Punch Editorial Board
Ending the barbaric culture of Female Genital Mutilation in Nigeria is a task that should challenge the resolve of the government and people of the country. Despite taking an important step to enact a law banning FGM in 2015, Nigeria still faces an immense battle to ensure enforcement and, ultimately, end the obnoxious practice. But any practice that leaves its victims scarred physically, emotionally, psychologically and socially should have no place in the culture of a modern society such as ours.
The FGM is a barbaric practice, one that has been outlawed in many countries. The practice cuts across many African and Asian countries. It is defined by the World Health Organisation as “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.” This is a crude practice that is credited with no iota of health benefits but is rather full of severe health risks to unfortunate young girls and women. It is a practice woven around a myth, as parents believe that it is a rite of passage that prepares girls for womanhood and marriage.
According to the global health agency, there are four broad categories of the FGM, starting with the first described as clitoridectomy or the “partial or total removal of the clitoris (a small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals), and in very rare cases, only the prepuce” or the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris. There is also the excision or the partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora (the inner fold of the vulva), with or without excision of the labia majora or the outer skin of folds of the vulva.
The others are infibulations or the narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal, and harmful procedures such as “the pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterising” of the genital area. In the case of infibulations, the seal is removed by cutting and repositioning the labia minora or labia majora, sometimes through stitching, with or without removal of the clitoris.
Ingrained in the culture and tradition of many parts of the country, it is proving very difficult to stamp out. A recent report credited to UNICEF confirmed the prevalence of the cruel practice in some parts of the country, thus making a compelling case for a review of an aspect of a culture that is no longer consistent with modern trends and civilisation.
While many believe the practice is encouraged by ignorance, it is, however, surprising that some of the states with very high prevalence are in the southern parts of the country where the level of literacy is considered to be relatively high. The UNICEF report listed Osun, Ebonyi and Ekiti states with 77 per cent, 74 per cent and 72 per cent literary rates respectively as the leading states in the practice of FGM in Nigeria. Also prominent on the list of ignominy are Imo and Oyo states, with 68 per cent and 66 per cent prevalence rates respectively. Lagos is not even spared. A report quoting the National Demographic Health Survey said there had been an increase in the rate of the FGM in the South-East, North-West and North-East between 2003 and 2013.
Among other strange and unfounded beliefs on which the practice is sustained is the notion that women who do not undergo the procedure would become promiscuous later in life. But there is no scientific evidence to sustain that claim. Rather, the practice, which is often carried out by women using crude and sometimes unsterilised surgical instruments, could promote infection, which could result in undue fatalities. Sharing the same sharp instruments as blade and scissors among different people could lead to the spread of HIV/AIDS, a deadly disease that is still without cure.
Other complications that come with FGM include painful urination; obstetric fistula, where women have no control over the passage of urine and faeces; prenatal risks such as stillbirth and neonatal deaths; formation of keloids where the excision took place; menstrual problems such as painful and irregular menstruation; chronic genital and reproductive tract infections. There is also the detrimental effect on female sexual health, where the person may have decreased sexual desire and pleasure, and pains during sex. This could also lead to serious marital problems, sometimes resulting in divorce.
Sometimes, excessive loss of blood instigated by the procedure could cause death. In a landmark case in Egypt in 2015, a medical doctor was sentenced for manslaughter after a 13-year-old girl on whom he performed an FGM procedure died. Nigeria has taken the first good step of outlawing the practice. It should be followed with massive enlightenment at the state and local government levels. This is a crusade that governors’ wives and rights groups can embark on, especially as FGM has been labelled internationally as a grave violation of the rights of women. Any offender should be prosecuted to serve as a deterrent to others.
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