New York, NY ((UN HDQRS) –The Zero Tolerance day for FGM event kicked off early at the UN, hundreds of participants from far and near gathered on Thursday 06 February, a day set aside by the UN as “International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation” across the globe.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres said, “Together, we can eliminate female genital mutilation by 2030. Doing so will have a positive ripple effect on the health, education and economic advancement of girls and women”.
Historically, UN reported that, “the Afar Region, one of the hottest and driest places on earth, ranks second in the prevalence of ‘Female Genital Mutilations’ in Ethiopia after Somali Region, with prevalence rates of 74 and 92 per cent”. To fight against FGM, the UNFPA, UNICEF, UN Women and World Health Organization (WHO) launched series of campaigns in Afar Region, Ethiopia and across the world.
According to UNICEF data, “At least 200 million girls and women alive today living in 31 countries have undergone FGM”. Violence against women has remained a prominent problem in the world due to the vulnerable nature of the girl child. Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) locally referred to as Female Circumcision (FC) in the African traditional parlance has been identified as one of the most severe manifestations of violence against the girl child.
FGM entails all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs whether for culture or other non-therapeutic reasons”. However, the prevalence of FGM or FC varies widely from country to country. For example, it ranges from nearly 90 per cent or higher in Egypt, Eritrea, Mali and Sudan, to less than 50 per cent in the Central African Republic, Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire, to 5 per cent in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda.
The practice of female circumcision or traditional female genital surgery is simultaneously complex and controversial. Although some consider it as a human rights infringement, others view it as an integral part of their preserved cultures in which it remained unchallenged for centuries. Female Circumcision pre-dates the Abramic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, thus, it is practice that has been existence for a long time before the emergence of these modern religions. The Practice was reported among Female slaves in the Ancient Rome to deter them from Sexual Intercourse and Subsequent Pregnancy. Some scholars have proposed Ancient Egypt (present-day Sudan and Egypt) as its site of it origin, noting the discovery of circumcised mummies from fifth century BC. Meanwhile, others uphold that the practice spread across the routes of the slave trade, extending from the western shore of the Red Sea to the southern, western African regions, or spread from the Middle to Africa via Arab traders.
THE NIGERIA CASE
In Africa, Female Circumcision or Genital Mutilation as the westerners call it is a phenomenon with its cultural and traditional value. It is perceived as a vital segment in the parental nurturing of the girl child backed by customs and tradition. In Nigeria, female circumcision is the most common and appropriate terms used to describe the phenomenon by the community actors.
As highlighted earlier, there are four types of FGM, all of them are been carried out in different region of Nigeria. “Type I and Type II are more predominant in the South. Among the predominant ethnic groups, the Yoruba, Hausa, Fulani, Ibo, Ijaw and Kanuri engaged in Female circumcision with the exclusion of the Fulani’s who do not practice any form of FGM.
For instance, in Auchi area of Edo State, Nigeria, female circumcision is obligatory and must be observed by the parent or custodians of the girl child. Among the Yoruba people of Oyo State, Nigeria; it is locally called “Idabe omobirin” (meaning partial or total removal of the clitoris of the female child). This tradition is guided jealously by the locals who see it as part of their civilization which must be protected.
However, there are some perspectives upheld by the practicing communities and institutions that are used to justify the practice of FGM in Nigeria. This includes; The Psycho-sexual reasons; which holds that Female circumcision/FGM is carried out as a way to control women’s sexuality, which is sometimes said to be insatiable if parts of the genitalia, especially the clitoris, are not removed. It is believed to be a way of ensuring female virginity before marriage and fidelity afterward, and to increase male sexual pleasure which is regarded in high esteem in the Nigeria societies.
Sociological and Cultural reasons holds that Female circumcision/FGM is seen as part of a girl’s initiation into womanhood and as an intrinsic part of a community’s cultural heritage. There are sometimes myths about female genitalia (e.g., that an uncut clitoris will grow to the size of a penis, or that FGM will enhance fertility or promote child survival) is used to perpetuate the practice.
Hygiene and Aesthetic reasons – In some communities, the external female genitalia are considered dirty and ugly and are removed, ostensibly to promote hygiene and aesthetic appeal.
Religious reasons: Although Female circumcision/FGM is not endorsed by either Islam or by Christianity, meanwhile purported religious doctrines are often used to justify it practice.
Socio-economic factors: In many communities, FGM is a prerequisite for marriage. Where women are largely dependent on men, economic necessity can be a major driver of the procedure. FGM sometimes is a prerequisite for the right to inherit. It may also be a major income source for practitioners.
Furthermore, medical experts across the globe revealed that there is no health consequence if a girl child is not circumcised. In Nigeria, despite the campaign against any form of circumcision or FGM, it has been observed that medical practitioners are also involved in the practice popularly referred to as the “Medicalisation of Female Circumcision” aimed at preventing health problems caused in the process. This is considered acceptable by the locals who perceived male and female circumcision as a necessity which must be done in line with the dictates of their custom and tradition. These categories of people are ready to subscribe to the medicalisation process rather than abandon the traditional practice.
Meanwhile, protracted efforts have been made to eradicate FGM in Nigeria. For instance, in 2015, under the Good-luck Jonathan’s administration, Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPP) Act was passed into law. This particular Act specifically mentioned FGM as a criminal act. It also made FGM and other forms of Gender based violence like rape, forceful ejection from home, harmful widowhood practices etc. punishable offences in Nigeria. Three years after the passing into law of the VAPP Act, it is indeed disheartening to note that there has not been a single FGM conviction in Nigeria.
Currently, the VAPP Act is only applicable in Abuja and in Anambra State. What this literally means is that it is only applicable in one State out of the 36 States in Nigeria. The reason, the lackadaisical attitude of the states to the emerging law may be traced to the cultural formation of the society which uphold the practice in high esteem. Thus, only Anambra State has domesticated this Act.
However, Federal Laws cannot be forced on States unless it is domesticated by the concerned State. Another major reason limiting the effectiveness of this VAPP Act is the fact that many Nigerians do not know about this Act. Currently in Nigeria, it is estimated that 1 out of every 100 Nigerians know about the existence of this Law in Nigeria. It is also estimated that only 10 out of every 200 Nigerians really know what this Act says or means, thus, the need for the campaign against FGM or FC needs to be domesticated to the grassroots level.