Education & FGM

The systematic integration of a module on FGM in curricula


The systematic integration of a module on FGM into school education programmes and the training of national education professionals.  

Education has an essential role to play in transforming the root causes of violence and in particular gender violence. As a mechanism for the social, emotional and psychological development of young people, it also requires the establishment of systems and policies to combat gender-based violence in schools.  

In its report covering phase I (2008-2013) of the UNFPA-UNICEF joint programme on female genital mutilation, it is mentioned that since 2008, progress had been made in integrating FGM prevention activities into school curricula (UNFPA-UNICEF). 

Since then, several countries have integrated FGM awareness-raising activities into their education systems, following the example of Senegal, Ethiopia, Egypt, the United States, etc. The aim is to set up school programmes that include FGM awareness as an integral part of students’ training. These FGM-sensitive school programmes would be aimed both at countries directly affected by FGM and at countries hosting communities affected by FGM.  

Knowing that education plays an essential role in challenging the discriminatory gender norms underlying the practice of FGM, we can note in this regard that many elements also tend to confirm that the integration of awareness-raising modules on the issue of FGM into the teaching programmes can be effective in changing mentalities around this tradition (UNICEF | UNGEI).  

It is in this logic that most of the actors working to eradicate FGM affirm that only education can allow the total and definitive elimination of this practice that is harmful to the health of girls and women. Moreover, the educational approach to the fight against FGM through the teaching of FGM contents in the curricula favours among children and young people (…), a better general knowledge of FGM which will promote an environment favourable to its abandonment.  

In its note on education and the eradication of FGM, a certain number of donors such as UNFPA, UNICEF and UNGEI invite the actors working towards the eradication of FGM to set up a more comprehensive gender-sensitive planning in education. Indeed, such planning involves setting the abandonment of FGM as an explicit objective of education sector plans and policies, and developing appropriate strategies and accountability frameworks for ending FGM through education. Examples include:  

  • Comprehensive sexuality education or sexual and reproductive health and rights awareness programmes,  
  • Educational approaches dedicated to the eradication of FGM,  
  • Clear referral systems for monitoring and reporting, as well as life-skills development programmes that include empowering extracurricular activities.  

The prevalence of FGM and the factors that contribute to its perpetuation should also be taken into account in the various gender analyses carried out as part of the education plans. This includes highlighting transformative approaches to gender equality that are inclusive, equitable and of high quality, from early childhood to secondary school, and that aim to eliminate the practice of female genital mutilation. School-based approaches/curricula that challenge and reverse the social and gender norms underlying these traditions through the education of current and future generations (UNICEF | UNGEI). 

For the education system, the cornerstone of prevention efforts lies in the development of educational content and delivery mechanisms; in other words, what is taught and how it is taught.   

Specific strategies to prevent FGM include: approaches to preventing violence and promoting gender equality in the school curriculum, training of education personnel and the availability of educational tools needed to prevent and combat FGM, and the development of FGM-related skills among learners to enable them to make informed choices (UNGEI).   

In order to achieve sustainable change, collaboration with key stakeholders is essential. As such, the socially charged issue of FGM needs to be integrated into curricula. 

The need for the systematic integration of a module on FGM into school curricula  

The need for a school curriculum that includes FGM as a form of gender-based violence has been demonstrated. On the other hand, according to some COP members, there are differing views on the age of pupils , settings and entry points coupled with a persistent fear of stigmatisation.  

The integration of modules on FGM into school curricula makes it possible to raise awareness in all cultures and allows for a relay within families. Even if it can be noted that there are still gaps in knowledge about women’s sexual health, it is important to be aware of the strong link between FGM and gender equality and to highlight it by educating young people.   

As mentioned above, there are multiple entry points for the integration of FGM into the school curriculum, including: 

  • Integration of the issue of FGM into comprehensive sexuality education programmes: Comprehensive sexuality education has a key role to play in the eradication of FGM, which is a violation of women’s and girls’ human rights and the right to personal integrity. It is therefore essential that sex education programmes include information modules on the multiple physical, mental and sexual consequences associated with this practice (UNICEF | UNGEI).   
  • Integration of FGM into various courses taught to pupils in Burkina Faso: since 2014, FGM content has been taught in three secondary school subjects: French, philosophy and life and earth sciences (SVT).  
  • Sexual health education through football: TackleAfrica is an organisation that uses the power and popularity of football to provide information and services on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) to young people on football fields in 16 countries across the continent. 

 Since 2021 this organisation has adopted a reflexive stance to better examine how to address FGM education in schools in Bobo-Dioulasso (Burkina-Faso). Thus, a qualitative study was conducted on the perception of the social norms of FGM among the participants in the technical assistance programme and their parents.

From the results of the study, it became clear that awareness-raising should not only address FGM as a public health phenomenon, but also as a symptom of the division of gender roles within Bobo society (see graph opposite). As a result of these findings, the school curriculum now places particular emphasis on comprehensive sex education, harmful gender norms and bodily autonomy for young girls. 

