Putting a fight to curb the menance of FGM/ FGC


The practice of Female Genital Mutilation or Cutting, FGM/C is a practice that should be for long abolished, punishable and should not in any form be encouraged in the country because of its negative effects on the development of women and the girl child PALMA ILEYE writes.

According to credible research and publications on the development of women and the girl child from UNICEF’s Joint Programme on Female Genital Mutilation -UNFPA, Division of Gender, Adolescent/ School Health and Care of Elderly, GASHE, of the Department of Family Health, Federal Ministry of Health, FMOH, Centre for Population and Reproductive Health, CPRH, Nigeria Medical Association, NMA, Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria, MDCN, National Association of Nigerian Nurses and Midwives, NANNM, Society of Gynaecology and Obstetrics of Nigeria, SOGON, Nurses and Midwifery Council of Nigeria, NMCN, Nigeria till date, has the highest absolute number of Female Genital Mutilation/ Cutting, FGM/C worldwide, accounting for about one-quarter of the estimated 115–130 million circumcised women in the world.

This is because of the subjection of girls and women to obscure ‘legendary’ traditional practices and its large population.

There are many ‘reasons’ adduced by families and communities for practicing FGM/C, which is
ranging from cultural reasons to its use in curbing sexual appetites of women and girls in the community: rite of passage into adulthood and as part of naming ceremony.

For example, in some communities in Enugu State in South East Nigeria, FGM/C is conducted on the eighth day after a girl’s birth, to coincide with the child’s naming ceremony. The combined ceremony is a festive event that attracts gifts for the new-born baby and refreshments/entertainments for guests, but the naming and cutting are linked together. Because of this linkage, poor mothers cannot resist the
mutilation of their female child because if they did, there would be no naming ceremony for the
child. Other reasons adduced are: preservation of chastity and purification of the girl child; family honour, hygiene, aesthetic reasons, protection of virginity and prevention of promiscuity, modification of socio-sexual attitudes (countering failure of a woman to attain orgasm), increased
sexual pleasure of husband, enhancing fertility and increasing matrimonial opportunities. Other
reasons are to prevent mother and child from dying during childbirth, and for legal reasons as in some cultures where (one cannot inherit property if not circumcised).

Also due to immense social pressure and fear of exclusion from the community, families conform to the tradition.

Furthermore, in some Nigerian and African culture, girls who have not gone through FGM/C
are considered as unmarriageable, unclean and as social taboos. Girls who remain uncut may be teased or looked down upon in the society. Most times, the girls themselves desire to conform to peer as well as societal pressure out of the fear of stigmatization and rejection by their own community. They accept the practice as a necessary and normal part of life. In many communities this particular practice is upheld as a religious requirement.

Also the Women’s Centre for Peace and Development, WOPED, has concluded that Nigerians continue this practice out of adherence to a cultural dictate that uncircumcised women are promiscuous, unclean, unmarriageable, physically undesirable and/or potential health risks to themselves and their children, especially during childbirth. One traditional belief is that if a male child’s head touches the clitoris during childbirth, the child will die.

The Centre stated that these procedures can take place anytime from a few days after birth to a few days after death. It cited example in Edo State, saying that the procedure is performed within a few days after birth. In some very traditional communities, if a deceased woman is discovered to have never had the procedure, it may be performed on her before burial. In some communities it is performed on pregnant women during the birthing process and accounts for much of the high morbidity and mortality rates. It varies among ethnic groups.

Highly respected women in the community, including traditional birth attendants, TBAs, local barbers and medical doctors and health workers usually perform the procedure. Unless performed in medical facilities, it is generally performed without the use of anesthesia.

It is worthy to note that these is not necessary and it is condemnable because of health, hygienic and the developmental process of the female being.

In a definition given by the World Health Organization, WHO, Female Genital Mutilation, (FGM) is defined as all procedures which involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia and/or injury to the female genital organs, whether for cultural or any other non-therapeutic reasons.

Pointing out the non- therapeutic aspect of this definition, gives the idea of FGM/ C as an unhealthy traditional practice inflicted on girls and women worldwide. Take note, FGM/C is widely recognized as a violation of human rights, which is deeply rooted in cultural beliefs and perceptions over decades and generations with no easy task for change.

