All Teachers Need Mandatory Training on FGM

Written by Katrina Lambert (18) and Caitlin Moore (18) – Youth For Change UK members

Ever felt like decision makers aren’t listening to young people? That our voices are ignored and belittled in society? We certainly do sometimes. And we’ve decided to make some noise about it.

We are members of Youth for Change, a global network of youth activists who aim to tackle gender-based violence.

The best way to create positive change is through young people working together to make a difference. We are the ones affected – we should be the ones influencing policy.

Over the last few years we have been tackling the issue of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). FGM is a form of violence against girls. It can result in a lifetime of pain, psychological problems and difficulty in childbirth.

Around 125 million girls have been cut worldwide. An estimated 137,000 girls and women live with FGM in the UK.

In 2017, our research found that 90% of young people surveyed said that learning about FGM as part of Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) would help to protect and empower them and their peers. This was the focus of our campaign to get FGM in the RSE curriculum.

Therefore, we were incredibly excited when it was announced that Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) would be compulsory in every school in England as of 2020. Education plays an absolutely crucial role in young people’s lives (as two school students, we can verify this 100%).

Having FGM taught in schools is our chance to take a step forward in ending this harmful practice.

At Youth for Change, when the Department for Education released the online curriculum consultations, we engaged with our networks and communities to strengthen the voice advocating for FGM to be included.

We fed this back to the Department for Education when a group of us met with senior civil servants last year. We also met with Carolyn Harris MP, Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, to discuss the importance of empowering young people through educating them on FGM.

As a result, questions about FGM being a priority area of the new curriculum were raised in Parliamentary Questions, to the then Home Secretary, Amber Rudd MP.

In February 2019, it was celebrations all round. We heard that FGM was to be included as a topic in the curriculum. However, as tempting as it may be, we can’t stop now and pat ourselves on the back.

Yes, we have taken a monumental step in the direction towards eradicating FGM. However, in order to ensure that the new curriculum can appropriately educate and empower young people on the issue, teachers must feel equipped.

This is why Youth for Change is calling for mandatory training for all teachers on FGM.

Our research shows that 94% of young people feel school staff don’t know enough about FGM. If there is any chance of the the new curriculum guidance achieving its fullest positive impact, teachers must be trained.

When students are aware of the issue and feel confident that their teachers understand it, then they will naturally feel more protected and comfortable in opening up conversations. This is essential in increasing reporting and saving the lives of thousands of young women and girls across the UK.

Mandatory training for teachers will ensure that every pupil in the UK gets equal access to the FGM education they deserve, regardless of what part of the country they happen to be educated in.

The benefits of training teachers in FGM are not limited to students. It will also empower teachers to feel equipped to take on their role.

In fully understanding their legal responsibilities, including mandatory reporting, teachers will able to confidently safeguard their students and signpost the correct support. Training is absolutely essential. Without it, the huge changes to the curriculum will not be able to support and educate young people.

What can you do?

Get involved with us as we continue to press for standardised, mandatory training for teachers on FGM! Find us on twitter @YouthForChange. And while you’re here, support all of the other amazing activists in our network, such as IKWRO, who are calling for FGM to be tackled earlier on in education.

We’re not going to stop making noise. We need to ensure that the education young people receive reflects what they want and need to learn. We very much hope that the Government will listen to our calls to introduce mandatory training. Together, we can move even closer to eradicating FGM in the UK once and for all.

Like this post? Try these…

Politics Affects our Health: the Case of Sudan

‘Social determinants of health’ are the circumstances and surroundings that influence an individual’s health outcomes.

Researchers have focused on social determinants of health for decades and there is now a general consensus that higher socioeconomic status predicts better odds of future health and well-being. While this notion is scientifically accepted, it prompts the question: what creates these social determinants of health? This has brought much needed attention to the ways in which politics affect health – both directly and indirectly.

‘Political determinants of health’ are the factors that shape the social determinants of health. This is a relatively new concept and is of particular significance for women. An example of the link between politics and health can be found in Sudan.

In Sudan, the political climate is shaped by religion and the constitution is based on teachings of Sharia Law. Currently, many communities face extreme financial strain as a result of failed past politics and/or war and insecurity. This has increased pre-existing and vast social inequities, including gaps in financial and educational opportunities.

The political situation in Sudan has had inevitable consequences for health.

Social disadvantage falls heavier on women. Until recently, girls have been denied the same education as their male counterparts. Lack of education leads to limited knowledge of health, which affects an individual’s ability to improve their own health outcomes. 

One example is the issue of sexual and reproductive health. Sexuality and sexual behaviour are sensitive topics rarely discussed in conservative, religious cultures like Sudan’s. Sexual and reproductive health and rights do not enjoy a high-priority status among political agendas, either, and there has been very little consideration of introducing sexual education into classrooms. However, many educators and health officials have started to support sex education in schools, resulting in increasing support by legislators.

