Can these innocent girls escape genital mutilation?

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is an age-long traditional practice in Nigeria which people have continued to indulge in. Studies have revealed that the practice is unhealthy and a violation of human rights. Ugo Aliogo examines efforts made to eradicate the practice

Ngozi Edet is a woman in her late thirties and a strong advocate of women rights. She decided to fight for the cause because of a very gruesome experience she faced in infancy. One month after her birth she was circumcised in a very painful ordeal which created bitter memories.

Edet is not the only woman who has gone through this excruciating experience. More girls are still being circumcised in many parts of Nigeria and Africa, despite concerted efforts by women right groups and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) to fully eradicate this harmful practice.

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) as defined by the World Health Organisations (WHO) involves the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. It is also sometimes referred to as female genital cutting or female circumcision. There are no health benefits to FGM and it is recognised internationally as a human rights violation.

Divergent Views
Two schools of thoughts exist concerning the issue. The first school of thought argues that when FGM is carried out on a girl, it will help reduce the chances of promiscuity in the individual; thereby giving her a sense of discipline and self-control amongst the male folks. Proponents of this school of thought contend that the tradition of female circumcision originated from their forebears; therefore it is not erroneous and should not be jettisoned on the altar of Western culture.

The other school of thought contends that the practice is crude, excruciating and a violation of human rights. The proponents however argue that it is not beneficial to the individual concerned because there are no health benefits, therefore the practice should be totally eradicated. Members of this school of thought have constantly been on the forefront to stop the practice through campaigns, rallies, and enlightenment workshops.

Vital Discourse
At a recent forum on FGM organised by the wife of the Oyo State Governor, Mrs. Florence Ajimobi, in conjunction with Action Health Incorporated (AHI) and United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA), the issue of female circumcision was once again brought to the front-burner.
This time the discourse was aimed at empowering stakeholders and the public with relevant information about the practice, examining efforts made by various groups, NGOs, and wives of the state governors (Imo, Ekiti, and Osun) in eradicating the practice and the way forward.

Executive Concern
Speaking at the forum, the Governor of Oyo state, Sen. Abiola Ajimobi, said the administration is highly committed to tackling the issue, noting that the state would not hesitate to bring the full force of the law to bear on anyone found guilty of any acts of mutilation, harmful traditional practice or act of violence.

Ajimobi stressed that the elimination of FGM is a specific target under Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adding that his government would ensure that all the requisite laws and policies are put in place and enforced in order to achieve this goal.

He explained that the FGM was outlawed by the United Nations in 2012, and by the virtue of the Violence Against Persons Act 2015 signed into law during the last administration, it has become a punishable offence in the country along with other harmful traditional practices. “There is an existing legal structure to lend credence to this call for the elimination of FGM in Nigeria,” he added.

Ajimobi added: “According to a UN report, Nigeria has the highest number of FGM cases in the world. This accounts for about a quarter of the 125 million cases identified worldwide. It is sad to note that Oyo state is one of the five states with the highest number of FGM cases. This indeed calls for sober reflection on our part.

“Let me state here that even though the legal framework has been put in place to fight this menace, we must now support it with deliberate action by seriously advocating for a culture shift. Community leaders have a role to play in bringing this issue to its knees.

“We must also take note that while advocating for a culture shift, the advocates of this gruesome act must also have a rethink and a mind reset in order for the laws passed to become effective. They must have a change in attitude stemming from a personal conviction of the incalculable harm that is done to victims of these acts of mutilation.”

Also speaking, the wife of the state governor, Mrs. Florence Ajimobi, stated that the society is faced with the horrific effects of what was once regarded as cultural pride, adding that the forum was an opportunity to chart the way forward on how to stem this evil tide and achieve zero level of FGM in the state.

She explained that the issue has become very vital due to the frightening statistics which showed that in spite of the campaigns over the years to end the practice, “Oyo state ranks third among states in Nigeria that have the highest prevalence of this evil phenomenon behind Osun, Ekiti and ahead of Ebonyi, Imo and Lagos.”

In order to generate an accelerated state, community response and in furtherance of one of the specific targets of Goal 5 of the SDGs, which is to end the practice by 2030, she stressed that her office, “in collaboration with the Access to Basic (medical) Care Foundation (ABC), AHI, the UNFPA, relevant state Ministries, Parastatals and stakeholders including traditional rulers, have taken the fight against FGM in the State and the forum will enable them develop a blueprint follow in achieving this objective.”

In her address, Ekiti state’s First Lady, Mrs. Feyisetan Fayose, noted that according to available date, 32 per cent of urban women in Nigeria are circumcised, compared with the 19 per cent of rural women, adding that there are also urban-rural differences in the proportion of women who had cutting with the flesh removed (65 and 60 per cent respectively).
She further stated that more women in the Southern zones (South-west, South-south and South-east zones) are more circumcised than those in the northern zones, stressing that Osun has the highest prevalence of the circumcised women (77 per cent) followed by Ebonyi (74 per cent) while the South-west geopolitical zone of which Ekiti is grouped under, accounts for 56.9 per cent of the prevalence rate in Nigeria.

Ekiti state government has keyed into the national policy on FGM/C adopted by the federal Ministry of Health in 2002 by enacting the female Circumcision (Prohibition) law 2002 that criminalised the practice in section 3 and prescribes penalties against the practice.

UNFPA Contribution
The Assistant Representative of the UNFPA, Mr. Osaretin Adonri, said Nigeria has the third highest number of women who have undergone FGM/C worldwide (after Egypt and Ethiopia) adding that if significant progress towards the eradication of FGM/C is achieved in Oyo state, the impact would be felt nationwide and globally.

He stressed that adoption of a consensus of the UN General Assembly resolution on intensifying global efforts for the elimination of FGM in December 2012, is a testimony of the commitment by all countries to end this harmful practice.

Adonri added: “The 2nd phase of the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme to end FGM/C commenced in 2015, and it is aimed at advocating for the legislative and policy change towards FGM/C, supporting grassroots campaigns that can change the social norms towards FGM/C as well as conduct studies to understand the nature, types of social norms and the effects of social motivation of families and communities on the FGM in six representative states (Osun, Ekiti, Oyo, Imo and Lagos).”

QUOTE
“According to a UN report, Nigeria has the highest number of female genital mutilation (FGM) cases in the world. This accounts for about a quarter of the 125 million cases identified worldwide”