Still on female genital mutilation

What could have been the driving force behind the perpetuation of female genital mutilation (FGM) in the society? ELEOJO IDACHABA in this report seeks to know.

When everyone thought that as a result of the influence of civilisation, the scourge of female genital mutilation, abbreviated to FGM, was gone for good, recent developments have shown that the practice is far from being discarded, rather, due to inexplicable reasons, many communities have continued to indulge in it.

For instance, just last week, the lawmaker representing Ekiti South in the Senate, Biodun Olujinmi, raised the alarm when she said over one million girls and women were still at the risk of genital mutilation.

She raised the alarm in a statement she released to mark the International Day on Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation. In the statement, she equally demanded for a legislative enforcement that would protect the rights of women and girls in the country.

According to her, “Official statistics notes that there is still high prevalence rate of female genital mutilation in Nigeria, with reports indicating that people now even resort to seeking the services of health professionals as opposed to traditional practitioners.

“Whichever practitioners chosen do not alter the fact that this practice portends danger with life-lasting, mental and physical damage. It constitutes an impediment to a fulfilling life and barrier to emotional stability. Therefore, it is imperative that sensitisation and public awareness of this grievous harm to the bodies of girls and women must be done. The myth around this practice of being beneficial must be dismantled once and for all. It is a health risk and damaging socio-cultural norm and must be denounced as such. Undoubtedly, there are millions of girls and women who are still at risk and this is why it behooves us all to speak out against this violation of right.”

She further urged stakeholders like traditional rulers, faith-based organisations and non-governmental organisations to step up campaigns to end the mutilation of the girls and women in Nigeria under the guise of cultural practice.

The Ebonyi undergraduates’ case

In the same way, Blueprint Weekend gathered that two undergraduate students of Ebonyi State University (EBSU) are currently battling to save their lives at the National Obstetrics Fistula Centre (NOFIC) in Abakaliki after being forced to undergo FGM. This is also as three persons including a patent medicine dealer and parents of a girl have been arrested in Ukwuagba, Ngbo community in Ohaukwu local government area of the state for mutilating a 16-year-old girl, Charity, who a report indicated that doctors are battling to save her life.

Those arrested, according to reports, are Mrs. Onwe Oluchi, the patent medicine dealer; Mr. Agbo Ekpa, Charity’s father, and her mother, Mary.

They were arrested following a petition by the legal department of the state branch of the National Orientation Agency (NOA). The head of the legal department of the agency, Barrister Theresa Ama, had petitioned the state commissioner of police, Awosola Awotinde, after receiving report from a traditional ruler in Ohaukwu local government area about the girl who was mutilated.

The state’s Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) law stipulates four years imprisonment with or without an option of N200, 000 against perpetrators of FGM, if convicted.

Eyewitness account

Speaking on the prevalence of the practice in his community in Cross River state, Mr. Ben Adoga, an Abuja-based journalist, told this reporter that presently almost every grown-up woman above the age of 40 years in his community is a victim of the practice. He said, “Quantifying the extent of female genital mutilation in my part of Cross River state, especially Yala local government area at the moment, I can say while I was growing up, every female was cut, but things would have changed tremendously now. Then, the practice was 100 per cent. All the females in our time were cut. Not just in Yala, but in all surrounding communities of then Ogoja local government.

“Then, our tribe used to stigmatise the Tiv of Benue state, our neighbours, because they were not known to practise female genital mutilation which was politely called female circumcision then. We were told not to marry their women as they were not cut.”

Continuing, he said, “The wrong impression given was that if a woman is not circumcised, the clitoris would prevent safe child birth. It was a strong myth and all women and mothers presented their daughters to be mutilated just before puberty.

“I noticed that some of my cousins bled profusely and wept, but were told to be strong as it was necessary for womanhood. One thing I realised was that only men did the cutting using a crude sharp implement. As a child, we knew that it was painful because the girls were grown up to puberty. Later razor blades were used. Initially, learning to use the blades resulted in deep cuts and more bleeding.”