FGM practiced in Nigeria is classified into four types as follows. Clitoridectomy or Type I (the least severe form of the practice): It involves the removal of the prepuce or the hood of the clitoris and all or part of the clitoris. This usually involves excision of only a part of the clitoris. Type II or “sunna” is a more severe practice that involves the removal of the clitoris along with partial or total excision of the labia minora. Type I and Type II are more widespread but less harmful compared to Type III. Type III (infibulation) is the most severe form of FGM. It involves the removal of the clitoris, the labia minora and adjacent medial part of the labia majora and the stitching of the vaginal orifice, leaving an opening of the size of a pin head to allow for menstrual flow or urine. While Type IV or other unclassified types recognized by include introcision and gishiri cuts, pricking, piercing, or incision of the clitoris and/or labia, scraping and/or cutting of the vagina (angrya cuts), stretching the clitoris and/or labia, cauterization, the introduction of corrosive substances and herbs in the vagina, and other forms. No woman should ever experience such kind of violence for whatever reasons because, it has no healing powers, remedial or curative abilities.

Though FGM is practiced in more than 28 countries in Africa and a few scattered communities worldwide, its burden is mostly seen in Nigeria, Egypt, Mali, Eritrea, Sudan, Central African Republic, and northern part of Ghana where it has been an old traditional and cultural practice of various ethnic groups.

FGM varies from country to country, tribes, religion, and from one state and cultural setting to another, and no continent in the world has been exempted. In most parts of Nigeria, it is carried out at a very young age (minors) and there is no possibility of the individual’s consent.

In Nigeria, FGM has the highest prevalence in the south-south (77%) (among adult women), followed by the south east (68%) and south west (65%), but practiced on a smaller scale in the north, paradoxically tending to in a more extreme form. Nigeria has a population of 200 million people with the women population forming 52%. The national prevalence rate of FGM is 41% among adult women.

Prevalence rates progressively has decline in the young age groups and 37% of circumcised women do not want FGM to continue. 61% of women who do not want FGM said it was a bad harmful tradition and 22% said it was against religion. Other reasons cited were medical complications (22%), painful personal experience (10%), and the view that FGM is against the dignity of women is (10%). However, there is still considerable support for the practice in areas where it is deeply rooted in local tradition. Those who don’t see FGM as important should be encouraged and laws should be made to support them.

In the fight against FGM/C, and protection of female folks from this harming effects, the Ministry of Women Affairs, through the Minister, Dame Pauline Tallen, has said for Nigeria to achieve a majority of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs, by 2030, it must address issues of Female Genital Mutilation, FGM, in the country.

Tallen said the 2030 targets on health and well-being, quality education, gender equality, decent work, and economic growth cannot be achieved except FGM is eliminated in the country.

Speaking at the launch of the “movement for good to end FGM” in Abuja, she noted that the continuous practice of FGM denies girls and women the right to quality education and opportunities for decent work and their sexual and reproductive health is threatened.

She said the procedure of FGM has no health benefit for girls and women but rather causes more problems for them.

“The resulting outcome of FGM are adverse haemorrhage, infection, acute urinary retention following such trauma, damage to the urethra or anus,” she said.

She added that during the procedure, the victim would struggle through an experience which leads to chronic pelvic infection, dysmenorrhea, retention cysts, sexual difficulties, obstetric complications, bleeding, prolonged labour, leading to fistula formation, amongst others.

“The mental and psychological agony attached with FGM is deemed the most serious complication because the problem does not manifest outwardly for help to be offered,” she added.

FGM is a practice whose origin and significance is shrouded in secrecy, uncertainty, and confusion. The origin of FGM is fraught with controversy either as an initiation ceremony of young girls into womanhood or to ensure virginity and curb promiscuity, or to protect female modesty and chastity. The ritual has been so widespread that it could not have risen from a single origin.

FGM, according to United Nations, UN, “comprises all procedures that involve altering or injuring the female genitalia for non-medical reasons”.

This, the global organisation said is recognised internationally as a violation of human rights, the health and the integrity of girls and women.

The global body also noted that it aims to have the practice eradicated around the world by 2030 disclosing that over 200 million girls and women have been subjected to the harmful practice of FGM in 30 countries including Nigeria.

With an estimated 19.9 million survivors, Nigeria accounts for 10 per cent of the 200 million FGM survivors worldwide.

Speaking at the the launch of the “movement for good to end FGM”, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, Matthias Schmale, said the prevalence of FGM amongst girls up to 14 years old is still on the rise.

Schmale said 86 per cent of these children were mutilated before the age of five, meaning FGM is done greatest in the early years of life.

