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Women seek end to Female Genital Mutilation culture in Nigeria

By Tobi Awodipe and Ijeoma Thomas-Odia
06 February 2021   |   4:07 am
“Madam, are you sure you can push this baby, because it looks like your whole clitoris and vagina have been chopped off,” the nurse attending to an already terrified Jessica Sampson in labour had informed her.

“Madam, are you sure you can push this baby, because it looks like your whole clitoris and vagina have been chopped off,” the nurse attending to an already terrified Jessica Sampson in labour had informed her.

This was the first time Mrs. Sampson understood why she felt even discomfort exercising her conjugal rights as a married woman.

She mustered courage and confronted her mum, who expressly told her that Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) was a usual practice that preserves girls from being promiscuous while keeping themselves for their husbands.

Sadly, this has been the practice in most parts of Nigeria and the world at large, with over 200 million girls mutilated as a result of this culture. Hence, the United Nations General Assembly has designated today, February 6, as the International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM to amplify and direct the efforts on the elimination of this practice.

Now a certified intimacy coach and girl child advocate, Mrs. Sampson says the practice is an injustice to womanhood.

“I had it in my formative age, so I probably cannot remember the pain, but the body does not forget. So, I know, I’m still dealing with a few traumas. Genital mutilation is another suppress on womanhood to silence her completely. The body projects a heightened feeling of arousal every now and then, at least in a month, which is normal due to the constant hormones that flow.

“Having to cut off her clitoris just to curb promiscuity is insane and the truth is the penis and clitoral hood is formed from same tissue, so imagine cutting half of a male reproductive organ. Some of the negative effect of this practice is manifesting constant trauma in women, releasing more moods swings than normal when the body remembers the pain. This is the reason many women withdraw sexually for fear, anxiety and lack of body confidence. Sometimes, when a child isn’t circumcised, the mother is still advised to press hard and reduce the growth or the normal creative process God intends.”

Sampson noted that as one who is circumcised, she might not know what the other end of pleasure feels like without constant foreplay, body secretion to keep her floating on fluidity to avoid pain. This could also be the reason women who have been circumcised or have experienced expressed pressure press on their vulva, may be linked to the amount of time it takes for a woman to get aroused and excited knowing it’s already so direct to the skin and sensitivity has been compromised.

For Public Health specialist and founder, Today for Tomorrow foundation (TFT), Adek Bassey, “some culture feel FGM is what completes the nature of a woman, while some say it shows a woman will be faithful to her husband.

“I was almost a victim of this act at age seven, because I was a cultural dancer – Monikim – in Cross River State. In my own culture then, they believe if you are a dancer, cutting the female genital makes you a better dancer. When I was prepared for mine, I heard a girl before me died and with that fear, I ran and hid myself and denounced being part of the dancing group,” she recalled.

The Chief Executive Officer/Director of Child Health Advocacy Initiative (CHAI), an initiative of United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and an advocate for Save the Children International, Lola Alonge, said FGM is not only a crime but also a violation of the fundamental human rights of women and girls.

“FGM, sometimes referred to as female genital cutting or female circumcision, has been going on for years as some people still believe that girl children should be cut, either for religious or cultural reasons and a lot of our mothers and grandmothers underwent it. For those unaware, FGM is any procedure that involves partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. Everything has shown us that it has no single benefit to the survivor; rather it causes problems for them later on in life. Over 20 million girls have undergone FGM in Nigeria, which ultimately leads to premature death as well as leaves many physically and psychologically damaged for life,” she explained.

Alonge said it is possible to end FGM in Nigeria. “FGM falls under Goal 5 of the UN SDGs which is ending violence against women and girls. When FGM believers tell us it is their culture, we tell them culture is not static and any culture that has no benefit must die because FGM is borne out of the primitive idea to continuously dominate women and girls’ bodies and lives. It usually results in a lifetime of pain, severe bleeding, difficulties in urinating and menstruating, pain during sex, infection, serious problems in childbirth, physical disability and psychological damage. Many women have also died during childbirth as a result of complications during delivery due to FGM and young girls experience pain when they want to urinate or during menstruation, as a result of FGM

“They claim they are trying to prevent promiscuity, preserve virginity and ensure faithfulness in marriage and I ask them who and how can we end promiscuity in boys and preserve their virginity till marriage? There is an international campaign to end FGM, as it is not just a Nigeria problem alone. That is why we are starting with traditional rulers and community heads to pass the message across, as we know they have a lot of influence in their communities.”

To the Founder and Executive Director, The New Generation Girls and Women Development Initiative (NIGAWD), Abimbola Aladejare, the impacts of education against FGM have been very encouraging.

