TWEET CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT: Custodians of Culture: the key to ending FGM – 22.08.2019
Nigeria, due to its large population, has the highest absolute number of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) cases worldwide, accounting for about one-quarter of the estimated 115–130 million circumcised women in the world (Okeke et al., 2012).
Interestingly however, within the last 10 years of the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on FGM elimination in Nigeria, much has changed.
For instance, girls and women at risk of or suffering from the consequences of FGM today have increased access to quality services offering protection and care.
Despite so many positive developments however, FGM persists. Amongst others, changing people’s perceptions and attitudes about FGM has been the biggest challenge.
Worthy of note, in all cases where substantial progress have been made throughout the country, is the critical role that custodians of custom play in bringing about such change.
These custodians of custom therefore, could they be the key to ending FGM in Nigeria? If yes, why and how? That will be the center of today’s discussions and I’m glad you are going to be part of it!
In case you are joining us for the first time, FGM stands for ‘’Female Genital Mutilation”. FGM refers to any procedure that involves “partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or any other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”
There are different forms of FGM, some of which involve more radical excisions in the genital area than others. FGM has 4 types, Clitoridectomy; Excision; Infibulation; & Unclassified (e.g. “pressing” the clitoris with hot water)
The origin and significance of FGM practice is shrouded in secrecy, uncertainty and fraught with controversy either as an initiation ceremony of young girls into womanhood or to ensure virginity and curb promiscuity, or to protect female modesty and chastity.
FGM demonstrates deep-rooted gender inequalities and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. It is also a serious violation of the rights of girls’ health, security, integrity, dignity, and freedom.
FGM is not required by any religion and there is no scientific evidence that women who have been mutilated are more faithful or better wives than those who have not undergone the procedure.
It is therefore very clear that there is no single benefit derived from FGM and possible medical complications includes but not limited to: severe bleeding, cysts, infections, difficulty urinating, issues with childbirth and even death.
For more information about basic facts about FGM, visit www.endcuttinggirls.org Also do well to follow the handle “Endcuttinggirls Nigeria’’ on all social media platforms for constant updates about the endFGM campaign.
You can also visit who.int or watch
Elimination of FGM is high on the international agenda, enshrined as target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Efforts to end FGM have been embraced by governments, regional and subregional bodies, media at all levels, and increasingly civil society and social movements.
However, approaches to transform the social norms on FGM have evolved to reflect new learnings. Much more needs to be done to address the deeply held myths and beliefs in these communities.
As the saying goes “it takes a village to raise a child”. In the same vein it will also take a village to protect a child.
In many parts of the world FGM is backed up by deep-seated perceptions embedded in culture. The custodians of tradition and culture—not lawmakers—are the main decision makers in these communities. Therefore, any campaign to change any social norm without factoring them into the process will yield very little or no positive result.
These custodians of culture wield so much power, influence, and authority in their communities that their cooperation and participation in changing the status quo in their communities is essential.
As the stewards of traditional rites of passage, these gatekeepers also pass these rites and cultural values and norms from one generation to the other.
Given their tremendous and unquestioned power within their communities, these custodians if not carried along will continue to perpetuate and promote socio-cultural practices such as FGM.
A key takeaway is that, too often, well-meaning governmental and non-governmental interventions intended to help improve the lots of girls in the past have alienated elders and overlooked the value of community-led solutions. It is very important to note that in communities around the world where people have openly declared to #endFGM, it has been led by the custodians of custom/traditional rulers.
Instances where collaboration with custodians of culture have paid off handsomely in the #endFGM campaign across Nigeria are hereby mentioned below:-
On 19th June 2017 the custodians “Ishiukes” of custom in Izzi clan, Ebonyi State, Nigeria led a historic massive end FGM Pubic Declaration. This was the first of it’s kind in the country. Watch video:- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kevlo0KXJQE
Apart from the historic Izzi public declaration, more have also happened in other states across the nation such as:- Osun video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zO0utLYwIaM
Oyo: video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iecGvewbU6o to mention but a few.
During these events the custodians noted that they took the decision based on enlightenment they received on the health implications of the practice on women and girls.
It is worthy to note that several years of #endFGM efforts in Izzi clan, Ebonyi and the other states that did not properly factor-in these custodians of custom did not achieve much.
Suffice to say that an #endFGM public declaration/affirmation refers to “formal public ceremonies involving one or more communities—typically villages, but increasingly also districts and ethnic groups that take part in an event where they manifest, through their representatives, the specific commitment to abandon FGM/C”.
Public declaration is therefore a moment of broad social recognition, which shows that most support abandonment of FGM, and most likely will abandon the practice.
When the custodians of culture and traditional rulers lead these public declaration, it does not necessarily mean that the declaring community is henceforth free from FGM; But it surely represents a milestone in the process of abandonment because it signals the change in social expectations and sets the tone for the reversal of the FGM trend in such communities.
In many part of Nigeria, custodians of custom are next to the gods. They are seen to be infallible and know what’s good for their people. The above presupposes that the Ishiukes, Obis, Emirs, Ohas, Ojiofors and Obas as the case may be can’t and won’t set their people on the wrong path
To this end, we must accept that custodians of custom and their institutions have crucial roles to play if we must #Endcuttinggirls
In many other cutting communities across Nigeria where #endFGM public declarations are yet to be recorded, various collaborative efforts with custodians of custom and traditional rulers have resulted in community level #endFGM dialogues. These dialogues have helped community members to speak openly about FGM and end the culture of silence around the practice.
It must be said that the culture of silence has been one of the biggest challenges in combating FGM. A situation where those that have been cut do not have the courage to share their pains. Getting the custodians of culture and traditional rulers to become #endFGM advocates will give our message “divine credibility” and drum wider support from community members to end the practice
Also, introducing alternative rites of passage is within the ambit of our custodians of custom and traditional rulers as law makers. When our custodians of custom and traditional rulers function as law enforcers, they help ensure that community members respect the community and country’s law
Going forward, efforts should therefore be tailored towards engaging community leadership and leveraging on culture and traditions to end FGM.
Premised on the understanding that community-led solutions where local actors are fully engaged and approached with cultural sensitivity and respect will take us faster to our destination in the #endFGM campaign.
The social norm that sustains the practice of FGM around the world rests on the shakiest of foundations: it is composite of faulty beliefs, perceived obligations and inferred expectations all woven together in a suprizingly durable knot.
Yes, given the strength of social bonds that binds communities together, the norm that sustains FGM has proven difficult to handle.
But it cannot withstand forever the forces of reports of the harm the practice causes, the reminders that it violates the human rights of girls and local laws alike, the poignant voices of survivors, and the mounting evidence of changing attitudes.
It cannot withstand the force of collective action and social evolution. Our work is to accelerate FGM’s inevitable demise.
As we all come together, in solidarity, to lend our voices and support the #endFGM campaign, we must note that our custodians of culture hold the key to stamping out this harmful practice from all cutting communities.
Thanks for being part of our conversations today. Join us every other Thursday 5-7pm. Visit our website www.endcuttinggirls.org and kindly follow the handle “Endcuttinggirls Nigeria’’ on all social media platforms.
55. It’s time to hear and respond to your questions and/or opinions based on the conference. Keep them coming.