It is believed that women are the weaker vessels in the family and society and should be taken proper care of. Unfortunately, some of the traditions and customs practiced to improve the lifestyle and wellbeing of people irrespective of age and sex, often inflict more pain than the intended good on the female gender.
Recently, the United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA and United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, in a joint press statement said that about 20 million women and girls were subjected to Female Genital Mutilation, FGM.
The organisations which recently revealed this at the training the trainer for stakeholders drawn from five states with a view to exploring an evidence-based process on communication to promote behavioural change in Calabar, Cross River recently, said FGM, still remains a major problem in Nigeria and its harmful practice has a serious health implication.
According to UNICEF, the practice of FGM is prevalent in five states, which are Ebonyi, Ekiti, Imo, Osun and Oyo.
While speaking in the workshop, the UNICEF Chief Child Protection in Nigeria, Rachael Harvey, pointed out that Nigeria ranked third in the world and still has the highest absolute number of women and girls who have undergone the practice.
From research, FGM comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
The practice is mostly carried out by traditional circumcisers, who often play other central roles in communities, such as attending childbirths. However, healthcare providers perform more than 18 per cent of all FGM, and the trend towards medicalication is increasing.
FGM is recognised internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. It is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children. The practice also violates a person’s right to health, security and physical integrity, 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 a pharmacist, Fredrick Solomon, who advocated the practice should be abolished said that FGM has no health benefits and it harms girls and women in many ways. It involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue and interferes with the natural functions of girls’ and women’s bodies.
He described the immediate complications of FGM to include severe pain, shock, haemorrhage (bleeding), tetanus or sepsis (bacterial infection), urine retention, open sores in the genital region and injury to nearby genital tissue.
Apart from the aforementioned complication, he added that the practice has long-term consequences, which include: recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections; cysts; infertility; an increased risk of childbirth complications and newborn deaths; the need for later surgeries.
For instance, the FGM procedure that seals or narrows a vaginal opening needs to be cut open later to allow for sexual intercourse and childbirth. Sometimes it is stitched again several times, including after childbirth, hence the woman goes through repeated opening and closing procedures, further increasing and repeated both immediate and long-term risks.
Mrs. Eneh Ogbeche, a mother of five, told Nigerian Pilot Saturday that for the Igede people of Benue State FGM is still considered compulsory practice for women because of importance attached to the tradition.
According to her, any woman who is not circumcised even in old age, when she dies the woman will not be given proper burial.
Although people clamour for abolition of this practice, Mrs. Ogbeche maintained that FGM has helped many girls in terms of the social life they live. “I grew up to meet this tradition handed down by our ancestors and according to them, circumcision helps to reduce sexual immorality in a female child and keeps them decent for their husbands,” she explained.
Surprisingly, one would wonder why this tradition still exists when Christianity has done away with some harmful practices in some part of the country. Madam Ene Ameh, a grandmother revealed that there is the need to maintain the practice to help inculcate moral standard in female children. “Considering the moral decadence our young ones soil themselves into, I believe that Christianity cannot do it alone. For instance, uncircumcised women are hardly satisfied sexually and as a result, they jump from one man to another,” she said.
Another concerned Nigerian, Mr. Ikem Agu, who hails from Amaifeke in Imo State, said that although a circumcised woman satisfies her husband more sexually than one who is uncircumcised, the health benefits of the practice should be considered. “I am surprise that this FGM is still in practice in this part of the country. I believe it is the selfishness of our ancestors that brought about the tradition, as they believed that they enjoyed their wives more sexually when they are circumcised than when they are not. But they did not consider the pain and health implications that await them either as a child or an adult woman.
“Besides, in recent times many organisations and doctors have condemned the practice and even warned that it has many health implications. I have two girls and I did not circumcise any of them and I don’t consider it necessary,” noted Agu.
In UNFPA’s report, it revealed that procedures are mostly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and age 15 and occasionally on adult women. It stated that in Africa, more than three million girls have been estimated to be at risk for FGM annually.
More than 125 million girls and women alive today have been cut in the 29 countries in Africa and Middle East where FGM is concentrated.
FGM is also considered to be associated with cultural ideals of femininity and modesty, which include the notion that girls are “clean” and “beautiful” after removal of body parts that are considered “male” or “unclean”.
However, one would also ask what has been done to end this torture women and the girl-child face in the name of tradition? Fortunately, it was gathered that UNICEF works with Parliamentarians, other legal groups and NGOs to advocate for legislation outlawing all forms of female genital mutilation; and works with the media on information, education and communication campaigns to impact public understanding and behavioural change towards the practice.
Meanwhile, ending this practice without tracing the root might prove hard. Therefore, attitudes, traditions, customs and beliefs need to change; government needs to show more commitment to ending FGM.
Laws prohibiting FGM in Nigeria are difficult to enforce and there is little support for those fighting the practice. Therefore, there is the need to promote the role of men as partners against the practice.

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