How to end FGM in Nigeria


Lola Alonge

As we mark the United Nations (UN) International Day for the elimination of violence against women and girls on the 25th of November, it is pertinent to bring the issue of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Nigeria to the front burner.

FGM is a violation of the fundamental human rights of women and girls. It includes 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. It is also sometimes referred to as female genital cutting or female circumcision. More than 125 million girls and women alive today have been cut in the 29 countries in Africa and Middle East and Nigeria is one of them.

There was a case in Osun state where FGM was performed on a week old baby in one of the communities. The circumciser as they are called used unsterilized knives to do the FGM cutting not knowing that the baby was Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV) positive (as a result of mother to child transmission) the baby was actually delivered by a traditional birth attendant and no blood test was done. At the same time another baby was cut without sterilizing the knives used initially and the second baby got infected with HIV unknowingly. When the second baby had severe malaria and was later taken to the health centre a blood test was done and it was realized that the baby was HIV positive.. It was later traced to the FGM performed on the baby earlier because the baby’s mother was HIV negative.

Another story is the case of young girls who experience a lot of pain when they want to urinate or during menstruation, as a result of sewing up the vagina they only have a small hole to pass out urine or blood.
Many women have also died during child birth as a result of complications during delivery due to FGM.

FGM is classified into four types:
TYPE 1-This is the removal of the hood of the clitoris
TYPE 2-This is the removal of the whole clitoris as well as part of the small lip of the Vagina
TYPE 3-This is the total excision of the whole female genitalia and sewing up of the vagina called infibulation
TYPE 4-Anything done to the vagina that cannot be assigned to the categories above is put under this category.

FGM is a deeply embedded social norm that has no scientific advantage.
FGM is mostly carried out on young girls between infancy and age 15.
FGM is no more seen as a cultural issue but a human right issue.
World Health Organisation (WHO) denounced FGM stating that it should not be practiced by medical practitioners
The UN general assembly resolution led by the African group called for a global ban on the practice in December 2012.
Africa is leading the way in ending FGM, more communities, leaders, and policy makers are driving a movement to end it.
FGM is practiced borne out of the primitive idea to continuously dominate females in the society.

It results in a lifetime pain, severe bleeding, difficulties in urinating and menstruating, pain during sex, infection, serious problems in childbirth, physical disability and psychological damage.
Oyo state and Osun state have the highest prevalence of FGM in Nigeria with 97.8 per cent and 98.4 per cent respectively.
FGM is now banned in states such as Akwa-Ibom, Cross river and Bayelsa.
On the 25th of May 2015, President Goodluck Jonathan signed the violence against persons (prohibition) act into law of which female genital mutilation is one of the major forms of violence against women and girls.

Reasons for the practice of FGM in Nigeria
FGM is considered essential for marriage and preparation for womanhood.
FGM is to preserve virginity so that the girl child will not be promiscuous.
It is believed it will keep the woman safe with her husband and ensure faithfulness in marriage.
It is believed that if the head of the baby touches the clitoris during delivery the baby will die.

Actions to be taken in Nigeria
Currently, the violence against persons (prohibition) act signed by former President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, of which FGM is one of the main issues is a mere paper document outside the Federal capital territory (FCT) until it is passed into law by the 36 states of the federation. FGM is now a national concern in Nigeria and there is need to take action and implement the VAPP act to ensure perpetrators of FGM are convicted and most especially the culture and tradition that enables violence against women changes.

The media has a great role to play to raise awareness about the VAPP act so that the law can be implemented at the state level and FGM can be eradicated in one generation.

The media can serve as a catalyst for social change by providing evidence to highlight the dangers of FGM and why it should be eradicated. Social change can accelerate behavior change in multiple ways and at different levels. It can open up debate and discussion in public spheres, exposing people to alternative perspectives and encouraging them to reflect on their beliefs and norms.

Government at all levels must show more commitment and work towards the total eradication of FGM. Civil society organizations must also lobby state house of assemblies to domesticate the VAPP act and pass it into law.

As we start a new global social change campaign, everyone must unite in a global movement to protect the next generation of girls from undergoing FGM.
We need to work towards a Nigeria where FGM is eradicated, Child Marriage is stopped, Harmful traditional practices no longer exists, domestic and sexual violence is put to an end.

As we mark the UN International day for the elimination of violence against women and girls, the media, government, women, young people, men, traditional and religious leaders must all work together to end FGM in one generation.

According to the UN Secretary General Ban ki-moon, “Violence against women is violence against humanity, when we secure the rights of women and girls we advance our humanity.”
*Lola Alonge is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO)/Director of Child Health Advocacy Initiative (CHAI)… an initiative of United States Agency for International Development (USAID)

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