TWEET CONFERENCE SCRIPT: Girl-Child Education; a Key Strategy for ending FGM – 11.10.2018.

Today is October 11, The International Day of the Girl Child; celebrated annually since 2012.

Interestingly, this all important day is set aside yearly to promote girl’s empowerment and fulfillment of their human rights while also highlighting the challenges that girls all over the world face.

No doubt, some level of progress has been made in promoting the health and welfare of the girl-child in recent times. However so much still needs to be done especially in the areas of FGM elimination.

It is worrisome to note that as we speak, at least 200 million girls and women have experienced FGM in 30 countries across three continents of the world. Also disturbing is the recent estimate by UNICEF that unless the current trends are reversed, some 30 million more women and girls could be cut in the next 10 years. Very pathetic projection!

On this note, I welcome you to our weekly twitter conference. I am @Charles_Clever your anchor for today. With me also is my co-anchor @oloridaco1. We are glad to have you joining us.

As we mark this year’s ‘’International Day of the Girl Child’’ today, our focus in this conference is on “Girl-Child Education; a Key Strategy for ending FGM

In case you are joining us for the first time, FGM stands for ‘’Female Genital Mutilation”. FGM refers to any procedure that involves “partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or any other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” There are different forms of FGM, some of which involve more radical excisions in the genital area than others.

FGM has 4 types, Clitoridectomy; Excision; Infibulation; & Unclassified (e.g. “pressing” the clitoris with hot water). Female genital mutilation is a social norm. It is also a deeply entrenched cultural practice with some religious undertones.

In many quarters, FGM is often considered a coming-of-age rite of passage and is therefore performed near the start of puberty. In some other quarters FGM is performed on the girl-child at any moment ranging from 8 days after birth to about 6 years of age.

Studies have revealed that in many places where FGM is practiced, it’s believed to make girls cleaner, to improve marriage prospects, to preserve virginity and also has religious undertones.

At any rate, the practice of FGM has no health benefit for girls or women and possible medical complications includes but not limited to: severe bleeding, cysts, infections, difficulty urinating, issues with childbirth and even death.

In many contexts however, these social norms upholding the practice of FGM are so powerful that families have their daughters cut even when they are aware of the long-term physical harm it can cause.

As we celebrate this year’s ‘’International Day of the Girl Child’’, the big question before us today is: Can girl-child education in any way accelerate the actualization of an FGM-free society? If yes, how?

In 2017, in Izzi clan, Ebonyi State Nigeria, some girls who were previously educated about the dangers of FGM in school were to be mutilated by their parents at home.

On remembering the dangers of FGM which they have been educated about the girls resisted undergoing the harmful practice to the extent of fleeing from home when the pressure became intense.

Fortunately these three girls were rescued by the Ebonyi State chapter of ‘Child Protection Network’ an Initiative of UNICEF_Nigeria.

Upon their rescue, the agency swung into action and kick-started series of community dialogue with various stakeholders including the traditional rulers and custodians of culture in Izzi clan.

The good news was that at the end of the dialogues, Izzi clan consisting of 26 communities across 3 LGAs in Ebonyi State (Izzi, Ebonyi and Abakaliki) came out publicly to declare an abandonment of FGM from their land.

What triggered these series of events that led to this success in Izzi clan? It was the education (empowerment) of the girl-child which we seek to protect. FGM is an infringement on a child’s basic human right and educating the girl-child empowers her to speak out when her rights are being infringed on.

Girl-child education also equips her with the right information with which to protect her children sometimes in the future when she finally becomes a mother.

An African proverb says, “If we educate a boy, we educate one person; if we educate a girl, we educate a family and a whole nation.”  An empowered woman is full of great potentials, strength, courage and knowledge which she passes down to her child and the society.

In places where the prevalence of FGM has reduced, experiences reveal that such reduction was largely due to increased education, female economic empowerment and the introduction of so-called ‘alternative rites of passage’. ‘Alternative rites of passage’ is a concept which seeks to replace FGM with rituals that retain the cultural significance of a coming-of-age ceremony without physically harming the young women involved.

Increasing access to education is a key strategy towards promoting the health and welfare of children. This is because educated girls are more likely to voice out when their rights are being infringed on. Also, the educated girl will someday become a mother and educated women are less likely to allow their daughters to be cut.

Educating girls and women in cutting communities can help question the rationale behind these archaic traditions and reinforce the arguments against them, especially when talking to men. Although experience and studies have shown that education of the girl-child can help to eliminate FGM. It is sad to note that roughly a quarter of young people – most of them female – are currently not in school, employed or in training.