Another example is the high prevalence of female genital mutilation (FGM) in Sudan, at a prevalence of approximately 89% countrywide. The harmful practice continues to affect many areas of the country, and although it is legally banned, it is well-known to continue with the open support of many religious leaders. This is a clear example of failed implementation of legislation that has allowed FGM to remain prevalent despite wide-spread efforts by campaigns and NGO peer-education programs.

Under Sudanese constitution, child marriage, forced marriage or marital rape are not against the law.

Much of the country’s legislation does not provide any protection for women’s rights. As a result, many Sudanese women fear persecution.

One case that struck the international community was that of Noura Hussein in 2018. The 19-year-old was sentenced to death for fatally stabbing her husband – who she had allegedly been forced to marry – after he attempted to rape her. In the eyes of the law, marital rape does not exist, and so Hussein had no claims to self-defence as she was viewed as a belonging of her husband. The ruling was thankfully overturned after increasing international pressure on the Sudanese government. Hussein received a reduced sentence of 5 years in prison. 

Historically, women in Sudan have been forced to be subordinate to men. Although this is changing and vast improvements have been made, drastic changes to the country’s politics and constitution are needed to ensure full protection of women’s rights – especially their rights to health and wellbeing. 

 

5 Activists Fighting to End Female Genital Mutilation

Today is International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, and we’re celebrating the activists who’ve had huge impacts on the eradication of FGM across the globe. Here are 5 key figures changing the lives of women in their communities…

“FGM is not just being performed in Africa, the Middle East and Asia but… in Europe [too]”
-Ann-Marie Wilson

Dr Ann-Marie Wilson was determined that much more needed to be done to eradicate FGM, and so she founded 28 Too Many. The organisation is a UK based, anti-FGM charity working across 28 countries in Africa, but it also focuses on working with diaspora in the UK.

“We often associate female genital mutilation with the horrific physical trauma… But there is less awareness about the psychological trauma that can haunt a woman throughout her lifetime.”
-Leyla Hussein

Leyla Hussein is one of the world’s most active campaigners against FGM. An FGM survivor herself, Leyla uses her own experience to formulate social and political strategies for eradicating the practice. As a psychotherapist, one of her major points has been the need for greater psycho-social support for survivors.

“I might never be able to enjoy a sexual experience.”
-Mariya Karimjee

Mariya Karimjee bravely shared her story of FGM on a This American Life podcast. She brought the underreported issue of FGM in Pakistan into the public realm, and has been sharing her experience of sexual pleasure as a survivor. Her activism is important, as she broaches the taboo topics of sex and FGM in a frank and honest way, normalising the discussion.

“This is child abuse and they need to look at it as that. It is a child protection issue.”
-Hibo Wardere

Hibo Wardere is a Somali-born campaigner against FGM, and author of the informative biography Cut: One Woman’s Fight Against FGM in Britain Today. Through her frank account of her own experience of FGM, Hibo has emphasised the fear and control girls are put through at a young age in practicing communities.

“There is no authentic or relevant Islamic evidence allowing FGM in all its forms and the practice is harmful and violates freedom, privacy, health and dignity of the Muslim woman.”
-Sheikh Ibrahim Lethome

Sheikh Ibrahim Lethome has worked tirelessly to delink FGM from Islam. Dedicating a major part of his life to studying relevant scriptures, he has published a number of works which open religious discussions about FGM and provide strategies to organisations for delinking the practice from Islam.

There are many people who have been trailblazing the fight against FGM for years, and each have important messages about how we can end this violation of human rights. To learn more and join the conversation today, follow and use #EndFGM on social media.

The Real Price of FGM in Kenya

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a human rights violation, a form of torture and an extreme form of violence and discrimination against girls and women – there is no subtle way to describe it!

Sadly, according to World Health Organization (WHO), more than 200 million girls and women globally have undergone FGM. Worse still, if current trends continue, 15 million girls (between ages 15-19) are at risk of undergoing FGM by 2030. In my region of Kenya, there are numerous documented cases of girls dying every year due to complications arising from FGM, but substantial data is difficult to come by.

Contrary to popular belief that FGM is a ‘cultural issue’, in reality, the practice has dire socio-economic consequences and impacts on the health, education, livelihoods and general well-being of girls and women. In the course of my activism and journalism in Kenya, I have come face-to-face with the impact of FGM on girls and women among various communities that perpetuate the practice.

FGM is believed by some to ‘benefit’ girls and women by ensuring chastity and cleanliness as well as acting as a rite of passage into womanhood. In reality, it is a perpetuation of misogyny and a violent expression of the patriarchy and sexism that lead to the psychological and physical abuse of women.

