#FreeOurDaughters: ending Female Genital Mutilation in Nigeria

“It is possible, in this generation, to end a practice that currently affects some 130 million girls and women in the 29 countries” asserts former United Nations Chief Ban Ki-moon during the 2014 International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation. Wikimedia Commons Image by UNICEF / Olivier Asselin, 6 February 2015, (CC BY-SA 2.0)

When men are oppressed, it’s a tragedy. When women are oppressed, it's tradition – Letty Lottin Pogrebi.

An estimated 200 million girls and women in 30 African countries, the Middle East, and Asia are subject to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) practices. Two-thirds of those die every day as a result, which necessitates the immediate action of governments to put an end to such practices, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). With an estimated 19.9 million survivors, Nigeria has the third highest number of women and girls who have undergone FGM worldwide. 

Female Genital Mutilation is a practice in which a girl's external genitalia is partially or completely removed for cultural or non-therapeutic reasons. Though the reasons for this practice are multifaceted, one basic truth is that FGM is a sign of deep-seated gender inequality, as recognized by the WHO. “Culture and tradition are important factors fueling its persistence” states Dr. U. U. Epundu and five other public health researchers in Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital in southeastern Nigeria. PubMed, a database of references and abstracts on life sciences, states that FMG persists to “control women's sexuality.” Other reasons, according to PubMed, include “the desire to be accepted socially and the fear of social rejection.” FGM is “a crime against womanhood” with a great “health and financial burden” that may often lead to death, Epundu emphasized. 

The side effects of FGM include severe bleeding, urinating problems, later cysts, infections, and psychological problems. There are also complications in childbirth and an increased risk of newborn deaths. It is harmful to the body and causes damage to healthy and normal genital tissue. Treatment of FGM is very expensive and many of these women cannot afford it, leaving them with a higher risk of infections.

FGM and other forms of gender-based violence became punishable offences with the Violence Against Person Prohibition Act in Nigeria in 2015. However, there have been few convictions due to little public awareness and non-adoption of this law by 17 of Nigeria’s 36 states, most of which are in the Northern region, according to the Nigerian Tribune

“The harrowing procedure resulted in scar tissues”

No to female circumcision poster on cavas! Image by Rufai Ajala, October 27, 2010, (CC BY 2.0)

Lucy Osuizigbo, a journalist with Premium Times, an online newspaper recounted the tearjerking experience of Rosaline Nkwo (a pseudonym to protect her privacy), a survivor of FGM: 

I am in my late 50s with shattered aspirations; no husband, no children or a family of my own due to the barbaric practice of female genital mutilation that was carried out on me when I was a two-year old. My mother told me that my case was a peculiar one because it was done without Anaesthesia and I struggled so hard when I could not stand the searing pain arising from the bad cut that had to be stitched. This barbaric act led to an irritating formation of Keloids and scar tissues around my genitals which scared men whenever they tried to get intimate with me. This crashed my two marriages and made me become lonely, angry, useless, lost, abandoned and hopeless.

Nkwo, 57 at the time of publication in 2016, became aware of the gravity of her position when her husband divorced her after seeing her genitals on their wedding night. She claims she couldn't afford the corrective operations because she couldn't pay the bills. Since then, she has been living in rage, misery, and melancholy. This technique has entirely destroyed her life and any opportunities she may have had. Nkwo is one of many women who have had similar experiences as a result of FGM. Not only that, but she is one of Nigeria's millions who has lost everything.

Osuizigbo in collaboration with the News Agency of Nigeria, also recounts the story of another woman, Nneoma, 36, a mother of two as she talks about her situation and how it ruined her family and role as a wife. Nneoma holds her mother responsible for her marital problems and is split between cursing and forgiving her: 

I had my two children through caesarean section; the doctor said it was due to FGM, my vagina opening is so narrow. It made intercourse painful that I try to avoid sex as much as possible; and I cannot satisfy my husband sexually. When I hear people talk about sex as a pleasurable act, I still cannot understand it because my experience has been a painful one. I feel different and uncomfortable among other women. It has not been easy, but I have to accept and live with my husband’s extramarital affairs.

Given the severity of FGM on the lives of many innocent girls, UNICEF, in partnership with United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA) has scaled up interventions in many countries, including Nigeria. This programme, which is currently in the third phase, engages various communities to change the paradigm and transform social norms. The UNICEF-UNFCA intervention is also collaborating with the Nigerian government to support and encourage laws prohibiting FGM, while ensuring that young women have access to high-quality child protection health services. 

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