Since female circumcision is based on traditional beliefs and societal pressure, the campaign against FGM should be taken to the community level
Despite the danger associated with Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), otherwise known as female circumcision, the practice is still widespread in Nigeria. The country is reputed to have the highest number of female genital mutilation worldwide, accounting for about one-quarter of the estimated 140 million circumcised women in the world. Of the 101 million girls of 10 years and above estimated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to have undergone FGM in Africa, over 40 million are said to be in Nigeria.
We are startled by these statistics which show Nigeria leading in an aspect of life that heightens the country’s human misery index. This unenviable position should be a source of embarrassment to all tiers of government and provoke decisive action to end the cruel and harmful practice of inflicting unnecessary pain on the female gender in the name of circumcision.
Unfortunately that is not the case as Nigeria has been paying lip service to the fight against the obnoxious practice. We recall that in 1994 when the World Health Assembly (WHA) passed the Resolution 47.10, urging member states to adopt policies and programmes of actions to ensure the elimination of FGM worldwide, Nigeria was one of the nations which voted for the resolution. The global campaign since 1994 led to the adoption of February 6 of every year as International Day for Zero Tolerance for FGM.
The country was also a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Declaration on Violence Against Women in 1993. In agreement with all these, the Federal Executive Council adopted February 6 of every year as National FGM Elimination Day. Part of the steps taken to show its commitment to the eradication of FGM include the establishment of a multisectoral technical working group on harmful traditional practices (HTPs), conduct of various studies and national surveys on HTPs, launching of a regional plan of action, and formula formulation of a national policy and plan of action.
However, apart from commemorating the February 6 date set aside to raise awareness about FGM and to work towards its elimination, the issue of FGM does not attract the kind of attention it deserves. Many Nigerians still do not know the health implications of circumcising the girl child.
According to WHO, The harmful practice of partial or total removal of the external genital organ of the girl child can cause severe bleeding, bladder and urinary tract infections, cysts, infertility as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths. UNICEF has predicted that about 30 million girls in the country would be at risk of being subjected to FGM in the next decade. We believe that this can be reversed if government adopts a more vigorous eradication programme and ensures effective implementation.
Female genital mutilation has been outlawed in most countries but ironically Nigeria, which was one of the countries that called for the eradication of FGM at the 46th World Health Assembly in 1993, has no federal law against the practice. We, therefore, urge our federal and state lawmakers to commence the process of legislating against FGM in the country if our avowed commitment to its eradication is to be taken seriously.
Such legislation should be supported with mass enlightenment and education of the general public, especially parents and guardians on the dangers and undesirability of FGM to counter some of their age-long beliefs that it reduces sexual desire and promiscuity, promotes chastity, helps young ladies attract husbands early, and that it is a religious or traditional norms of female rites of adulthood.
Parents should understand that unlike male circumcision, female circumcision has no proven health benefit. It does not also discourage promiscuity. They should also know that none of the two major religions in Nigeria – Christianity and Islam – prescribes female circumcision. Since female circumcision is based on traditional beliefs and societal pressure, the campaign against FGM should be taken to the community level.
We urge the state and local governments to mobilise resources to drive an effective campaign against this dehumanising practice at the grassroots. The community health centres and other health institutions, including private ones should be sensitised on the need to help eradicate the practice. The local governments must also find a way of incorporating the traditional birth attendants in their areas in the fight against the harmful practice.
The civil society and human rights campaigners as well as the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) should not be left out of this crusade against FGM because it is one of the very harmful practices which impede on the rights of the girl child. Any procedure that alters or causes injury to the genital organ of the girl child should be regarded as a brutal violation of human rights and resisted vigorously.
No one has the right to subject a girl child to the crude, dangerous, wicked and unhealthy process of female circumcision, especially given the fact that it has no health benefit. As a people, we should not wait for government to shoulder the responsibility alone. In our own individual spheres of influence, we can make a change. The Union therefore condemns in its entirety FGM and call on all well-meaning Nigerians to lend their voice to the campaign so that we can finally put an end to this harmful practice and change the future generations of women in the country.