Also worrisome is the fact that in the sub-Saharan Africa where the budden of FGM is very high, about 45 million girls of primary and secondary school age are not going to school.

This year’s theme of ‘The International Day of the Girl-child’ which is “With Her: A Skilled GirlForce” is timely.

To develop A Skilled GirlForce and increase the capacity of the girl-child to defend her rights, the global community should: Rapidly expand access to inclusive education and training. There is need for inclusive and accessible schools, training and learning opportunities to empower the girl-child, including girls with disabilities. We need to break all gender stereotypes, social norms (including FGM) and unconscious bias to provide girls with the same learning and career opportunities as boys.

Since 2012, amongst the issues focused on by the International Day of the Girl Child are education, equality, child marriage, access to services regarding puberty and sexual health and addressing issues around gender-based violence.

It is highly commendable, the fact that UNICEF in a bid to address this problem is working with the Ministry of Education to mainstream end FGM education into normal students learning curricula. In that way FGM will be taught in school as part of compulsory sex and relationship education.

Educating girls can also give them the freedom to make decisions to improve their lives, which has deep social implications.

Giving girls access to schooling is a central part of eradicating FGM and studies reveal that in most countries, women with higher levels of education are less likely to have undergone FGM.

By imparting literacy, education also facilitates women’s access to information about social and legal rights and welfare services. Learning to read and write can bring greater confidence and capacity to identify and challenge inequality throughout the society.

So what action needs to be taken? Increase girls’ access to education, since educated women are less likely to allow their daughters to be subjected to FGM (Nigeria Demographic Health Survey, NDHS 2013). Offering girls basic education is one sure way of giving them much greater power of enabling them to make genuine choices over the kinds of lives they wish to lead.

 Educating the girl child is not a luxury. It is a basic human right!

Basic education should be free or cost very little. Where possible, there should be scholarships to encourage families to send their female children to school.

Learning materials should be relevant to the girl’s background and if possible be in the local language. Reproducing gender stereotypes should also be avoided.

Target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goal 5 for gender equality calls for eliminating FGM. Achieving this target will require concerted efforts, and girl-child education remains a major strategy that can accelerate this campaign.

Going forward, FGM interventions need to have a comprehensive approach, whereby prevention, protection, but also prosecution, when needed, and provision of services for those already excised, are to be included.

Therefore, it is essential that different stakeholders such as policy makers, CSOs, religious leaders, as well as health professionals work together towards ending FGM.

FGM fundamentally remains prevalent in societies with often pronounced gender inequalities and power imbalances and cannot be ended without ensuring women’s empowerment. Again, education has a critical role to play in this respect.

The connection between ending FGM and education of the girl-child is twofold: education and awareness about the practice and its risks and general educational attainment. Teaching young girls and women about the dangers of FGM is a powerful tool in changing public opinion and reversing the trend.

The International Center for Research on Women  reported that, while more research needs to be done, “emerging evidence illustrates that basic education can be an effective instrument for abandoning the practice of FGM.”

Education exposes students, male and female, to a variety of competing ideas and concepts and a broader worldview.

This allows them to make more informed decisions regarding their own reproductive health and agency. UNICEF’s education initiatives with local governments – such as their support of mobile schools and boarding schools, improved sanitation facilities and better quality curriculums – all contribute to ending the practice of female genital mutilation.

Under the theme, With Her: A Skilled GirlForce, this year’s International Day of the Girl marks the beginning of a year-long effort to advocate for, and draw attention and investments to, the most pressing needs and opportunities for girls to attain skills for employability.

It is however important to reiterate that girls’ full participation in the future workforce requires tackling gender stereotypes such as FGM and addressing the many systemic barriers to decent work they face.

  • Girl-child education is very necessary and an issue that cannot be overemphasised.
  • As we continue to intensify efforts towards the actualization of an FGM-free society, let’s remember that an educated girl-child is more likely to speak out when about being subjected to this harmful practice.
  • The experience in Izzi clan, Ebonyi State Nigeria, supports this assertion that once a girl is educated about FGM, she will be able to assert her rights and resist any attempt to subject her to FGM.
  • If educated, a girl-child which will eventually become a mother someday is also less likely to allow her female children undergo the practice in the future.

Thanks for being part of our conversations today. Join us every other Thursday 5-7pm. Visit our website and kindly follow the handle “Endcuttinggirls Nigeria’’ on all social media platforms.

It’s time to hear and respond to your questions and/or opinions based on the conference. Keep them coming.

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