Spain: Integrating FGM into sex education programs


UNAF has set up workshops dedicated to migrant women. Over a period of 3 hours, the speakers work on the theme of sexuality according to a holistic approach and promoting a participatory methodology.

Although these women are often in very precarious economic and social situations, and their sexual and reproductive rights may appear secondary to the immediate necessity to meet their primary needs, experience shows that once they start working on the issue of their sexuality, women don’t stop talking!

Gender norms, female sexuality, sexual and reproductive rights in Spain … women are encouraged to talk about their bodies, their history, their sexual life. In these workshops, where free speech is encouraged, FGM is then addressed as an essential theme of sexual and reproductive rights and health.

What worked? Key success stories

Workshops with women

Empowerment through information, knowledge, introspection on our body and sexuality, promotion of sexual and reproductive rights and prevention of gender-based violence (GBV).

Promoting strategies for self-protection, self-confidence and knowledge of oneself as a woman.

Bringing into the conversation questions such as “How do you feel? What would you like to do to feel good? What are your passions?”

The goal is to try to connect women with their inner selves, their confidence and strength.  

Facilitating reflection on what sexuality means to women by promoting the concept of sexuality as a human quality.

Sexuality is presented as an innate characteristic, present in every human being from birth to death; including aspects such as interaction, pleasure, tenderness, emotions, desire and reproduction. Sexuality includes biological and psychological dimensions, as well as social dimensions, in that it is also defined by the historical, social, political and cultural context in which we are/have been educated and in which we insert ourselves.

The issue of sexual and reproductive health and rights is also discussed with the participants.

Developing knowledge and awareness of the gender-based socio-cultural norms that define our bodies and our sexuality as women.

The way in which they contrast with those surrounding the construction of men’s bodies and sexuality is also highlighted, taking into account how these norms were acquired.

Here, women discuss topics such as menstruation, chastity, virginity, purity, motherhood, obedience, silence, shame, sin, beauty, beauty canons…

Providing information on anatomy and physiological processes

Informing about internal and external genitalia, with illustrations of the vulva and clitoris. Talking about health, pleasure, the reproductive cycle (menarche, menstruation, pregnancy, menopause…).

Emphasizing the importance of taking care of oneself and paying special attention to the pain of women traditionally considered “normal” even if they are not. Supporting the importance of going to the doctor when needed.

Providing information about women’s rights in Spain

In particular, issues related to sexual and reproductive rights, access to health services, the law, rights and protection against GBV and FGM are addressed. The right to change specialists if they do not suit us or do not meet our expectations or needs is also emphasized.

Using a participatory method

The approach consists in building collective knowledge from individual knowledge.

“What does the word sexuality mean to us, what ideas come to us? What are the gender-based social norms regarding the body and sexuality of men and women? What can we learn from them? Who teaches it to us?” 

Sex education for their children, girls and boys, is an additional motivation for women.

What has not worked? Challenges faced

Women’s vulnerable and precarious situation

It is important to keep in mind the stories and difficult situations in which women are involved, especially the fact that they may be victims of other GBV such as forced marriages, domestic violence, trafficking of women for sexual exploitation, sexual violence. They impose themselves as obstacles to putting into practice the knowledge and reflections they have acquired. Access to information does not always guarantee the possibility of action.

Difficulties in finding ways to work more closely with African women leaders

These women play a key role in the defence of human rights and women’s rights, and are also working to combat FGM in Spain, so it is very important to involve them in order to reach more women affected by FGM.

Strengthening work and awareness among men

Men are also important in the fight and must also be made aware of this issue. Nevertheless, it is not easy to organise workshops on sexual and reproductive rights with men, as the subject is taboo or considered “not their problem”.

The professionals lack of a “gender lens” 

Professional behaviour still differs from stereotypes about sexuality and culture affecting the care of women.

The lack of resources allocated by public actors is also a major problem.

Possible solutions to overcoming these challenges

First, there are aspects of CSO work that can be improved. Fostering and strengthening coordination between the different actors and social agents in order to work in a comprehensive and long-term perspective would strengthen their power of action and the impact of their work. Moreover, mapping available resources to provide possible routes for women would allow them to know where to go if they need to go.

Secondly, it is important to work more at the community and local level and to involve members of the concerned communities. In this sense, it is necessary to empower community leaders, to respect deadlines and processes and, above all, to be allies on an equal footing.

Thirdly, adopting a gender and intercultural approach is essential for success. In the long term, we can hope to include a gender analysis and a feminist perspective in advocacy activities at all levels of education (including university). In the short term, it is important to focus on training professionals with a gender perspective to prevent FGM while linking it to other GBV prevention strategies and to improve their intercultural communication skills.

What should not be done again?

We need to take into consideration how to organize the workshops. For instance, UNAF would conduct a one-off activity in coordination with another NGO or association bringing together a group of women or men for 2-3 hours. UNAF suggests not working with mixed groups of women and men at the same time. They tried to do this because they did not want to exclude anyone, but the men finally left the workshop right in the middle .

It is also important that women from the same group share a similar social situation. They sometimes conducted workshops where women were suffering from trauma (recent arrival by boat, victim of several sexual violences or trafficking…) and it was difficult to manage. The workshops ended with the feeling that they had not been able to give the necessary support and information to any of the participants.

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