“What this tells us is that the perpetrators of this harmful practice are devising ways to circumvent surveillance and diminish the gains recorded over the years towards the eradication of FGM in Nigeria, by targeting infants who neither knows nor understand the enormity or magnitude of the practice they are being subjected to,” he said.

He explained that the practice of FGM which he noted is handed over from generation to generation, and culturally justified, is no longer acceptable.

He noted that this practice violates women’s and girls’ rights to life, health, and dignity as well as their bodily autonomy adding that, “The time to end FGM in Nigeria is now and the responsibility to do so lies with us all”.

Schmale said the movement which was launched will support innovative and safe platforms driven by young people who have pledged their commitment to end the practice of FGM using the hashtag “act to end FGM.”

He said the expansion of digital literacy and increased access to social media platforms in the country presents an opportunity to advance positive social norms that promote the health and well-being of children and in particular girls.

Also at the event, French Ambassador to Nigeria, Emmanuelle Blatmann, said, at least 200 women worldwide have undergone genital mutilation and more might be affected in the coming years.

Blatmann said FGM contravenes the rights of every woman saying that, “Indeed to promote the elimination of this scourge, coordinated and systematic efforts involving everyone are needed”.

In her remarks, the U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Leonard, said that FGM harms women and girls across the continent and the US is working with its partners around the world to eliminate all forms of gender-based violence including FGM also stating that the US government has been steadfast in its partnership with Nigeria.

Meanwhile in a UNFPA Nigeria 2022 Publication on Female genital mutilation and sexual behaviour by marital status among a nationally representative sample of Nigerian women, Dr. Babatunde Adelekan noted that, studies on the association between women’s sexual behaviour (sexual debut, pre-marital sex, multiple sexual partners, STDs, lifetime sexual partner, number of unions) and FGM is limited in countries where FGM is prevalent.

He said that the study utilized pooled datasets from the Nigerian Demographic Health Survey to explore the association between FGM and sexual behaviour among women of reproductive age. The findings revealed that there is no association between sexual behaviour and FGM among unmarried women. Circumcised ever-married women were more likely to contract sexually transmitted diseases and engage in pre-marital sex than those who were not circumcised.

However, he stated that circumcised ever-married women were less likely to have multiple sexual partners in the last 12 months preceding the survey. Therefore, the study disproves the assertion that FGM could control women’s sexual behaviour.

Much is being done to combat this practice. The campaign against FGM/FGC has long been waged, for the most part, by international, national and non-governmental organizations. Nigeria and foreign organisations, hold meetings and programs in both urban and rural communities throughout the country to inform the public about this subject. It uses videos, booklets and the mass media to reach school age children.

Also actively campaigning against this practice are the National Association of Nigerian Nurses and Midwives, the Nigerian Medical Women’s Association and the Nigerian Medical Association. These three groups in particular are against the legitimization of this practice as a medical necessity for females and are working to inform all Nigerian health practitioners about the harmful effects of the practice. They have also created a national information package about the harmful effects of the various procedures.

WHO, UNDP, DFID of Great Britain and Daneco of Sweden are actively funding Nigerian NGOs in addressing this practice. They have also adopted long and short term plans to eventually eliminate this practice from Nigeria and the rest of Africa.

Nurses and pediatricians have long campaigned against this practice as well as government have publicly opposed this practice. Government officials have voiced their support for the campaign against FGM/FGC. Both the Federal Health Ministry and the Federal Ministry of Women’s Affairs support the nationwide study on this issue.

In conjunction with a number of House State Assembly members, medical workers, attorneys and NGO representatives, WOPED organized a national policy symposium on FGM/FGC. The symposium revealed that over the past decade both government ministries and NGOs have been active and mutually collaborative in studying how to end this practice. However, little has been accomplished beyond the recommendation stage.

Most NGOs working on this issue claim that helping traditional communities change their cultural folklore is necessary to end this practice stressing that proverbs, songs, theatrical and dance performances and other cultural activities have reinforced this practice for centuries. They also point out that efforts to end the practice will fail unless Nigerian men learn that uncircumcised women are marriageable, will not be promiscuous and are not poor risks as mothers.

Nigeria was one of five countries that sponsored a resolution at the forty-sixth World Health Assembly calling for eradication of harmful traditional practices, including FGM/FGC. Still there is no federal laws banning FGM/FGC in Nigeria. Opponents of this practice rely on Section 34(1)(a) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria that states, “no person shall be subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment,” as the basis for banning the practice nationwide thus, laws against FGM/C should be given consideration and made to win this fight.