Female Genital Mutilation: Hidden injury with devastating consequences

By Hassan Zaggi

51-year-old Mrs Gracefiled Akpan, lives in Abuja. She got married 27 years ago and has 3 children. She is from the same state with her husband.

According to her, she was forcefully circumcised when she was 11- years -old. She was not alone, as it was a culture in her community to circumcise young girls of a particular age group every year.

Recalling the horrible experience, she and other young girls of her age group passed through during the circumcision process, she said: “It was one of the days I will not forget in a hurry in my life. Older women use razor blade to cut our private part. The impression given to us was that when one is not circumcised, it means one is not yet a woman.

“According to the older women, no man will marry us when we are not circumcised. Any lady that did not pass through the circumcision process, they told us, will be promiscuous, hence, will not remain in her husband’s house, if she eventually gets one.

“The pain we passed through can better be imagined as there is no injection or any medicine given to us to reduce the pain. The wound took weeks before it healed. Some of us who were not lucky ended up having life-long complications they are still nursing up till now.

“Personally, I am feeling the negative impact up till now as I don’t have the urge for sex. I don’t have feeling for my husband and I do feel pain when having sex. I don’t have the normal feelings that my fellow women feel when having sex. I also feel inferior when discussing among my fellow women.

“Also, giving birth is not always easy for me as I had to suffer excessive bleeding. It was tough giving birth to my three children.”

This is the sad tale of millions of women who have passed through Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) across the word.

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), also known as female genital cutting or female circumcision, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), involves the partial or total removal of external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

The practice has no health benefits for girls and women and it can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, infections, as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths.

The global health body further disclosed that more than 200 million girls and women alive today have been cut in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia where FGM is concentrated.

“FGM is mostly carried out on young girls between infancy and age 15 and 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 rights 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,” the WHO said.

The WHO further disclosed that FGM harms girls and women in many ways.

Some of the immediate complications caused by FGM include severe pain, excessive bleeding, genital tissue swelling, fever, infections like tetanus, urinary problems, wound healing problems, injury to surrounding genital tissue, shock and in some cases, death.

Long-term complications that can surfaced as a result of FGM include urinary problems, vaginal problems, menstrual problems, scar tissue and keloid; sexual problems, increased risk of childbirth complications and newborn deaths.

In Nigeria, however, according to a recent report released by the United Nation Children Fund (UNICEF) titled: ‘A New Era for Girls: Taking stock on 25 years of progress’, about 19.9 million girls have experienced FGM while 43 percent of girls are married before their 18th birthday, and 17 percent before they turn 15.

On the other hand, the National Demographic Health Survey (NDHS) 2018, disclosed that 86% of women age 15-49 were circumcised at less than age 5

“Women less than age 25 are more likely than women age 45-49 to have been circumcised before age 5 (91%-92% versus 79%).

“Nine in 10 women (92%) of Islamic faith were circumcised before age 5, as compared with 77% of women of Catholic faith.

“By zone, the proportion of women circumcised before age 5 is highest in the North West (97%) and lowest in the South South (59%). A quarter (24%) of circumcised women in the South South had the procedure done at age 15.

The report noted that the prevalence of FGM is decreasing in Nigeria.

According to the report, only 14% of women age 15-19 have been circumcised, as compared with 31% of women age 45-49 prior to the survey.

Comparing the prevalent of FGM by ethnic group, the report disclosed that the prevalence of FGM is highest among Yoruba women (35%) and lowest among Tiv and Igala women (1% each).

“Urban women are more likely than rural women to have experienced FGM (24% and 16%, respectively).

“The prevalence of FGM is highest in the South East (35%) and South West (30%) and lowest in the North East (6%)

“62 percent of women in Imo have experienced FGM, as compared with less than 1% of women in Adamawa and Gombe,” the report noted.

The 2018 NDHS also revealed that, among the 19 northern states, Kaduna leads with 49 per cent, followed by Kwara 46 percent while Jigawa is 34; Kano 22 and Yobe 14 per cent. Gombe and Adamawa both have less than one per cent prevalent rates.

In an interview with the Planning and Monitoring Specialist with the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), Maureen Zubie Okolo, she advocated the involvement of traditional and community leaders in order end the ugly practice of FGM in Nigeria.

She reiterated that even though the FGM practice in on the decline nationally, the practice is, however, still high in some states especially in the South East and South South.

“If you look at FGM nationally, it is actually decreasing because in the 2013 DHS, states like Ebonyi and Imo in the south east were very high, but they are coming down.

“This is because there has been a lot of advocacy and a lot of the traditional rulers are now committing to signing to stop FGM in their domains.

“There is a lot of progress. Many of the wives of the governors in the South East, particularly, Ebonyi and Imo have taken it as a project to continue the sensitization and the push for these traditional rulers to support FGM to be stopped in all communities,” she said.

While responding to a question on what need to be done to overcome the FGM in Nigeria, Mrs Zubie Okolo, said: “ It is about sensitization, get the people to stop it.

“How do we do that? We need to get the traditional and community leaders because they are the ones that are closer to the people.

“We have to do a lot of community engagement and advocacy at the state level. We need to implement policies that are related to violence against women.”

It is therefore, pertinent to call on federal government to implement the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act which was signed into law by President Goodluck Jonathan on May 25, 2015 .

The law among other things, prohibits female circumcision or genital mutilation, forceful ejection from home and harmful widowhood practices.

It is also necessary for the 36 state governments and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to domesticate these laws in order to protect women and girls in all parts of the country.

The effort of the United Nation Population Fund (UNFPA) in creating awareness and advocating the need to end FGM in Nigeria need to also be commended and supported by other agencies at both the federal and state levels.

It is pertinent to call on agencies of government responsible for tackling all forms of violence against women to up their game and ensure that the menace is put to a halt in Nigeria.

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