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The fight against female genital mutilation


Twenty million Nigerian girls are estimated to have undergone Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting (FGMC). In Osun state where prevalence is highest, more than 90% of girls are cut before the age of five, some as early as 8 days old. On this International Day of zero tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, The Guardian, with Code For Africa’s support, provides a peek at this scourge, as part of an elaborate feature which will be published next week.

It started off as just another day of clinical rounds at Ladoke Akintola University.

Costly Aderibigbe was 24 then, she was in her 3rd year of studying Medicine and excited about transitioning from pre-clinical to clinical wings.

That day in the clinic, she saw woman after woman battling complications of female genital mutilation (FGM). She felt sorry for them as she observed them struggle through obstructed labours and the loss of their children, and wondered why people would do such things to the people they loved.

Intrigued, she decided to do more research about the issue and was surprised to discover that Osun state had the highest prevalence rate of FGM in the country. Her curiosity quickly turned into concern. She was an Osun state indigene, born and raised. Most women in Osun were cut as babies and usually didn’t find out until they were much older. ‘Could I have been cut too?’ she wondered.

Rather than let the idea fester in her mind, she went back home to speak to her parents.

The facts
FGM is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as ‘all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injuries to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.’ All types of FGM have both long term and short-term complications.

In Nigeria, Imo, Ebonyi, Oyo and Ekiti all have high prevalence rates of FGM even though President Jonathan banned the practice. In Osun state, however, despite a 2004 state ban, 76.6% of women and girls are undergoing the cut, according to the 2013 Demographic and Health survey [DHS].

The cutters
Muideen Sodiq worked as an oloola as did his father and his father before him. Oloola literally translates ‘the owner of marks’ or ‘mark cutter’ and refers to culture custodians who cut – tribal marks or genitals, male or female. He started helping with cutting girls and boys when he was five years old and has cut about 300 girls since. At some point was cutting up to seven girls a day, but he said he’s now stopped.

‘Promiscuity and uncontrollable sexual curiosity’ are the main reasons people practice FGM according to Muideen. “A girl child that has not been cut will be highly prone to sex,” he said. “Such a girl may even resort to masturbation or look for a male to satisfy her.”

The Survivors
Decades earlier, mother-to-be Esther Ojo was at her doctor’s office trying to get to the bottom of the strange pains she’d been experiencing during her pregnancy.

This was Esther’s first child, but she knew something wasn’t right. Sometimes she’d feel sharp pains in her womb, as though she would give birth immediately’ other times it felt as though her womb was empty.

Then there was the strange discharge from her vagina, where was it coming from? What did it mean? She was confused and even started questioning her husband’s fidelity. She eventually lost the baby.

Esther and Costly are part of the estimated 20 million who have undergone FGMC.

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