by Titilade Dacosta  

on Tuesday, 26th May 2020

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, “Increasing rate of COVID-19; its effect on the practice of Female Genital Mutilation”, let us define the term COVID-19.

The Increasing rate of COVID-19; its effect on the practice of Female Genital Mutilation will be discussed as follow;

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus.

 Most people infected with the COVID-19 virus will experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without requiring special treatment.  Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer are more likely to develop serious illness.

The best way to prevent and slow down transmission is be well informed about the COVID-19 virus, the disease it causes and how it spreads. Protect yourself and others from infection by washing your hands or using an alcohol based rub frequently and not touching your face. 

The COVID-19 virus spreads primarily through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose when an infected person coughs or sneezes, so it’s important that you also practice respiratory etiquette (for example, by coughing into a flexed elbow).

At this time, there are no specific vaccines or treatments for COVID-19. However, there are many ongoing clinical trials evaluating potential treatments. WHO will continue to provide updated information as soon as clinical findings become available.

To prevent infection and to slow transmission of COVID-19, do the following:

  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and water, or clean them with alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Maintain at least 1 metre distance between you and people coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your face.
  • Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.
  • Stay home if you feel unwell.
  • Refrain from smoking and other activities that weaken the lungs.
  • Practice physical distancing by avoiding unnecessary travel and staying away from large groups of people.

COVID-19 affects different people in different ways. Most infected people will develop mild to moderate illness and recover without hospitalization.

Most common symptoms of COVID-19 includes:

  • fever.
  • dry cough.
  • tiredness.

Less common symptoms of COBID-19 includes:

  • aches and pains.
  • sore throat.
  • diarrhoea.
  • conjunctivitis.
  • headache.
  • loss of taste or smell.
  • a rash on skin, or discolouration of fingers or toes.

Serious symptoms of COVID-19 includes:

  • difficulty breathing or shortness of breath.
  • chest pain or pressure.
  • loss of speech or movement.

Seek immediate medical attention if you have serious symptoms.  Always call before visiting your doctor or health facility also People with mild symptoms who are otherwise healthy should manage their symptoms at home. On average it takes 5–6 days from when someone is infected with the virus for symptoms to show, however it can take up to 14 days. 

The increase rate of COVID-19, affecting FGM appears to be the dark byproduct of the COVID-19 pandemic

As many people are being asked to stay at home, some are being trapped with their abusers and unless support is put in place, the fall out of the COVID-19 pandemic could be detrimental for women and girls around the globe for decades  

COVID-19 is affecting access to information and education at an unprecedented scale and this making some parents to embark on circumcising their female children.

COVID-19 keeps children out of school, which we know, it can lead to a number of increased vulnerabilities and setbacks

COVID-19 has made protection and promotion of the rights of girls and women to take back seat

Where movement is restricted and people are confined, priority should be given to ensuring access to prevention, protection and care services, including psychosocial support.

Adapting community-based surveillance systems for girls and women at risk of and affected by female genital mutilation, especially in hard-to-reach areas.

Female genital mutilation risk mitigation and response should be integrated in GBV and child protection COVID-19 preparedness and response plans.

Female genital mutilation risk mitigation should be integrated across all humanitarian clusters including health, WASH, education, protection, and food security.

The increased presence of law enforcement serve as a deterrent for female genital mutilation. It may also mean that law enforcement is overburdened and unable to provide protection to girls and women at risk of female genital mutilation.

With schools closed and restrictions in mobility due to COVID-19, girls are staying home which increases their risk of undergoing female genital mutilation.

The closure of School may also mean that some communities will commence the FGM season before the long vacation since the girls are at home.

Supporting community-based women and youth groups in identifying girls at risk of FGM and other forms of GBV, as well as raising awareness about their increased vulnerability and marginalization as a result of the pandemic is one way to adapt community-based surveillance systems.

The way to ensure the integration of FGM in COVID-19 preparedness and response plans, participate in COVID-19 Task Forces/Committees to reduce the effect on the practice of FGM.

Include Girls and Women in Decision Making for COVID-19 Preparedness and Response to reduce the effect on the practice of FGM

Support community-based women and youth groups in leading prevention and protection activities in communities including tracking and supporting girls at risk of female genital mutilation due to COVID-19 using WhatsApp or other applications or platforms to support continued community surveillance to reduce the effect on the practice of FGM.

Capacity development for service providers and other stakeholders should be part of the COVID-19 response to reduce the effect on the practice of FGM. The COVID-19 pandemic presents unprecedented risks and opportunities. Potential opportunities related to ending female genital mutilation include the following:

  • Reduction in Medicalization: In response to COVID-19, quarantine measures worldwide have resulted in limited mobility for populations. This can present an opportunity in addressing the medicalization of FGM, as families and communities are unable to travel to clinics or health facilities where health care providers practice FGM. If COVID-19 reduces medicalization, efforts should be made to sustain this positive trend beyond the current pandemic.
  • Captive Audience for Social and behavior change communication (SBCC) and Communication for Development (C4D) Campaigns: The COVID-19 crisis presents an opportunity to intensify SBCC and C4D campaigns promoting FGM abandonment as quarantine and lockdown measures means most people are at home monitoring mass and social media for the latest update on COVID19. Be creative in developing communication campaigns as way to increase the chances of messages going viral.

This is where we will end today’s segment of the conference on “Increasing rate of COVID-19; its effect on the practice of 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.