FGM prevention approach in the school environment? Schools would then play a fundamental role in the prevention of FGM.

This is how the reason why most stakeholders constantly address the actors involved in the fight to ending FGM on the link between education and the eradication of FGM. This call is heard even at the international level. Therefore, the role of the school in the prevention of gender-based violence such as FGM is essential. The fight against GBV at school is a major challenge for the education system that is carried by the entire educational community. 

While it is true that female sexual health is little addressed in education, it remains difficult to discuss FGM in class. All the same, things are changing because more and more actors have set up pilot projects that are bearing fruit, such as: 

  • Gender ABC project coordinated by End FGM EU in partnership with four other organisations: Terre Des Femmes (Germany), AIDOS (Italy), Medicos del Mundo (Spain) and APF (Portugal).  The project developed tools  for the prevention of different forms of gender violence, and FGM, including two educational activity books to address FGM in primary and secondary .All the notebooks can be found in English here. The tools were used to carry out activities in schools, each organization starting from the needs they had detected.
  • The Mind the Gap project (2021-2022), coordinated by AIDOS, in which they address gender stereotypes and roles in the school environment, in order to prevent all forms of gender-based violence and build a more equitable society. Since FGM is GBV, an approach that reduces GBV will have a real impact on reducing FGM prevalence.
  • Forward UK Programme which is delivered by FORWARD’s facilitators provides a comprehensive, and wide range of age appropriate services and activities for primary and secondary schools; and higher education institutions. It is designed to support students and their parents, educators and external organisations working with schools to understand the key issues that affect girls from affected communities. They deliver age-appropriate and culturally sensitive sessions at the primary level 5 and 6 and to secondary and college students.

In addition, prevention would also require specific and interdisciplinary training for teachers (UNICEF | UNGEI, 2021).

A call to action for better prevention on FGM at school

For the effective prevention on FGM and other forms of gender based violence at school , it is of absolute importance to adopt the following 

  • A whole school approach so that schools are safe spaces for all students, whatever their gender identity. School regulations and teachers’ professional codes of conduct need to include actions to prevent school related gender-based violence. They should also include identifying and amending gendered rules and practice. 
  • Linking education with gender-responsive health and protection services. Tackling complex gender barriers to education requires coordinated investment and interventions across sectors – including water, sanitation and hygiene, child and social protection, gender-based violence, comprehensive sexuality education, and sexual and reproductive health and rights.

The role of education in reducing FGM prevalence is undeniable. It was reported that there is a correlation in the level of education of mothers and the decline in FGM since the highest opposition of FGM is among girls and women who are educated and that educated mothers are less likely to subject their daughters to FGM. (UNICEF DATA, 2022).  

With the above provided context,  

  1. Do you know of other initiatives that engage in preventing FGM through school systems?
  2. How is FGM incorporated into school curricula? What are the changes that you can already notice?
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