One would have thought that this ancient tradition is no longer in practice, sadly, many parents – even 21st parents are still found involved in this mundane act. I would not have given it a thought that a mother in her late twenties could subject her daughter to the pains and agony of circumcisions. I thought we are the change the country is waiting for, maybe I went overboard with my assumptions.
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), involves processes that employ partial or total removal of the external female genitals for non-medical reasons. This practice was a family tradition that young girls of the age 0-15 had to go through and is mostly carried out by traditional circumcisers. FGM entails procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genitals.
This practice violates a person’s rights to health, security, life when the procedures end in death. Victims of FGM have to go through severe pains, degrading treatments; this act is inhuman and barbaric, it should not be allowed to tarry longer in the country and continent.
According to World Health Organisation (WHO), 25 percent of the 140 million girls and women who have experienced FGM worldwide are in Nigeria. The Organisation also reported that 101 million girls of age 10 and above have experienced this menace in Africa, sadly, Nigeria contributes about 41 percent to the statistic. However, with all these worrisome statistics; there is a relief hanging somewhere in the air. On February 6, 2019, UNICEF reported that over 309 communities in Nigeria have publicly declared their abandonment of FGM. Also, the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) revealed a decline in the practices of this archaic tradition. The survey reported that 18.4 percent of women aged 15-49 experience FGM as against the 27 percent in 2011. The country is making progress, nonetheless, there are still some states that the practice is prevalent. More efforts to eradicate this act must be geared up.
According to WHO and other international agencies advocating zero tolerance to FGM, below are the various types practice by perpetrators:
- Type 1: This is often referred to as Cliforidectomy. It is the partial or total removal of the clitoris (a small sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals) and in very rare cases, only the prepuce (the fold of skin around the Clitoris).
- Type 2: This is often referred to as excision. It is the partial or total removal of the Clitoris and Labia Minora (the inner folds of the vulva) with it without excision of the Labia Majora (the outer folds of the skin of the vulva).
- Type 3: It is often referred to as infibulation, the narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the Labia Minora or Labia Majora, sometimes through stitching with it without removal of the Clitoris (Clitoridectomy).
- Type 4: This includes all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes e.g. pricking, piercing, incision, scraping the genital area.
In addition to the aforementioned types of FGM, recent report from UNICEF revealed that a new trend of FGM has emerged. The practice is gradually moving beyond obvious cutting to use of warm water to press the epiglottis of the new born babies till it becomes non-sensitive. As rigorous fight against cutting is ongoing, new style is emerging. When will this terror to womanhood be over?
Misconceptions About FGM
This practice has its depth and root in culture and beliefs, so, objecting to it is like fighting the norms which are perceived ‘sacred’. FGM is a social norm accompanied by social pressure to conform to what the traditions and culture demands. The belief that this practice leads to the family being recognised and not rejected by the community bring strong ‘ginger’ to engage in the practice.
This practice is often considered as a necessity to raise a modest girl-child and ensure fidelity when she marries. Many mothers see cutting as the best way to keep their girls from sexual escapades.
In many part of the country where this irksome practice is ‘glorified’, they view it as a way to prepare the girl-child for adulthood and marriage. Unfortunately, the practice not only prepares her for adulthood and marriage, it also launched her into the realms of social and severe medical implications; how safe can her future be, then?
Another misconception about this practice is the increase in marriageability and that girls are clean and more beautiful after the removal of body parts considered unclean.
These and more are the archaic beliefs passed from generation to generation and have refused to pass away unless we enforce its demise. It is sad, this practice continues to the detriments of its victims.
Social And Health Implications Of FGM
This menace has no health benefits and harms girls and women in diverse ways. It largely entails removing and damaging healthy and normal female genitals tissues and interferes with the natural functions of the victim’s bodies. It can lead to various health, social and psychological implications. Victims of FGM could experience psychological trauma such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, denomination of self-worth, anxiety.
The practice is mostly carried out by traditional circumcisers without proper knowledge of human anatomy and medicine which can result into severe bleeding, problems urinating, menstrual problems infections and increase the risks of obstetric complications which include risk of difficult child birth, experience a Caesarean section.
It can also lead to vaginal problems such as itching, discharge, bacterial vaginosis and the vagina infections. The victims of this practice might have to endure scar tissue, genitals tissue swelling due to inflammatory response. sexual problems (pains during intercourse, decreased satisfaction) fever, keloids, shock and in worst scenarios death.
The quick and fast way to walk out of this malady is to make laws that put perpetrators to justice. However, it that enough?
Laws without full and strategic implementation won’t eradicate FGM. Although, it is important to make laws in order to put a sense of sanity in parents and practitioners.
The former president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, signed the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act into law in 2015. Since 2015, only 9 states in the country have enforced it. Nonetheless, offenders are yet to be ‘brought to book’ even in those states. To make the law an implementable one, the Ministry of Health at the state, federal levels and other health agencies should engage in awareness on the health and social implications of this practice. These agencies have to create means to properly educated families, women and girls on the adverse effect of FGM. Also, enforcement agencies should actively contribute to the success story by ensuring offenders are persecuted.
More so, there should be greater involvement of communities to eradicate FGM. Researches have revealed that if communities who actively practice FGM are involved in the eradication process, the goal of ending FGM in 2030 could be actualised. Sensitizing and involving village heads, kings, Chiefs, parents in the rural and urban areas is a big bite to eradicate the practice of FGM in the country.
The government should also strengthen the health sector via trainings, provision of tools and in-depth research sponsorship which will build more knowledge about the adverse effect of FGM, how to work towards total elimination and cares for the victims.
In conclusion, experiencing Female Genitals Mutilations is not a palatable story to tell, it drains out the right to woman hood. This practice is a terror to vigorously fight against to ensure the girl-child has a safe trip to womanhood and motherhood. Together will can end this archaic tradition.
I stand for zero tolerance for Female Genital Mutilations!
Lipede Omolola is a post-graduate student of University of Ibadan.