The methodology used is football through which gender norms are broken down, placing young girls and boys in various scenarios on the field and asking them to reflect on how they feel. The game-based approach thus allows children to open up about very sensitive issues in an environment that is appropriate for them. 

  • Gender-sensitive schools and pedagogies in Senegal: initiated in 2004 by the African NGO FAWE (Forum for Africa Women Educationalists), which aims to transform an ordinary school and its surrounding community into a gender-sensitive school, social and physical environment. It also aims to equip teachers with the knowledge, skills and attitudes to respond appropriately to the learning needs of girls and boys while using gender-sensitive classroom processes and practices.  

The NGO has successfully involved the Ministry of Education. With the collaboration of teachers, education advisors and school principals, the issue of female genital mutilation was introduced into the Science and Life of the Earth (SVT) classes in the fourth grade. This teaching was approached from the angle of anatomy, the immediate consequences and, in the longer term, the harmful effects of this practice. The teachers also discuss the justifications and finally the different strategies for the eradication of this practice in African and European countries.   The Minister of Education and the WHO supported this experiment carried out in 6 regions of Senegal with high prevalence.  

A peer-to-peer approach has also been developed. Indeed, each pupil in the 4th grade (secondary school) sponsors a pupil in the 5th grade (primary school) to talk about this practice. In addition to these school activities, debates are organised with parents, notably around documentary films on excision. In this innovative dynamic, the issue of FGM has also been proposed as a theme for study in philosophy and civic education classes. This experience has been sufficiently conclusive to inspire other countries such as Mauritania, which has implanted this pedagogy in some schools.   

Indeed, the idea of providing young boys and girls with scientific and pedagogical information has become an obvious one, since it is clear that it is very difficult to convince grandmothers, mothers, fathers, etc. Through these approaches, it is a matter of reacting in time, i.e. before the practice of FGM becomes entrenched in the younger generations, which are capable of perpetuating it, because there is an urgent need to inculcate in this fragile segment of the population a knowledge and know-how that will raise awareness in some people and strengthen others in their desire to eradicate this tradition. FAWE’s methodology aims to bring about a change in behaviour, which is certainly complex because it is a long process that can only be acquired through education and in a long-term perspective.  

  • A holistic education approach to ending FGM in Sierra Leone: The Amazon Initiative Movement (AIM) is a local organisation working to end FGM in Sierra Leone. As part of this approach, AIM also uses two methods.    

The first method is to work with existing schools by forming school clubs, which we call “Influence Clubs”. Each influence club has a teacher as coordinator. The teachers of the different school clubs are trained with the piouks who are members of the school clubs. These students are involved in peer education.    

The second method is to replace the bondo bushes with schools. Indeed, there are more bondo bushes than schools in Sierra Leone. In AIM schools, FGM is taught like any other subject. In addition, the NGO organises trainings and workshops for parents of piouks who attend the school.  

From the various examples of the integration of FGM into the school curriculum, it is clear that the focus is on life skills that are part of a process that both promotes community participation and creates a climate conducive to changing social norms.  

It is therefore possible to rebuild more resilient, gender-transformative education systems and to put in place targeted measures to ensure that girls can preserve their physical integrity and thus significantly reduce or even eradicate FGM in our societies.  In addition to contributing to social change, this type of initiative promotes the active participation of adolescents and empowers them to influence educational policies and programmes that affect them directly.  

 The need for specific and interdisciplinary teacher training to better address FGM in the school curriculum.   

 As mentioned in the article preventing FGM at school in the school environment, the role of preventing FGM in the school environment is strengthened by the initial and ongoing training of teachers and school heads in raising awareness, detecting and reporting cases of FGM, as well as in referring victims to the competent services.  

The training of teachers to take account of FGM in their work is also a key factor in the eradication of FGM:

“ I think that FGM must first be included in the teacher training curriculum. I would like to repeat that teachers themselves are of utmost importance in this regard. Otherwise, I remember a teacher calling us “kintireey” – you who have the clitoris. Teachers can be part of the pressure to continue FGM if they are not aware of the standards and notions they hold. Teachers must first be changed themselves through education on FGM.  

One thing to consider is (…) what message that would convince teachers to stop FGM and teach it to their students? “ COP member, 2022. 

 It is in the dynamics of the implementation of teacher training that the following examples can be found: 

  • Educational measures on FGM in Burkina Faso: In order to allow the teaching of FGM in schools, modules have been developed and are being integrated into the curricula of teacher training colleges. These modules are also taught in health training schools. In the meantime, extensive training programmes are organised each year for teachers who are already in the field (Government of Burkina Faso, 2014).   
  • The need for a teacher’s guide: The Global WOMAN P.E.A.C.E. Foundation supported the creation of this guide on how to implement training and planning to address FGM in US schools (FGM Prevention: Resources for US Schools (Council of the Great City Schools 
  • The Somalia Education Promotion Programme (SOMGEP-T): Through initiatives such as sensitisation of community education committees and teacher training, SOMGEP-T enables communities and schools to work together to transform gender norms and foster long-term social change (Renault, L., and Gure, A., 2020). 
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