TWEET CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT: Engaging Community – based Women’s association to end FGM in Southeast Nigeria – 01.08.2019
Women are a major stakeholder in the development project of any society. Globally, the issues of Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) have been attracting a lot of attention from scholars. According to 2006 Nigerian population census figure, women constituted 49% of the total population, but there has been a gross gender gap between men and women, especially in political representation, management and leadership.
Notwithstanding the gross gender gap between men and women, Women still engage in developmental activities for the growth of the society. In southeast Nigeria, community based women associations played major roles in the development of their community for many generations.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is defined as “all procedures that involve the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or any other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons”.
In other words, it is any procedure that causes injury to the female genitals without medical indication.
The World Health Organization (@WHO), classifies FGM into four broad types, based on the anatomical extent of the procedure: …
Type I (Clitoridectomy): This refers to the partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce (the fold of skin covering the clitoris). This is also referred to as ‘Sunna’.
Type II (Excision): Removal (in part or whole) of the clitoris and labia minora. The labia majora may or may not be removed.
Type III (Infibulation): Here, the vaginal orifice is narrowed, and a covering seal created by cutting and repositioning the labia minora and/or the labia majora. The clitoris may also be removed. It is sometimes referred to as ‘Pharaonic’.
Type IV (Unclassified): Any other harmful procedure performed on the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, for example: pricking, piercing and incision of the clitoris and/or labia, stretching and/or cutting of the vagina (‘gishiri’), scraping of tissue surrounding the vaginal opening (‘angurya’) and cauterization.
It also includes the introduction of corrosive substances into the vagina to cause bleeding or to tighten or narrow the vagina, as well as massaging the clitoris with hot water or petroleum jelly to de-sensitize the clitoris (common in Imo State).
FGM functions as a self-enforcing social convention or social norm. In societies where it is practiced, it is a socially upheld behavioural rule.
Families and individuals continue to perform FGM because they believe that their community expects them to do so.
Families further expect that if they do not respect the social rule, they will suffer social consequences such as derision, marginalization and loss of status.
While FGM is de facto violent, it is not intended as an act of violence. It is considered to be a necessary step to enable girls to become women and to be accepted, together with the rest of the family, by the social group of which they are part.
Moreover, the removal of or damage to healthy genital tissue interferes with the natural functioning of the body and may cause severe immediate and long-term negative health consequences. @WHO
Since pre-colonial times, the women in southeast Nigeria (Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo States), have developed various methods and ways of resolving issues that affects their health and wellbeing.
In southeast Nigeria, women are referred to as “Mgboto” (daughters of the clan) or “Umuada” (first daughters of the family) intheir place of birth. However,at their marital homes, women are called “Ndi Ndomu” (married women within a family, kindred, clan, or community).
The women organize themselves into community based groups based on the notion of “the daughters of the clan,” or “Umuada”, who usually meet on specific occasions or at least once a year. The “Umuada” are usually the first born daughters in each family.
The “the daughters of the clan,” or “Umuada” help to foster peaceful coexistence within the extended family, the clan, the community, and the town.
The women in southeast Nigeria are also remarkable in being able to organize themselves around their natal and matrimonial homes.
In communities where a public declaration of FGM abandonment has been made, the Umuada’s can be trained as surveillance Unit to monitor compliance.
Consensus building meeting can also be conducted with the Umuada’s towards FGM abandonment, where they will reach a consensus that no girl-child born in their community should be subjected to FGM and pass a notice to all community member using a town crier.
The Umuada usually meet and deliberate on actions taken by members of the clan or community that are perceived to work against community interests or harmony.
Most often the Umuada’s stage a march and surround the offenders’ houses armed with either palm fronds or pestles, while singing to inform the inhabitants of their ills and to urging them to desist from such actions.
This is done continuously until an offender is made to atone for the offense or succumbs to their collective demands to change the offensive behaviour.
