Michael Olaniyan and Olufalade Toluwalope

Hello everyone. Welcome to today’s tweet conference. My name is Michael Olaniyan. Tolulope Olufalade and I will be your hosts for today’s conference.

The topic we will consider today is EMPOWERING CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANISATIONS TO PROVIDE FGM/C RELATED SOCIAL AND LEGAL SERVICES TO GIRLS AND WOMEN.

We will be discussing the various ways civil society organisations can provide solutions and sustainable interventions that will help accelerate FGM/C abandonment. Our focus will be on social and legal services that CSOs can provide to women and girls.

I will take the first part of this discussion, while my colleague will be on hand to answer your questions.

To start with, we need to understand what FGM/C is. Simply put, it is any cutting or ulteration made to the female genitalia for non-medical reasons. The reason may be aesthetic, social, psychological, or what have you.

Female Genital Mutilation is erroneously called female circumcision in many places. There are different types of FGM/C, broadly classified into 4 types; type 1,2,3 and 4. For a better understanding of the types, visit endcuttinggirls.org

FGM/C have many health implications, none of which is positive. Varying from psychological to physical trauma. Survivors of FGM/C often tell tales of keloids, loss of libido, excessive bleeding, internal haemorrhaging, painful intercourse, etc and in some instances, death.

So, what can civil society organisations do to accelerate abandonment of this practice? This is divided broadly into 4; awareness creation, reporting system, provide refuge, and enforcement.

CSOs need to make the people aware of the dangers of the practice, the existence of the laws, the penalties, the facts that disprove the myths surrounding the practice, alternative positive practices, and services available for the prevention and abandonment of FGM/C.

CSOs also need to create and sustain effective reporting systems that help to break the culture of silence around FGMC.

It is important that CSOs collaborate with government agencies to provide refuge for girls and women that escape or resist being cut. An incident that comes to mind to buttress this important point is that of the girl that ran away from home in Izzi community of Ebonyi State when she learnt she would be cut.

Enforcement of the law is another very important tool to ensure abandonment of the practice. Sometimes, it is necessary to weild the big stick for practitioners and their abettors to desist from the practice. Sometimes news of punishment creates great awareness, and inspires compliance.

Now we will break down these 4 tools as much as we can before we invite questions and contributions. Please note that we will take questions from 6:20 pm (WAT).

The first and most urgent service CSOs can provide is to distil into simple, easy to read format, the dangers of FGM/C. It is said that ignorance is bliss. CSOs need to communicate in the simplest form possible, the implications of the practice.

It is important to emphasise here that while doing this, such communication must do no harm. (the Do No Harm rule can be found on our website at endcuttinggirls.org). This includes hiding the identity of underaged survivors, not condemning the culture, tradition or faith of a people, among others.

The point is to positively address the dangers of a practice without insulting the practitioners, or violating both the sensibilities or rights of the people involved or affected.

While communicating the dangers, CSOs also need to empirically counter myths surrounding the practice. It is important for CSOs and advocates to be conversant with the studies and researches done on the subject matter. There are tonnes of resources on UNICEF website and at endcuttinggirls website.

The third service is of a legal nature; make the laws available to everyone. It is true that ignorance of the law is not an excuse. However, it is better to make the people aware of the existence of a law before swinging into enforcement. This will make compliance easier.

So CSOs need to equally sensitise the people of the existence of the laws prohibiting FGM/C, and the penalties attached to violation of the law. There is a national law; Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act. Many States have passed similar laws. endcuttinggirls.org provides a list of FGM/C prohibiting laws in Nigeria.

CSOs and advocates need to think up alternative positive ceremonies and practices to replace FGM/C. This is called belief or attitude replacement. It is easier to abandon a practice when there is another thing to fill the void. In some places, FGM/C is done as a rite of passage into womanhood, while for some, it is a part of preparation for either marriage or childbirth.

