In line with concerted efforts to end the practice of female genital mutilation in Nigeria, Action Health Incorporated has continued to push the boundaries in the fight to end the practice. Ugo Aliogo and Kehinde Lawal report
When Mrs. Adenike Essiet walked unto the podium to deliver the opening address, she was filled with smiles and brimming with confidence. She has a personality that is endearing and commands respect. For more than two decades, she has continued to lend her voice to the issue of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). She has remained on this path unshaken, cutting through the numerous road blocks to ensure that the fight against FGM receives the needed support. As an advocate of social change, Essiet has used Action Health Incorporated (AHI), a non-governmental organisation (NGO) where she doubles as the co-founder and Executive Director to promote young peopleâ€™s health and development to ensure their successful transition to productive adulthood.
The 2017 Teenage Festival of Light (TFL) with theme: â€˜End FGMâ€™ meant so much to her because of her desire to impact the lives of these young people. The focus of AHI on TFL is to help the children understand why they should be at the forefront in the fight to eradicate the practice. Through the event, the children are able to go through a mental shift in their perception of FGM especially one that would spark up change. The event was held recently at the Main Auditorium of the University of Lagos.
She began her presentation, not ready to go through the usual formality, but to hit the nail on the head. She began on a note of admonition to the children gathered in the hall. She advised them to take a stand against the issue of FGM. She argued that FGM is an issue that every young person should be concerned about and make frantic efforts to eradicate.
She remarked that the focus is not always on the theme; rather it is an opportunity to go through a process where young people address the theme that has been chosen, using all kinds of art mediums such as songs, drama, and poetry, to lend their voices about an issue that is very important. She also stated that that affects the well-being of both gender.
Essiet said: â€œThis year we have had the distinct privilege of going through a process which gives me the opportunity going through the type of script that young people have developed in the TFL process. It is truly amazing. Your voices are important and together we will bring an end to this horrific practice. If your school didnâ€™t get to the final stage, it means they should work harder for next year.
â€œSome of the scripts that I have seen are absolutely on point in terms of the issues we need to be addressing. It is important to understand that just listening is not enough, but your speaking up against it will bring it to an end. Government has passed a law prohibiting violence against persons in Nigeria. In our communities, we will be the loud voices screaming out to say No. I would like to appreciate the United Nations Population Fund Agency (UNFPA) for their immense contributions to the 2017 TFL. Their contribution was very integral to the success of the TFL.â€
In his goodwill message, the Makoko Board Head Community Chairman, Sheikh Salahudeen, advised parents to educate their children on the dangers of FGM, while discouraging the use of children for hawking activities.
He also stated that hawking activities could expose the children to acts that may destroy their future and dreams, such as sexual exploitation, pregnancy, drug addiction and other vices.
In her remarks, the Country Representative United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Dr. Diene Keita, said FGM is a tradition that needs to be eradicated in the country because of its effects on the reproductive health of women and girls.
She stressed that most women who go through this process have difficulties in giving birth, â€œsome cannot control their urine, others die in the process and all sorts of complications affect the girl-child.â€
She condemned the practice as being harmful and therefore needs to be reviewed, while noting that there are quite a few states that have domesticated this law, but they are urging every state to put a law in place to prosecute people who continue to practice the act.
Keita who was represented by the Head, Lagos Liaison Office, Dr. Omolaso Omosehin, said the prevalence rate in the South-west is as high 70 per cent, while expressing confidence that they are working with such states in partnership with the United Nations Children Education Fund (UNCEF) to re-orientate communities to create awareness about the dangers that the practice can cause.
She further stated that quite a number of communities have come out to declare abandonment of the practice, but added that they have also worked with a few hospitals, the Nigeria Medical Councils and the medical authorities to ensure that the practice is not taken to the hospital.
She added: â€œIncidentally, it is one of the targets of the goal of SDG to make sure that FGM is abandoned. It cannot be abandoned if the communities donâ€™t make effort. If it is abandoned it will save us from a lot of problem such as our children, the dignity of women because it is a violation of the right of women and girls. UNFPA as an organisation is working with AHI, government and other organisations to make sure we create awareness and support government to put laws in place to prohibit this act.
â€œWe are working with government to sensitise the law enforcement agencies to know how to handle such cases when they receive them. We also encourage government to publicise the law. It is important to create awareness about these laws and the punishment that follows. Also, it is important to tell the community members the demerits of continuing with such practices. Those who agree should come out publicly to say they have abandoned it.
â€œThis will encourage others who are still doing it to stop as well. Therefore, there are many sides to it. We believe that when we look at the issue this way, when the community is aware of what they have to do and those practicing will encourage them not to go into other professions. We want to encourage government to create other job opportunities for them so that they will have something to fall back on.â€
According to a report by AHI, Nigeria has the highest cases of FGM in the world, accounting for about one-quarter of the estimated 115-130 million circumcised women worldwide. The estimated prevalence of FGM among woman aged 15 to19 years is 24.8 per cent and this figure has not changed significantly in recent years with the 20 million women and girls who have undergone FGM.
It also stated that despite the severe short-term and long-term physical and psychological consequences of mutilation, FGM is often practiced in the belief that is beneficial for the girl.
It added: â€œSome communities consider it ensures and preserves virginity and marital faithfulness and prevents promiscuity/prostitution. Also, in every community which FGM is practiced, it is usually a demonstration of gender inequality that is deeply entrenched in social economic and political structures. FGM is often motivated by beliefs about what is considered appropriate sexual behaviour.
â€œTFL 2017 will also serve as a platform for young people to be informed about issues of FGM in Nigeria with a view to enlisting them as critical stakeholders in the efforts to attain FGM free generation.â€