“Taking a clue from the National Survey as a country that is the Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey (HDHS) 2013 report on FGM, Nigeria has a prevalence rate of 27 per cent of women and girls who have been mutilated and that is 19.9 million girls and women. When we look at 2018 NDHS report, there is a huge gap, the margin has dropped at 20 per cent from 27 per cent,” said Aladejare, an FGM survivor and campaigner who has spent the last 10 years in the fight to end the practice.

On the policies of government, Aladejare said, “there have been policies, laws and mechanism and structures put in place largely with support from the joint programme with UNICEF and UNFPA. Nigeria has a law that prohibits FGM, which is part of the 2015 Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) act at a national level; a lot of states have the end FGM law. Most times, the laws are not popularized; many people don’t even know the law exists and where people are getting to know about the law, mechanisms need to be put in place to implement it.”

She added: “We need to have a home where survivors of FGM are kept while the perpetrators are serving their punishments according to the law; we need to train social welfare officers who could handle trauma victims. We need to provide support for survivors and have a surveillance network.”

Human rights lawyer and Executive Director, Initiative for Women and Girls Right Advancement (IWOGRA), Nkechi Obiagbaoso-Udegbunam, noted that many girls in Nigeria are unfortunately affected by FGM with life threatening consequences.

“Sadly, the highest prevalence of FGM are in the South East and South West Zones, with 82 per cent of women aged 15-49 having undergone FGM before the age of five.

“Several campaigns have been led calling for the eradication of FGM and this has been supported by laws prohibiting FGM. Nigerian Constitution of 1999 prohibits violence against women and girls as it provides that no person shall be discriminated against on grounds of sex. Section 34 went further to state that every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of their person, and accordingly, no person shall be subjected to torture, or to inhuman or degrading treatment,” she said.

Executive Director of SafeHaven Development Initiative, Margaret Onah, decried that despite years of tireless advocacy, FGM is still being practiced in many communities around Nigeria. She insisted that the excuse of preventing promiscuity in girls and women as the main reason for FGM is false, wicked and a violation of the survivor’s human right. She lamented that FGM is a clear violation of the VAPP Act and the laws were clearly not being implemented, leaving perpetrators operate their nefarious activities freely.

“The media has a critical role to play in this fight. On if we can end FGM by 2030, I don’t think we can achieve this because it is development partners and CSOs that think it is an issue. The government doesn’t think it is a problem and there is so much resistance from people that practice it. The UN programme is only focused on Ekiti, Oyo, Lagos, Imo, Ebonyi and Osun states; they don’t cater for the South-south states.

“I work in Cross-River state and of the 18 local councils, 16 still actively practice FGM. We work in about 50 communities in four local councils and just 15 have banned FGM, imposing fines of a live cow and goat on anyone caught cutting. In Ikom, they do it when a woman is about to get married; it is a big ceremony for them so we came up with an alternative rite of passage without the cutting in 2009 and for the first time ever, 40 girls were not cut.”

Onah urged the government to provide funding to CSOs fighting this cause and for more people to join them. “We want more people to join us and spread the message,” she appealed.

The most recent and robust legislation on violence against persons in Nigeria is the VAPP Act and it is the first Federal law attempting to prohibit FGM across Nigeria. Unfortunately, this law is only applicable in the FCT and states are required to domesticate it to be effective in the respective states. So far, some states have domesticated the VAPP Act, but implementation remains a major challenge, as it has not been possible to identify any prosecution brought under the VAPP Act since its introduction in 2015.

Obiagbaoso-Udegbunam added that in as much as the VAPP Act criminalises FGM in Section 6 of the Act, it does not provide a clear definition of FGM nor criminalise failure to report FGM that has taken place or is due to take place.

In response to the passing of the VAPP Act, the National Policy and Plan of Action for the Elimination of FGM/C in Nigeria (2013-2017) was also launched.

“Therefore, this year’s commemoration should be about campaigns for expanding the VAPP Act to provide a clear definition of FGM and punishment for those who fail to report its practice. More awareness should be created about the dangers of FGM, CSOs and women’s rights organisations should channel more energy in calling for domestication of the VAPP Act and implementation across the country as it is not about having a law but about implementing its provisions and bringing perpetrators to book,” she added.

The Executive Coordinator, Bimbo Odukoya Foundation, Aderonke Oyelakin, stressed that FGM is condemned by a number of international treaties and conventions, as well as by national legislation in many countries. Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being,” and this statement has been used to argue that FGM violates the right to health and bodily integrity. With FGM considered as a form of violence against women, the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women can be invoked.