It is believed that women are the weaker vessels in the family and society at large and should be taken proper care of, but unfortunately, some of the traditions and customs being practiced to improve their life style and wellbeing, irrespective of their age and sex, often time, turn out to have negative effects on the women and girls.
Recently, the United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA, and United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, in a joint press statement said that about twenty million women and girls were subjected to Female Genital Mutilation.
The organizations which recently revealed this at the training for stakeholders drawn from the five states with a view to exploring an evidence-based process on communication to promote behavioural change in Calabar, Cross River recently, said Female Genital Mutilation, FGM, still remains major problem in Nigeria and its harmful practice has serious health implications.
According to UNICEF, the practice of FGM is prevalent in five states which are Ebonyi, Ekiti, Imo, Osun and Oyo.
While speaking on reason for the workshop, the UNICEF Chief Child Protection in Nigeria, Rachael Harvey, pointed out that Nigeria ranked 3rd in the world and still has the highest absolute number of women and girls who have undergone the practice.
According to research, FGM is a violation of the human right of girls and women. It 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, more than 18% of all FGM is performed by health care providers, and the trend towards medicalisation is increasing.
“FGM is recognized 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 pharmacist, Fredrick Solomon who advocated that the practice 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 repeating both immediate and long-term risks.
Speaking also, Mrs. Eneh Ogbeche, a mother of five from Igede, in Benue state told Saturday Magazine that FGM is still considered compulsory practice for women because of the importance the tradition attaches to it.
According to her, any woman who is not circumcised even in her old age and she dies the woman will not be given proper burial as she will be considered as a little baby who was not circumcised.
Although people clamour for abolishment of this practice, Mrs. Ogbeche maintained that FGM has helped many of their girls in terms of their social life. “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.
One may wonder why FGM still exists despite the advent of Christianity, Madam Ene Ameh, a grand- mother said there is the need to maintain the practice to help inculcate moral values in female children. “Considering the moral decadence in the society, I believe that without this traditional practice which has helped to reduce it, Christianity could not have done it alone. For instance, uncircumcised women hardly get satisfaction sexually in their relationship as such they jump from one man to another.” She emphasized.
Another Nigerian, Mr. Ikem Agu who hails from Amaifeke in Imo state said although a circumcised woman satisfies her husband sexually than uncircumcised women, health implication of the practice should be considered. “Am surprised that FGM is still in practice in this part of the country, to me I believe it is selfish interest on the part of our ancestors maybe because they believed they enjoyed their wives sexually when they were circumcised than when they were not, but they did not consider the pain and health implications then. Besides, in recent times many organisations and doctors have condemned the practice in totality. I have two girls, I did not circumcise any of them and I don’t consider it necessary,” noted Agu.
A UNFPA report revealed that procedures are mostly carried out on young girls sometimes 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 faces in the name of religion and tradition? Fortunately, it was gathered that UNICEF works with Parliamentarians, other legal groups and NGOs to advocate for legislation on 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 is difficult to be enforced and there is little support for those fighting the practice.
Again, to end this, children and adolescents need to be informed to enable them reject FGM. There is also the need to promote the role of men as partners against the practice.