Without exception, young girls and women carry the economic burden of FGM since the practice denies those affected an opportunity to access education. Lack of education, of course, then limits chances of being economically productive through formal employment. Moreover, lack of education limits the nature of livelihood activities individuals can partake in.

Another issue underpinning the continuation of FGM is the persistent equation of girls and women with commodities. For instance, among the Rendile, Pokot and Maasai communities in Kenya, it is common practice to trade off girls as dowry as way of replacing livestock lost during drought or through rustling. As a result, a girl’s education and future is sacrificed at the expense of her father’s quest for wealth.

By the same token, it is well known that circumcisers, often older ladies, have continued the practice not because of their ‘strong’ belief in the practice but purely as a means of making a living out of innocent girls.  For instance, last year a renowned but reformed ‘cutter’ confessed in an interview with me that she had made a great deal of money out of her business, which she’d practiced for 30 years. She boasted of having built a permanent house – one of the best in the village – with the money she’d made. Unfortunately, her wealth had been accumulated through cutting over 5000 girls, most of whom eventually would have dropped out of school and been married off at a young age.

The practice of FGM even impacts social institutions in practicing communities. Local level authorities charged with the responsibility of arresting FGM perpetrators are routinely bribed. One such revelation came from a Chief I spoke to, who confessed to having made “a few coins” out of the practice. Indeed, it emerged that it is common practice for cutters, parents and community elders to bribe chiefs and police to shield them, especially during the cutting ceremonies.

It has also been widely documented that many perpetrators walk out of cells scot-free for lack of sufficient evidence to support prosecution. In some instances I’ve heard about, politicians have been known to interfere with criminal cases by bribing officials who in turn release the perpetrators by instigating a low cash bail – after which most cases simply fade away.

Sounds like a scheme, right? But it remains the reality for too many women and girls in Kenya and around the world. Women and girls continue to pay the price of FGM. And the price remains way too high.

Girls’ Globe is publishing opinions and ideas on tackling gender-based violence from our global network of bloggers and organizations during each of the 16 Days of Activism. We’re also crowdfunding to be able to continue to raise the voices of girls and young women in 2018 – voices like Lorna’s. Donate today and help us to continue building a safer, more equal world. 

Gender Based Violence: What you need to know

What is Gender Based Violence?

‘Gender-based violence’ and ‘violence against women’ are terms used interchangeably. However, it is important to recognise that men can experience abuse from women, and abuse within same sex relationships happens at similar rates to heterosexual relationships.

That said, it has been widely acknowledged that the majority of people affected by gender-based violence are women and girls. This is due to unequal distribution of power in society between women and men. Women have fewer options and less resources to avoid abusive situations and seek justice. They also face challenges to their sexual and reproductive health, including forced and unwanted pregnancies, sexual assault, unsafe abortions, traumatic fistula, female genital mutilation (FGM), and higher risks of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV.

Youth for Change works in the UK, Tanzania and Bangladesh. We focus on three areas under gender based violence; child/early forced marriage, FGM and sexual consent.

What about Child/Early Forced Marriage and FGM?

Both child/early forced marriage (CEFM) and FGM are forms of gender based violence. They are driven by gender inequality and social expectations of what it means to be a girl. They are means of controlling girls’ sexuality often linked to cultural, religious or traditional social norms.

Some communities believe forced marriage and FGM is a way of providing a safer future for their daughters. In reality they are both violations of girls’ rights which have devastating consequences. Both forced marriage and FGM make girls more likely to drop out of school, face violence, health problems, and experience complications during pregnancy. Neither are religious practices, they are cultural traditions.

Approximately 700 million women alive today were married as children while 200 million women were cut. Both issues are widespread around the world, including  Europe, Africa, Asia and the US.

And what about Sexual Consent?

Educating young people on sexual consent prevents gender based violence. Consent is about communication. And it should happen every time. Giving consent for one activity, one time, does not mean giving consent for increased or recurring sexual contact. Having sex with someone in the past doesn’t give that person permission to have sex with you again in the future. When consent is not given, this leads to sexual assault or rape.

What links these forms of GBV together?

At the heart of consent is the idea that every person has a right to their own body. This basic principle applies to all forms of gender based violence. Including FGM and forced marriage.

What are we doing about it?

As Youth for Change we have been campaigning across the UK, Tanzania and Bangladesh, aiming to end FGM and forced marriage, and to make sure young people know their sexual rights. We look at these issues on a country-by-country basis. As youth activists we focus on the issues in the countries where we live. For example, the Bangladesh youth team focus on child marriage, as it is the most prevalent issue there.

Young people have a crucial role to play in ending gender based violence. We have been raising awareness about the impacts within communities and empowering young people to speak out against it. Working with our governments in each country, we are pushing for stronger policies and systems to prevent gender based violence happening in the first place.

