by Ola Moses Morakinyo

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.

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

Type I: partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce (Clitoridectomy). Subgroups of Type I FGM are: type Ia, removal of the clitoral hood or prepuce only; type Ib, removal of the clitoris with the prepuce.

Type II: partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (excision). Subgroups of Type II FGM are: type IIa, removal of the labia minora only; type IIb, partial or total removal of the clitoris and labia minora; type IIc, partial or total removal of the clitoris, labia minora and labia majora.

Type III: narrowing of the vaginal orifice with creation of a covering seal by cutting and appositioning the labia minora and/or the labia majora, with or without excision of the clitoris (infibulation). Subgroups of Type III FGM are: type IIIa, removal and apposition of the labia minora; type IIIb, removal and apposition of the labia majora. Reinfibulation is covered under this definition. This is a procedure to recreate an infibulation, for example after childbirth when defibulation is necessary.

Type IV: unclassified – all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for nonmedical purposes, for example, pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterization. Type IV also includes the practice of “massaging” or applying petroleum jelly, herbal concoctions or hot water to the clitoris to desensitize it or pushing it back into the body, which is common in many parts of Nigeria, especially Imo State.

FGM has short terms and long-term effects on the health and well-being of girls and women. Short term effects of FGM include: severe pain, excessive bleeding, shock, genital tissue swelling, infections, while the long-term effects include chronic genital infections, urinary tract infections, painful urination, keloids, perinatal risks, etc.

FGM is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. FGM practice violates women and girls’ rights to health, security and physical integrity, rights to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and rights to life (when the procedure results in death)

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FGM practice is strongly rooted in the people’s culture and so, it has not been an easy task in getting people to abandon the practice despite the harmful effects on girls and women.

It is estimated that about 200 million girls/women have undergone FGM and about 3 million girls/women per year are at risk.  Unless action to end FGM is accelerated, another 68 million girls will have been cut by 2030 (Antonio Guterres – UN Sec. Gen.)

In Nigeria, the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (2016-17) revealed that 18.4% of women aged 15-49 years had undergone FGM, a decrease from 27% (2011).  Conversely, the FGM prevalence among daughters (0-14 years) rose from 19.2% (2011) to 25.3% (2016-17). 

Girls and women living with have experienced a harmful practice and should be provided quality health care, while those at risk should be protected from being subjected to this harmful procedure.

The “UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on Elimination of FGM: Accelerating Change” is being implemented to end FGM in 16 countries including Nigeria.  It commenced in 2008, while Nigeria joined in 2014. Phase III began in Jan. 2018 and will end by Dec. 2021. The UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on Elimination of FGM is playing a mammoth role in achieving Target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goal, which calls for the elimination of all harmful practices by 2030, under Goal 5 of the SDGs. In Nigeria, one of the strategies adopted by the “UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on Eliminating FGM: Accelerating Change” is Peer Education.

Before discussing today’s topic, “Promoting the right of women, a tool to ending FGM”, let us define the term that we shall be using in this presentation.

Women’s rights are the fundamental human rights that were enshrined by the United Nations for every human being on the planet. These rights include the right to live, free from violence, slavery, and discrimination; to be educated; to own property, to earn a fair and equal wage.

The women’s rights, freedom from discrimination, freedom from violence, the right to health, the prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, rights related to marriage and family, right to an effective remedy, and the right to information.

Right to health and physical integrity is to strengthen its legislative measures regarding FGM and conduct awareness-raising campaigns to combat and eradicate this and other traditional practices harmful to the health, survival and development of children, especially girls.

Reference to FGM as a violation of women’s physical integrity, and notes that “despite efforts to combat the practice of female genital mutilation (excision), this practice, which violates the rights and physical integrity of women, persists in certain regions in Nigeria and laws criminalizing female genital mutilation and the law on sexual and reproductive health have not been, effectively, enforced.”.

FGM has a violation of the rights of women and children. In cases where the state fails to act with due diligence, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment may also apply. The Guidelines Development Group underscored the rejection of medicalization on the basis of international consensus that FGM is a human rights violation that should never be practiced.

The involvement of health-care providers in performing FGM is likely to confer a sense of legitimacy on the practice and could give the impression that the procedure is good for women’s health, or at least that it is harmless. it is critical to ensure that the particular health issues of women and girls who have undergone FGM, as well as ensuring that quality sexual and reproductive health care and services are available, accessible, acceptable and of high quality.

In order to ensure that all women and girls can exercise and enjoy the highest attainable standard of health, and to express their sexuality in conditions free from discrimination, coercion and violence. Female genital mutilation violates a series of well-established human rights principles, norms and 

standards, including the principles of equality and non-discrimination on the basis of sex,

FGM violates the right to life when the procedure results in death, and the right to freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment as well as the rights identified below.

The practice of FGM interferes with healthy genital tissue in the absence of medical necessity and can lead to severe consequences for a woman’s physical and mental health, female genital mutilation is a violation of a person’s right to the highest attainable standard of health.

There is a need to enforce the rights of women and children because their vulnerability and need for care and support, as well as the human rights law, grants them special protection.  Therefore, promoting and protecting the rights of women and girls will include the strategies below;

  • Providing sustainable emotional support for women and girls affected by FGM to enhance prevention efforts and support survivors
  • Ensuring self-care for campaigners, staff and volunteers working to end FGM, particularly in grassroots organization
  • Breaking down the stigma associated with FGM and associated emotional or mental health issues
  • Creating safe spaces where women can reflect on their experiences, and what this means for their own daughters, creates an opportunity for breaking the inter-generational cycle of FGM.
  • Advocating for the end of the practice, which is targets women and girls and interferes with their enjoyment of their fundamental rights.
  • Promoting the right of women and girls to lead the efforts to modify any custom that discriminates against them.
  • Promoting the right of women to abolish any traditional practice that are harmful to children and women.
  • Promoting the right of women and girls to unrestricted access to health care information and services
  • Promoting the right of women to ensure a social order in which rights, and that of girls, can be realized.
  • embodying the principle of the equality of men and women in their national constitutions or other appropriate legislation, if not yet incorporated therein and ensuring, through law and other appropriate means, the practical realization of this principle.
  • Adopting appropriate legislative and other measures, including sanctions where appropriate, prohibiting all discrimination against women.
  • Establishing legal protection of the rights of women on an equal basis with men and to ensure through competent national tribunals and other public institutions the effective protection of women against any act of discrimination.
  • Refraining from engaging in any act or practice of discrimination against women and to ensure that public authorities and institutions shall act in conformity with this obligation;
  • taking all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women by any person, organization or enterprise;
  • Taking all appropriate measures, including legislation, to modify or abolish existing laws, regulations, customs and practices which constitute discrimination against women;
  • Repelling all national penal provisions which constitute discrimination against women and girls.
  • Providing accurate and accessible information and education about FGM as a practice that violates the rights of women and girls.
  • Mainstreaming FGM prevention strategies into policies and programs that deal with reproductive health, education, and literacy development.

This is where we will end today’s segment of the conference on “Promoting the right of women, a tool to ending Female Genital Mutilation”. We will gladly standby to take your questions. Thank you for staying with us

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Together we will end FGM in this generation.