Investigations have revealed that almost every state in Nigeria practises FGM. As according to the statistics released by NDHS, a female health monitor in 2018, Nigerian women between the ages of 15 and 49 years have experienced FGM. Only few states, for instance, do not practise it. A state-by-state statistics reveals that Imo has the highest prevalence rate of 61.7 per cent followed by Ekiti with 57.9 per cent. Ebonyi has 53.2 per cent, Kaduna has 48.8 per cent, Kwara has 46 per cent, Osun has 45.9 per cent, Ondo and Edo have 43.7 and 35.5 per cent, respectively. According to the study, Adamawa and Gombe have zero per cent prevalence while Kogi has one per cent, Kebbi 1.6 per cent and Katsina with 1.4 per cent.

Studies show further that in Nigeria, of the six largest ethnic groups, the Yoruba, Hausa, Fulani, Ibo, Ijaw, and Kanuri, only the Fulani do not practise any form of female genital mutilation, otherwise other every other tribe is guilty.

Any justification?

Speaking on the development, a female gender and human rights activist, Dorothy Njemanze, told Blueprint Weekend that there is no justification for anyone to glamourise the mutilation of a fellow human body under the guise of any culture.

“Female genital mutilation has nothing to do with any culture. Anything that ends up violating the rights of anyone’s body cannot be said to be a culture, tradition or even religion. If there is anything like that, it is barbaric and the notion should be discarded immediately. Whatever is to be known as a peoples religion or culture should be something that contributes to the welfare of the people otherwise it should be discarded.

“To that extent, FGM is a crime against the female gender. I will liken it to certain harmful traditional practices that are often carried out on widows. The Violence against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) law makes it very clear that FGM is a crime and has defined penalties in Nigeria. Whatever practices that breach bodily anatomy and its integrity should be abolished except the culprits want to risk 4-year jail term or N200, 000 as stipulated in the VAPP law,” she said.

Speaking further, she said, “Reasonably, there are to some extents a social stigma associated with FGM, especially when people equate it with the notion that victims do not enjoy sex after marriage. There is also the stigma of incompleteness in the victim just because the society perceives it so.”

Talking about the pains associated with the practice, Njemanze said there is absolutely no joy in being circumcised as some persons perceive it. “For me, it is akin to asking if there is any satisfaction in chopping off someone’s fingers. There is no joy in it because every part of the human body is designed to fulfill certain functions; therefore, it should be left like that.”

‘It’s rape of self-esteem’

Speaking in the same vein, a film producer and social media campaigner against  FGM, Priye Diri, said there is no reason a girl-child should be circumcised.

She said, “All these things boil down to one thing; it is the fact that there is an erroneous impression that a woman’s body is something that can be controlled by men otherwise why should that harmful practice be embarked on? FGM deprives girls and women the right to form their own opinion about their lives.

“I believe that girls should be allowed to grow the way they are created to be. Many victims do not wish to share their experiences openly because of the social stigma attached to it. There are harmful effects like painful menstruation and even cases of death attached to some instances, complications in child birth and other health-related problems.

“We even have a case of death because the vagina was sown together. Over 20 million women have been mutilated so far. This is a female violation in its entire ramification. I worked strongly on the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act; sadly, it has not been domesticated in many states in Nigeria except in 10 states.”

According to the Annals of Medical and Health Sciences Research, “FGM is recognised worldwide as a fundamental violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. It involves violation of rights of the children and violation of a person’s right to health, security, and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment and the right to life when the procedure results in death. Furthermore, girls usually undergo the practice without their informed consent, thereby depriving them of the opportunity to make independent decision about their bodies.”

It noted that in Nigeria, certain socio-cultural factors are responsible for this avoidable practice which it said is still deeply entrenched in the Nigerian society where critical decision makers are grandmothers, mothers, women, opinion leaders, men and age groups.

According to the medical journal, it is true that tradition and culture are important aspects of any society in helping to mold the views and behavioural patterns of the society; some traditions and cultural beliefs and practices like FGM are harmful and must be abolished.

“There is a need for legislation in Nigeria with health education and female emancipation in the society. The process of social change in the community with a collective, coordinated agreement to abandon the practice should be encouraged.”

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