Another very important service CSos can provide is to create a reporting system. An adage says evil thrives when good people refuse to act. We need to break the culture of silence around the practice of FGM/C.

In my opinion, the culture of silence is worse than the practice itself. Silence helps to perpetuate and institutionalise a practice. CSOs need to invest in providing a reporting system that works and allows for confidentiality.

Some ideas around reporting system are:

tollfree lines which anyone can call to report a likely or imminent perpetration of the practice;

Walk-in centres at community levels manned by trained advocates;

demand and support the establishment of gender desk at every law enforcement station, be it the police or Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps;

train and equip community champions to monitor and track girls that are likely to be cut at a particular time such as within first few weeks of delivery in some places, before wedding, or as a rite of passage;

a digital incidence reporting/mapping system is equally a viable option;

These will enable people to easily report incidences or likely incidence of FGM/C. Information is needed for prevention of the practice, and prosecution of offenders.

As it has often been seen, government and civil society cannot completely provide coverage for persons likely to be affected by a practice. The most effective intervention is to empower the people to prevent the practice.

Many women and girls have succumbed to FGM/C simply because there is no alternative residence. The practice of FGM/C thrives on social dynamics that has at its core the principle of reciprocity. In this case, conformity in exchange for social inclusiveness.

When a woman or girl refuses to be cut, she runs the risk of being pressured by her immediate concerns. This pressure may come in form of threat, appeals or physical attacks. It is therefore important to have a refuge for such people, where they can stay away from the pressure for the time being, until there is a resolution of some sorts.

Indeed it is the duty of government to provide such refuge. However, Civil Society organisations can support the government to establish such refuge. There should be at least one refuge in each State.

Organisations can also establish refuges at sub-State levels. Such refuges only need be registered with the relevant government agencies. The location should also be known to advocates and other organisations working on FGM/C abandonment.

CSOs also need to have a legal officer within the organisation that is able to intervene and coordinate stakeholders to intervene in case of a likely perpetration of the act. The desk need not be manned by a lawyer. A FGM/C trained paralegal will be sufficient.

It will however be good to have a lawyer, or form a relationship with a law firm or law-based CSO, in case of prosecution.

Sometimes the knowledge that a lawyer is on standby and interested in a case is sufficient to drive compliance, and to make law enforcement agencies follow through on their mandate.

It is our firm belief that if the foregoing are well implemented, we will see a rapid abandonment of FGM/C.

We also acknowledge that the services mentioned above are not conclusive. There are still many more social and legal services that civil society organisations can provide to girls and women in the quest to accelerate FGM/C abandonment.

To empower CSOs to provide these services, government must collaborate with, encourage and support Civil Society organisations in this campaign. Advocates exist to help the government deliver on its mandate easily and faster. The government agencies need to understand this.

The place of funding cannot be overemphasised. Donor agencies, international organisations, multinational corporations, businesses and well off individuals need to support CSOs financially to implement some of these services.

CSOs also need to embark on trainings and retraining of advocates, champions and their staff to position them for efficiency and to provide service relevant to each peculiar situation.

Probably the most important way CSOs can empower themselves to provide these services is by synergy. No single individual or organisation can do everything. It is critical to create a network of FGM/C abandonment advocates for cross-ferterlisation of ideas, resource sharing, and support. CSOs and advocates need to stop working in silos.

We will draw the curtain on this session, as we invite you to ask questions and make contributions.

Please when asking your question, remember to use the hashtag #endcuttinggirls and to tweet at @endcuttinggirls @Capri_Tolu and @TheCoachMYKE

For more information about Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting, visit our website; www.endcuttinggirls.org or follow us on Twitter @endcuttinggirls follow the conversation using #endcuttinggirls

We are also on Facebook, Instagram and Youtube. On all these platforms we share updates and information on FGM/C.

We also invite you to participate in our monthly Frown Challenge, every last Friday of the month. This month’s edition will hold tomorrow. See poster for details.

Together we will #endcuttinggirls in this generation.

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