Female genital mutilation (FGM) also known as cutting is the partial or total removal of external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons (WHO).
FGM is a global issue. It’s been practice mainly in the Western, Eastern, and North-Eastern regions of Africa, also in some countries in the Middle East and Asia, as well as among migrants from these areas.
FGM practice is mostly carried out on minors and teenage girls by traditional birth attendants, herbalists, female relatives. In some communities health care providers perform FGM due to the belief that the procedure is safer when handled by healthcare practitioners.
A girl child whose private is multilated in the name of stopping her from being promiscuous or whatever societal reason as perpetrators of this wicked act claim, is subjected to severe pain, excessive bleeding (haemorrhage) genital tissue swelling, fever, infections such as tetanus, which can lead to death. (WHO Guidelines on the Management of Health Complications from FGM).
If the girl child manages to scale through at the early stage of FGM after the torture, the long term effect is that she may also have to face vagina discharge, itching, bacterial vaginosis, painful menstruations, difficulty in passing menstrual blood, pain during intercourse, decreased satisfaction, difficult delivery, excessive bleeding, the list is endless.
The practice violates the survivors rights to health, security and physical integrity, it interferes with the natural functions of girls’ and women’s bodies. They are denied the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.
According to World Health Organization, (WHO) more than 200 million girls and women alive today have been cut in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia where FGM is concentrated.
WHO has identified four types of FGM: Type 1 to 4. Type 1, involves the partial or total removal of the clitoral glans (the external and visible part of the clitoris, which is a sensitive part of the female genitals). Type 2, this is the partial or total removal of the clitoral glans and the labia minora (the inner folds of the vulva), with or without removal of the labia majora (the outer folds of skin of the vulva ).
Type 3, this is also known as infibulation. It involves the narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the labia minora, or labia majora, sometimes through stitching, with or without removal of the clitoral prepuce/clitoral hood and glans.
Type 4, this includes all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.
The most disgusting part of FGM is that the practice has no health benefits for the survivors, instead, they face increase health risk. WHO has stated that the treatment of health complications of FGM in 27 high prevalence countries costs 1.4 billion USD per year.
In an interaction with some of the survivors’ parents who have renounced FGM practice in Ebonyi state, they stated that the practice over the years have been considered as a social norm.
One of them, Blessing Nwanchor, a mother of four from Ikwo local government area of the state, said: “there is the pressure to cut your daughter so that both you and the girl would be accepted in the community. Sometimes if a man wants to marry your daughter and hears that she was not circumcised, he may call off the marriage on the premise that one man would not be enough for the would be bride.
“So we came to accept it as a necessity but now I’m glad that I have known better and I wish I never cut my girls, I wish what I know now I knew it before now I wouldn’t have subjected my girls to the torture they passed through”, she lamented.
There are other reasons people engage in FGM which include: to ensure premarital virginity, financial gains because the circumcisers are doing it as business. Others believe that girls are clean and beautiful after removal of body parts that are considered unclean, unfeminine or male, it’s also done to increase marriageability.
In 1997, WHO issued a joint statement against the practice of FGM together with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Great efforts have been made to counteract FGM, through research, work within communities, and changes in public policy.
At present, there is wider international involvement to stop FGM; revised legal frameworks and growing political support to end FGM (this includes a law against FGM in 26 countries in Africa and the Middle East, as well as in 33 other countries with migrant populations from FGM practicing countries).
In 2007, UNFPA and UNICEF initiated the Joint Programme on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting to accelerate the abandonment of the practice.
In 2008, WHO together with 9 other United Nations partners, issued a statement on the elimination of FGM to support increased advocacy for its abandonment, called: “Eliminating female genital mutilation: an interagency statement”. This statement provided evidence collected over the previous decade about the practice of FGM.
With these efforts, FGM practice has decreased in most countries including Ebonyi state.
In 2016 Ebonyi state government proposed a five year jail term for anyone who practices any form of FGM in the state.
The flag-off of the campaign against female genital mutilation in the state took place at the Women Development Centre, Abakaliki.
In her speech at the occasion, Ebonyi first lady, Mrs. Rachel Umahi, stated: “We can’t continue to live in dark ages at the detriment of our women in the name of female circumcision or genital mutilation”.
‘’Our women have suffered a lot in this traditional harmful practices against them and we must stop it, we must wage serious war against the practice.
‘’A situation where women reproductive organs are butchered in the name of cultural practices is no longer acceptable.”
