Today is the international day of zero tolerance to female genital mutilation (FGM). Globally, it is estimated that at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone some form of FGM. If current trends continue, 15 million additional girls between ages 15 and 19 will be subjected to the practice by 2030. No matter which way you look at it, FGM is a blatant violation of the human rights of girls and women.
The new Sustainable Development Agenda has a target dedicated to eliminating ‘harmful practices’ standing in the way of Gender Equality and women’s Empowerment (SDG 5), which includes child marriage and female genital mutilation. In some countries the practice is still happening with huge frequency. A staggering 98% of girls aged 15-49 years in Somalia have been subject to the abuse, as have 97% in Guinea and 93% in Djibouti.
Our latest 2016 GEM Report took pains to show the vast and beneficial impacts that education can have on all of the other SDGs, including on social development outcomes such as SDG5 on gender equality.
By imparting core skills such as literacy, education facilitates women’s access to information about social and legal rights and welfare services. Learning to read and write helps women be more confident in identifying and challenging inequality, unjust traditions, and norms and practices that perpetuate their low status. For instance, low levels of education are a significant risk factor in perpetuating and experiencing intimate partner violence.
In most countries with data, evidence shows that women with secondary and tertiary education are less likely to have undergone female genital mutilation. In Sierra Leone, where the photos in this blog were taken, 97% of girls and women who have no education have undergone FGM, compared to 66% of women with tertiary education. In Kenya, women with no education are four times more likely than those with secondary education to have undergone FGM, and more than seven times as likely as those with tertiary.
Education, clearly, is helping to empower women to fight for their rights.
As the photos demonstrate, education can happen outside of the classroom as well, in the form of community meetings, and informal education. However, formal education is vital as well, helping to bust assumptions in the classroom with children of an early age, challenging harmful traditions through learning materials and carefully trained teachers. Engaging with men and boys, as we will be showing in a policy paper in the summer, is essential for such societal changes. Educating just one part of society won’t overhaul long-held beliefs. Lifelong learning, therefore, is not just complementary to an education system; in this case, it is the key.
What is ‘gender equality in education’?
It may seem incongruous that an education report focuses on the varied and multiple manifestations of gender inequality. Our Gender Review, out last October, however, tackled the full range of issues that we will be measuring to decide whether and how progress is happening in gender equality in education. And these we believe must include looking at the agency and empowerment of girls and women.
Indicators – or measurement tools – then, we think are required in six domains: a) monitoring of gender norms, values and attitudes, such as FGM and domestic violence as well as b) improved access to educational opportunities. Also crucial is c) the promotion of gender equality by institutions outside the education system, through d) laws and policies in education systems, e) targeted resource distribution and f) better teaching and learning practice. Strong advocacy is needed for a measurement framework and a set of indicators that can track gender equality across all six domains.