IYD: Why teaching about FGM means learning about body autonomy

 All children have the right to know about their own bodies. All children have the right to have control over their bodies. And all children have the right to know these rights in the first place.

Teaching young people about FGM helps build their understanding of the rights they have over their bodies in two ways – firstly, they have an increased awareness of their rights if they were ever at risk of FGM. And secondly, understanding the reasons behind FGM helps young people to know about their rights when it comes to forming relationships and everyday life.  

Protecting girls at risk

FGM at its roots is a violation of body autonomy. Girls lose control over what happens to their body and the possible harmful consequences as they are unable to consent to the act being performed. When a girl as young as 5 has been cut without any consent being given, she no longer has control over her own body, she is not in a position to decide what happens to her body.  The lack of consent in this situation has extremely dire consequences as girls can suffer with potentially severe physical and mental health implications including severe pain, childbirth complications and psychological trauma. This is a clear disregard for their basic human right to good quality health. 137,000 girls are affected by FGM in England and Wales – by teaching young people about the rights they have over their bodies and how FGM violates these rights, there is potential to protect hundreds if not thousands of girls.

Body autonomy and healthy relationships

Teaching children about FGM not only helps to protect those at risk but also all young people across the country. The reasons used to justify FGM are rooted in ideals of gender inequality and the belief that women are somehow inferior to men – control of sexuality, creating pleasure for their male counterparts. These issues are not just relevant to FGM; they are sadly prevalent in relationships that many young people find themselves in. It is not uncommon to hear of girls being forced into sexual acts because they feel the pressure to please their boyfriend, or that young women are being controlled by their partners in terms of who they see and what they wear. This loss of control over one’s body underpins the practice of FGM and by teaching children about it, they are better equipped to recognise when they find themselves in these potentially harmful situations.  When young people know that their body is theirs and no one else’s, only then can they sustain healthy and safe relationships.

Reaching every single young person

Now that Sex and Relationships Education is set to become compulsory in England and Wales there is a perfect opportunity to ensure that all young people across the country are more informed and empowered about their rights through the teaching of FGM. That is why Youth for Change UK are asking for FGM to be included as part of the guidance on SRE. Not only does every child have the right to control their bodies, they have the right to be taught about it. If you are a teacher or young person and want your voice to be heard in the consultations, take our survey so we can hear your opinion.

Teacher Survey - https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/26B3NF7

Student Survey - https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/2ZVHMFT