She said at the event that in Nigeria, Ebonyi ranks second after Osun State, with 74% prevalence rate of female genital mutilation.
Mrs. Umahi decided to fight against FGM through her pet project -Family Succour and Upliftment Programme.
She further promised to approach the state house of Assembly to amend the law against the practice.
True to her words, in 2018, Ebonyi state governor, Engr David Umahi assented to the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) law.
The Speaker of Ebonyi state house of Assembly, Mr Francis Nwifuru, said the law forbids violence against persons, prohibits Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) with five term jail and it protects women against all manners of violence, including wife battering.
While Mrs. Umahi reiterated that: “VAPP law will prohibit FGM, rape, abandonment of dependants, child labour, stalking, spouses battering and others.
“It will be a privilege for women to know who they are with the law backing them.”
However, the State National Orientation Agency Director, Dr. Emma Abah, said according to the Nigeria Demographic Health Survey (NDHS 2013 and 2018) FGM practice has dropped in Ebonyi.
“Ebonyi State dropped from 74.2 percent (2013) to 53.2 percent (2018)- Third Highest in Nigeria,” Abah said.
He noted that the State which used to rank 2nd now ranked 3rd on Female Genital Mutilation practice, across the country between 2017 and 2019, even as he pointed out that within the period, no fewer than 75% of residents of the state, engaged in the obnoxious practice.
“But with the level of awareness” being carried out by the Agency and the United Nations Children’s Fund, the situation climbed down to 50%, in 2020″ he added.
In the course of this article, some traditional rulers in Ebonyi state were interviewed on their efforts to end FGM practice in their various communities.
His Royal Highness, Eze Dominic Aloh, the Traditional Ruler of Amagu in Ikwo local government area of Ebonyi state, disclosed that in his own community Amagu they no longer practice FGM.
“I have really fought against female Genital mutilation very effectively and it’s not going on again. Within the local government level I have written a by-law which was signed by all the traditional rulers and sent to all the villages, and all the communities. The by-law went a long way in telling people that no female child will be circumcised any longer because of health problems associated with it” he noted.
He said if an anyone defaults, such person would be handed over to the police or Family Law Court ( under the office of Ebonyi State first lady) to face the law. This is after the defaulter had paid a stipulated fine traditionally.
For His Royal Highness, Dr Oyibe Cosmos of Okposi Kingdom, in Ohaozara local government area of Ebonyi state, his cabinet enacted a by-law that when a female child is born and is circumcised, the perpetrators will pay a fine of 100, 000 each.
Additionally, the family will not participate in anything that is being done in the community for good one year.
While His Royal Highness Eze Romanus Iyioku, Ezeogo Chima ll of Ugwulangwu, noted: “For a long time we have stopped female Genital mutilation. There is a by-law that anyone who tries such will pay 100, 000 naira and this has been working in my community ugwulangwu”.
It is indeed heart warming to see that through constant sensitization by NGOs that these traditional rulers have come to see FGM as a harmful practice and they took steps to abolish it in their respective autonomous communities.
If other traditional rulers will borrow a leaf from what these traditional rulers have done to end FGM in their various communities, the fight against FGM practice will indeed gather tremendous success.
No wonder in 2020 about 11 communities in Ohaukwu local government area renounced FGM practice, 11 communities also made public pronunciation renouncing FGM practice in Ikwo local government area, while 7 communities renounced the practice in Afikpo North government area.
Many other communities have also made public declarations against FGM practice in Ebonyi state, but despite that there are those still carrying out this wicked practice. This shows that more is needed in addition to public declarations.
More communities should come up with by-laws where they will stipulate punishments for FGM violators.
Until we see FGM practice as a wicked act that needs effort of not only the government nor NGOs but every individual in the society to abolish, the ugly practice will continue to eat deep in our communities.
It’s not just about having laws, it’s about implementing them, when laws are not implemented, they are as good as not having them. Like in a Ebonyi state the law proposes five years jail term for anyone caught practicing FGM in the state, but ever since the law was assented to by the Executive Governor of Ebonyi state in 2018, no one has been arrested talk more of being prosecuted, yet FGM is being practised in some communities of the state.
The state government should be more proactive in this regard, while communities should speak up and report anyone found multilating any girl child.
If we all join our hands together, we can achieve a free FGM society.
Say no to violence against women! Say no to female genital mutilation for a nation!