Stopping female genital mutilation

By Adeze Ojukwu

ENFORCING the ban on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Nigeria is not only urgent but most expedient.

Nigeria currently has the highest number of FGM cases worldwide. United Nations’ Children’s Fund (UNICEF) 2015 Report said ‘Nigeria has about a quarter of the world’s estimated115-130 million circumcised women.’

This huge burden and adverse health implications associated with FGM are, to say the least daunting and dreary, thus the persistent call for its eradication in the country.

UNICEF defines FGM as ‘all surgical procedures involving partial or total removal of the female external genitalis or other injuries on the female genitals for cultural and non- therapeutic purposes.’

FGM, a common cultural norm across the country, as well as other parts of Africa has remained prevalent because of socio-cultural dynamics of the practice.

Experts believe that this harmful practice is one of many violations against women.

Indeed, several studies by United Nations (UN) agencies and other development organizations indicate that FGM is neither an antidote for sexual rascality nor moral purity.

More than anything else, this crude procedure often performed in unsanitary places, has brought untold  suffering to its victims. According to UNICEF, major health problems associated with FGM include Vesico- Vagina Fistula(VVF), Recto-Vagina Fistula(RVF), urinary incontinence, infections, bleeding and mortality.

Though the immediate past Federal Government banned FGM, the practitioners have continued unperturbed largely due to superstitious beliefs, ignorance and ineffective monitoring and law enforcement.

Recently, wife of the president, Aisha Buhari, galvanised wives of governors nationwide in a renewed battle against the menace, at a programme in Abuja.

She said: ‘We are mothers and women and have the primary role to use our privileged positions to make life better for Nigerians, especially women and girls.’ “I urge you to be vocal on the need for FGM to end in Nigeria and take action that will enable this to end”, she added.

UNICEF Nigeria Representative, Jean Gough, at the forum said: ‘Not one of the myths surrounding this practice has any basis in truth. The only truth is that on every level this is a harmful and brutal practice that has a detrimental impact on the health and human rights of women and girls.’

Over the past decade, the UN and some advocacy groups organized several medical and media campaigns to  highlight the dangers of FGM and mitigate its impact across the country, but with little success.

Obviously the renewed and concerted battle against this practice must address underlying factors as well as related issues such as new strategies for legislations and enforcement of FGM ban, public and media campaigns, whistle-blowing strategies as well as grassroots mobilization of rural dwellers and local authorities.

An Abuja-based social worker, Mrs Esther Audu, said:’Basically FGM is a violation of women and child rights. It is ultimately a reflection of the religious and socio-cultural subjugation of women.’

She continued: ‘Despite the gains of modernization and development, dehumanisation of women and girls in Nigeria has degenerated with increasing cases of sexual harrassment, sex slavery, rape, domestic violence, early marriage and forced marriage.’

For instance, many are yet to come to terms with the recent abduction of a 14- year old Ese in Bayelsa State allegedly by one Mallam Yunusa from Kano State.

Sadly, the alleged abductor ‘married’ and forcibly converted the girl to lslam, refusing to release her, until government, police and Kano Emirate intervened, due to public pressure by human rights groups and the social media.

This sad incident, as well as FGM and gender-related discriminations heighten the plight of women and girls in the country.

In recent times, sexual violence, particularly rape, trafficking, slavery and kidnapping of women and girls have worsened across the land, largely due to the emergence of Boko Haram in the North.

According to development advocates, government at all levels, including the legislature and local authorities must improve security of all citizens particularly the womenfolk and other vulnerable groups.

Most importantly, parents and caregivers must adopt proactive strategies and security measures to protect children particularly the girl- child from all forms of nefarious religious and cultural activities that endanger their lives and prospects.

Appropriate institutional frameworks for advocacy and action plan against FGM, involving religious and community leaders should be established in rural areas, where these practices are most prevalent.

Without doubt, FGM, in all its ramifications, remains a festering sore and a blow to the nation’s development strides and struggles, hence the huge demand for its total ban and eradication.

  • Ojukwu, a USA sponsored-Hubert Humphrey Program Alumnus and a media practitioner, writes via [email protected]

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