The “Umuada” (first born daughters of the family) also serve as a pivotal link between women and the clan or community. The “Umuada’s” also have the power to take action against erring members of the Ndi Ndom or women married into their community.
Sometimes they go as far as sending unfaithful wives or women deemed to have inflicted grievous harm on their children or husbands out of their marital homes or imposing fines on them.
In most southeast states in Nigeria, women are recognized as great arbiters, peace brokers, and enforcers.
Although the southeast state’s is in many ways patriarchal, women certainly play supportive and dynamic roles as midwives to peace in the land of their birth.
Another strong community group in the southeast Nigeria is the Community-based association of married women which seeks to address developmental issues of the community as well.
In this married women’s group, all members are bounded by their laws and the resolutions of their community.
This married women’s group does not delay in sanctioning any member who violates their rules and regulations guiding the association or their community.
The married women’s group is very effective in setting up surveillance team in communities that has publicly declared FGM abandonment.
The married women’s group meets every month, and can therefore allocate a few minutes to discuss about the dangers of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and how it affects them, and their community.
The UNJP has been successful working with the married women’s group to prevent, track, report and monitor cases of FGM in their communities.
Some of the activities of the married women’s group are to ensure compliance with the public declaration of FGM abandonment, in Imo State are listed below:
- When a member becomes pregnant, the married women’s group sends a team to visit her family to remind them that the community has abandoned FGM.
- When the member delivers her baby, a Team from the married women’s group will visit her to confirm the sex of the baby and remind her not to cut or massage the baby.
- If she had a female child, the Team from the married women’s group will remind the family not to subject her to FGM.
- The Team from the married women’s group will return on the 8th Day to ensure that she will not be cut (which is the day that majority of the girls are cut in the southeast Nigeria).
- If any female child is cut, the Team from the married women’s group will document the incident and report to the President of the Women’s Association, who will report to the Traditional Ruler.
- The Traditional Ruler will ensure that the Child is referred for health services, and also notify the partners implementing the UNJP in Imo State (Ministry of Women Affairs and National Orientation Agency) using the phone numbers given to them.
The married women groups in the Southeast Nigeria meets annually to discuss developmental issues and plan for the coming year. This meeting is called the “Annual Home and Abroad meeting” or popularly known as “August Meeting”
This “August meeting” is brings together all the women married into the community from different parts of the worlds. It is mandatory for members to attend this meeting, which usually takes place in August each year.
The “August Meeting” helps foster bonding, unity, and a sense of belonging between the women and other women who have married into their community.
Apart from intervening to resolve family or community conflicts, women also engage in community development projects, contribute to scholarship funds to support the education of indigent members of the communities, and combat violence against women.
During the Annual “August Meeting”, the women uses this opportunity to remind community members both home and abroad about the dangers of FGM and the need to abandon the practice.
Other initiatives by the married women’s group, during the “August Meeting” include setting up self-help projects to engage youths meaningfully.
The educated and affluent members also use the opportunity to establish trust funds, voluntary medical services, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to support the vulnerable and poor members of the community.
Younger and unmarried women look up to these women as their role models and mentors, who in turn live up to their roles and educate the youngsters on the society’s expectations of them.
Since 2016, the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on Elimination of FGM in Nigeria has been supporting the National Orientation Agency (NOA) to use the platform of the annual “August Meeting” to sensitize women about FGM in Imo and Ebonyi State in southeast Nigeria.
In conclusion, if the two associations of women (“Umuada”/the first born daughters and “Ndi Ndom”/women married into the community) can be fully engaged in the UNJP campaign in all States in southeast Nigeria, FGM will be eliminated in the this generation.
To learn more about the @endcuttinggirls Social Media Campaign to end FGM, please visit endcuttinggirls.org and follow our social media handles on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, using @endcuttinggirls
At this point, I will end the presentation to give room for questions and contributions from participants. Thank you all for reading our tweets
Together we will end FGM in this generation.