Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) includes all procedures that involve the partial or total removal of external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.  Worldwide, estimates indicate that more than 200 million girls and women have undergone FGM and more than three million girls and women are currently at risk of FGM.

With the global population expected to rise in countries where FGM is concentrated, the number of women and girls at risk of FGM annually is expected to increase to about four million.  FGM occurs worldwide, with evidence of its practice highly concentrated in 27 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Other countries for which nationally representative data exist include Iraq, Yemen and Indonesia.

In developed countries, FGM occurs predominantly among diaspora communities representing countries where FGM is prevalent. FGM has also been reported in Western Europe, the United States.

Girls living in diaspora communities also are at risk for so-called “vacation cutting,” in which they are sent their family’s country of origin or across the border to a neighboring country under the guise of vacation or cultural learning, but instead are forced to be cut while abroad

More recently, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which includes a target under Goal 5 to eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and FGM by the year 2030, Signifies the international development community’s commitment to work together to accelerate action towards the elimination of FGM globally.

The World Health Organization has classified FGM into four types, and they are all practiced in Nigeria.

Type I or Clitoridectomy: It involves the Partial or total removal of the clitoris (a small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals) &, in very rare cases, only the prepuce

Type II (Excision) or partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (the labia are “the lips” that surround the vagina).

Type III (infibulation) is the most severe form of FGM. It involves the narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal.

Type IV or unclassified: This includes all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, for example: pricking, pulling, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterization. It also includes introduction of corrosive substances and herbs in the vagina, hot water to make the clitoris numb. This is called “MASSAGING”. 

Sociological and cultural traditions, such as those signifying a girl’s coming of age or passage into womanhood also provide a justification for continuing the practice of FGM. Some communities also argue that FGM is necessary for hygienic reasons and Failure to undergo FGM might subject one to alienation, risk of physical violence or could result in a woman or girl being deemed unfit for marriage.

In families, female elders who most often have gone through the practice, uphold the rituals, coming of age initiation celebrations, teaching and other activities associated with the practice, and it is not uncommon for this elder to overrule the FGM preferences of a girl or those of her mother. FGM is widely believed to be associated with religion, mistakenly linked to the Coptic/Orthodox and Islamic faiths.

The attention given to FGM as a harmful practice has grown in recent years. Yet, while ending the practice is a target under the Sustainable Development Goals, it remains common in many countries.

We looked at the transmission of FGM from one generation to the next in two separate ways:

  1. Through support among women for the practice, and
  2. (ii) through decisions by mothers on whether to have their daughters cut. The main findings, summarized in a short brief, are as follows:
  • The role of social norms and community pressures in the perpetuation of the practice is large. Daughters living in an area where the practice is common face much higher risks of being cut.
  • Similarly, community prevalence strongly affects support for the continuation of the practice

The personal experience of mothers also makes a substantial difference for the transmission of the practice across generations.

The risk of cutting for daughters increases dramatically if the mother was herself cut. It also increases if the mother was married as a child.

Children are our Nation’s most precious resource, but as children, they often lack the skills to protect themselves. It is our responsibility, as parents and responsible citizens, to safeguard children and to teach them the skills to be safe.

The knowledge of how children cannot protect themselves in the case of a possible cutting is not only critical to the programmes designed to eliminate FGM but also an eye opener to the possible roles of parents in the campaign.

From the baseline study conducted for the UNICEF/UNFPA Joint Programme on FGM abandonment in 2015, grandparents were found out to be drivers of the practice through passing down of myths and misconceptions about FGM.

These grandparents, from research and observations, have formed string institutions in Nigeria and other Sub Saharan African countries. Hence, they have overwhelming narratives to back their claims.

While we are aware that protecting the child from the harmful practice of female genital mutilation is a duty for everyone, we must improve the capacity of parents, who are the first point, to protect girls.

The prevalence of FGM is due to number of demands that are made by either one of the parents or both of them at the behest of the immediate family (usually, grandparents).

This means that the parents are the most important stakeholders in this campaign and as such must be given the needed support to combat the practice to a standstill in this generation.

Note that the UNFPA/UNICEF Joint Programme campaign is hinged on three areas of  outcome/themes which are 1). Policy and Legal, 2). Service Provision and 3), Education.

To build the capacity of parents in relation to how to protect their girl child from the ills of FGM, the thematic area of Education would be focused on and spread into the two remaining areas with less emphasis on service provision.

Exposing parents to the possible dangers associated with FGM can cause them to rethink their beliefs in myths and misconceptions they have held on to for decades and pushes them to query more for accurate knowledge.

This would not only give the foundational knowledge needed to make better decisions, it puts them in a better position to join the wheel of generational change.

In this regard, as advocates, dedicated to eliminating female genital mutilation by 2030, we must leave no stone unturned as we partner with parents to save their girl child from the pain of cutting.

Keying into the dimensions of our campaign, we must be able to get parents (old and young) to get accustomed to the laws of the land as they engage with other stakeholders in stopping the practice.

Specifically, men in their roles as fathers, husbands, community and religious leaders play a pivotal part in the eradication of female genital mutilation (FGM).

A study conducted by the National Institute of health reviewed that the level of education of men was one of the most important indicators for men’s support for abandonment of FGM. This further broadens the need for education and knowledge transmission to these key stakeholders.

Social obligation and the lack of dialogue between men and women were two key issues that men acknowledged as barriers to abandonment. Much emphasis have been made over the years in engaging the mothers, however, the role of both parents in FGM eradication cannot be over emphasized.

Advocacy by men and collaboration between men and women’s health and community programs may be important steps forward in the abandonment process. For emphasis, we will quickly discuss on the perception of parents in the practice of FGM especially the male parent as this will broaden our mindset towards educating them on the need of or its abandonment.

A study of fathers in Egypt in 2015 showed that they believed uncut women to be promiscuous.

FGM was deemed important for good marriage opportunities and to ensure fidelity in marriage.

In Guinea, FGM is considered to reduce the likelihood of premarital sex and as such parents are educated often to help reduce premarital sex.

A counter education is therefore so necessary to renew their mind and thoughts towards this practice.

Community education, awareness and campaigns are very important. But if the parents of these girls are not educated rightly, the practice will continue secretly.

We will discuss on strategies to be employed to aid communicate rightly and ensure the decisions made are not temporary but firm.

Education: Classroom education is paramount in the campaign to end FGM. Parents who are educated are less likely to engage in this practice than the uneducated ones.

This is because, the level of education of men, urban living and wealth are associated with disapproval of FGM

A school-based study of adolescent boys in Oman revealed that they were more likely to support FGM if they lived in rural areas and their parents had lower level of education

Religion: Advocates are also encouraged to target parents in religious environments as the religion does not support the practice so this can be a right approach to aid them understand.

Knowledge of complications of FGM: Various intervention studies involving parents had an important positive effect on the parent’s attitudes towards abandonment of this practice.

If the complications of the different types of FGM is brought to the knowledge of these parents, after a long while, they would clearly see the need for eradication.

Various reviews supports the two main factors perpetuating the continuation of FGM, namely social obligation and marriageability.

This must be emphatically discussed at all levels and we strongly believe that together we will end FGM in this generation.

Thank you for joining us today and we urge you to ask your questions while we look forward to having you in our next twitter conferences.

Together we will end FGM in this generation.