In the UK, where I am an activist, we have a campaign called #TrainToProtect, which calls for compulsory FGM and forced marriage training for teachers across the UK. The new Sexual Relationships Education (SRE) Bill in the UK will see SRE taught to students in all schools. But in order to deliver quality SRE, including on FGM and forced marriage, and to respond to any disclosures from students – teachers must have the necessary training.

Want to help?

For those based in the United Kingdom: teachers and students can take part in our 2 min survey to have your say on SRE education!

For more information or support on any of these issues: 

If you’ve experienced sexual assault, you’re not alone. To speak with someone who is trained to help, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or chat online at online.rainn.org

For detailed guidance on consent visit Consent is Everything

Visit the NHS for detailed information on FGM

Childline information on Forced Marriage

GOV UK guidance on Forced Marriage

Gemma Munday is a member of the Youth for Change youth team, advocating against gender based violence. She also works in communications for youth-led development agency Restless Development. Here she supports young people around to world to capture and share their stories of change. Previously she has worked in UNICEF UK’s media team and was selected as a digital ambassador for UN Women. With a history of working with young people, Gemma has taught in an additional needs school and worked as a mentor for underprivileged youth.

North-South Cooperation in Fighting FGM

In recent years, it has become apparent that international cooperation is important in promoting inclusive and sustainable development, especially to achieve global development agendas. African countries recognize the importance of partnerships for enhancing and consolidating the growth of the continent.

Many African states have benefitted from the traditional North-South cooperation, through sharing experiences, technical assistance, as well as the cooperation of other  emerging economies. It is along such lines that the Anti-FGM campaign has picked up much-necessary momentum after years of lip service.

The campaign against FGM has had a long history, but it has been confined to board rooms and workshops, with few targeted grassroots campaigns. For instance, as recently as 2010, Kenya did not have an official policy addressing FGM and relied upon Presidential decrees. However, with the Anti-FGM policy put in place, in 2011, there has been considerable investment of resources and strategies from the North.

The international immigration crisis brought FGM to the doorstep of the developed north. Waves of migrants from nations that practice FGM began arriving and settling, and brought their deep-rooted cultural practices – such as FGM – with them. While the developed north had been known to condemn the practice in principle, the changing dynamics required a more proactive approach, both at home and abroad.

It is in this context that a new impetus to fund anti-FGM work at the grassroots by organizations based in the north came about.  Notably, in 2015, The Guardian Media UK launched the End FGM Guardian Global Media Campaign in Kenya, The Gambia and Nigeria. The Guardian pioneered identifying and training young activists in the use of new and traditional media to work towards ending FGM.

The use of media has been a powerful tool in influencing perceptions and educating people about the realities of FGM. The media has also broadened the platform, reach and visibility of anti-FGM efforts. The use of activists has built upon young people who are already playing leadership roles and have what it takes to be future opinion leaders in their respective communities.

Similarly, The Girl Generation, an African-led global movement aimed at ending FGM within a generation, focuses on building a critical mass for change which helps unlock regional, national and international commitments to increase resources that can sustain and scale up efforts to end the practice.

Other notable strategies include Alternative Rites of Passage (ARPs) spearheaded by AMREF Health, in Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia. ARPs allow a girl to safely transition to womanhood without undergoing the emotional and physical risk of FGM while preserving a community’s’ culture. ARPs has been adopted by the United Nations as a model of eradicating FGM.

In Djibouti, Mali, Guinea, Senegal, Somalia, The Gambia, and Mauritania, is Tostan – a human rights Community Empowerment Program that allows community members to draw their own conclusions about FGM and lead their own movements for change. The program also focuses on community public declarations which are critical in the process of abandoning the practice, eventually leading FGM to becoming a thing of the past.

Elsewhere, 28TooMany is consistently working on research around Africa where FGM is practiced (28 countries) and across the diaspora. They also advocate for the global eradication of FGM and work closely with other organizations in the violence against women sector. Research and data is a crucial element that guides Anti-FGM strategies and campaigns.

What these efforts have in common is support from the north, with campaigns being led by local activists, many of whom are beginning to gain attention for their efforts in eradicating FGM in their countries.

The North-South cooperation has resulted in accelerated efforts to end FGM – evident in the recent ban of FGM in countries like Nigeria and The Gambia.  A drop in FGM overall in some countries, and public community declarations in others, are tangible results. Intangible results can be seen in increased reportage of FGM cases, a surge in involvement of young people and institutions in Anti-FGM Campaigns, increased awareness, the launch of regional campaigns such as the Saleema Initiative in Sudan, the Not in My Name campaign in Sierra Leone and the He for She campaign worldwide.