Ending Female Genital Mutilation

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With the enforcement of the law against female genital mutilation still in its infancy, Ugo Aliogo writes on the recent resolve by the wives of governors in endemic states to champion the campaign against the menace

 Ayodele Tolulope laid in her mother’s back weeping bitterly. The mother tried to console her, but she will not stop crying. She has been through a harrowing experience which left her bleeding for some minutes. It was very painful for her to bear as a little girl. Tolulope was circumcised according to traditional customs and beliefs. When Tolulope grew into adulthood, she realised that the practice was not healthy for the development of the girl-child and medically it is not recognised.

Today, female circumcision is a growing practice in Nigeria. According to an FGM report, Ekiti state occupies the second position among the six states with the highest prevalence of the menace.

Despite the general consensus that FGM is harmful and needs to be stopped, it remains a major practice in the state with the practitioners hiding under religious and cultural myths to perpetrate the heinous crime. The Ekiti State First Lady, Mrs. Feyisetan Fayose, recently in a document condemned the practice stressing that it was unacceptable. She said there was need for advocacy for elimination of this harmful practice in the state which is seen globally “as a gross violation of the human rights of girls and women.”

The report further stated that available data from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) United Nations Children Education Fund (UNICEF) 2015 revealed that the highest figure of women and girls who have undergone FGM worldwide after Egypt and Ethiopia, translates to about one-quarter of circumcised women worldwide. The report added that Ekiti has a prevalence of 71.2 per cent, which has ‘earned’ the state the second place position.

The Ekiti State First Lady is not only championing the campaign to end the practice in the state, but she is also partnering with the other wives of governors in the six endemic states to end the practice.

Recently, she convened a high level meeting on FGM in Ado-Ekiti, in collaboration with the UNFPA, UNICEF and Action Health Incorporated (AHI).
The meeting was not only aimed at charting a course towards ending the practice, but also to sensitise the citizenry on the evils of the practice and the state governor’s total resolve to stop the practice with the necessary state legislations.

Speaking at the meeting in Ado-Ekiti, Governor Peter Fayose, stated that the administration would provide the necessary support to ensure that the practice was wiped out in the state, and also assured that offenders would be prosecuted with no options of fine.

“We will take the message to the people practicing it and I will ensure that for every address on television, I will speak about the issue.”

In her remark, the First Lady of Ekiti noted that the practice should be of serious concern to the nation and stakeholders, adding that statistics indicates that the Southern zone have higher prevalence rate than the Northern zone of the country.

She added that despite the country’s growth in education and exposure to western culture, more women in the South were still victims of female circumcision, noting that Nigerians were too decent as a people to accept this stigma without a strategy to checkmate the trend and pull ourselves out of this inglorious grouping.”

Fayose further stressed that the high level meetings on FGM/C have been conceived and it was being pursued consistently to address the issue holistically and provide workable solutions, adding that the public should not be too relaxed and expect a smooth sail instead they should envisage a stiff opposition even from the unexpected quarters.

She said: “The traditional cultural practice of female circumcision is generational and has been deeply entrenched in our society to the extent that several people would still not understand why this should be discouraged. In Ekiti State, we are leaving no stone unturned not only to step up awareness on the evils and dangers inherent in the practice, we are also deepening our regular interface with the various bodies and organisations on the effects of the harmful practice.

“These include our esteemed traditional institutions as well as female oriented groups. We have also got the assurances from the state governor for the enforcement of the existing legislations against the practice. I am glad to inform you that we have the political will to prosecute violators of the laws in this regards.

“We are sure that this will put to an end to a large extent those who submit their female wards for the practice and the practitioners in all ramifications. Government organisations at various levels are also being strengthened to be able to deliver on their mandates by providing effective monitoring of the activities of the Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs).

“I call on all stakeholders to further look at ways and means to reduce the prevalence of the practice in the South-west. This would be better achieved by joining forces together and making our zone a ‘no go area’ for glorification of a cultural practice that does not add value to us in any way. I therefore appeal to everyone of goodwill, to join in the crusade and free our society from the pains of a practice that is premised on the ignorance and nurtured by needless agonies for vulnerable female children,” she said.

The UNFPA viewpoint
The Country Representative, UNFPA, Ms. Ratidzai Ndhlovu, commended the wives of governors from the three FGM high burden states in the South-west Region of the country (Osun, Ekiti and Oyo States) for leading and facilitating social mobilisation to end the practice in their states, adding that countries were setting in place actions that would ensure the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), “it is important to note that accelerated action to end FGM/C is a major target for the SDGs, therefore it is a correspondent critical development goal for Nigeria.”

She noted that though there were signs of increasing commitment by communities and governments to eliminate FGM, it was not enough, stressing that FGM was practiced at various scales in many communities in the country despite legislations and policies prohibiting the practice.

Ndhlovu, who was represented at the meeting by Omolaso Omosehin, added that social expectation and motivation for FGM, especially in tightly knit communities was still very high as it exerts tremendous pressure over the lives of women and girls, “who would not be afraid of bareness, segregation, curses or death if one was raised to believe that FGM guarantees fruitfulness, marriage, blessing or long life.”

She further said:“I therefore use this opportunity to call on all political office holders, their wives, legislatures, traditional and religious leaders and other advocates of social change to mobilise coordinated and sustained action against this dangerous practice. We know Ekiti State cannot do it alone, the UNFPA, and UNICEF through the joint programme on FGM is committed to supporting all efforts required to accelerate the abandonment of FGM in our communities.

“We believe that the strong government leadership shown here today is a testimony of the political commitment of the state governor and his wife to the health and wellbeing of the people of the state. Therefore, we believe that the end of the FGM campaign will be successful and make a positive impact in the lives of a generation of girls yet unborn,” she said.

Osun State First Lady’s submission
In her remark, the Osun State First Lady, Mrs. Sherifat Aregbesola, noted that statistics from UNFPA and UNICEF baseline studies have shown Osun at the top of the prevalence ladder, followed by Ekiti, Oyo and Lagos States in that order, stressing that the effects have been discovered to be extremely injurious and damaging in many aspects.

She added: “FGM physically damages the girls when they are young and the negative impacts stretch to the entire life of the victims. This is why the collaboration among our states is a welcome development. I am confident that the technical resource persons here would give us more details about the dangers that FGM constitute to the victims and to our society.

“Many girls are being subjected to this life-long horror. We cannot continue with this practice, therefore we should seek better and healthier life for our people, given the established knowledge that there is no health benefit accruing from the practice of FGM. We have a duty, as parents, friends, relatives, guardians and leaders in our communities, to ensure that we stop this practice. The time to stop is now.

“In our drive at ensuring this stoppage, there may be need to upgrade the legal and judicial systems in our various states to make it difficult for any practitioner of FGM to get away with this crime. We need to emphasise the criminal nature of this practice following the coming into effect the law on Violence Against Persons.

“Also, we should consider inculcating the issue of FGM in school curriculum across our states. This will enable our children to be properly sensitised and be made aware of the scope of the dangers that FGM constitute and the need to eradicate it completely. This is one way of ensuring that those being born now and those yet to be born would be saved from this horror. For us in Osun, we have commenced intensive sensitisation on it,” she added.