According to WHO, the term “Female Genital Mutilation” refers to all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

Basically, FGM is carried out by different people for so many different reasons. However, various researches have proven that none of these reasons are justifiable. While most people carry out the practice on baby girls few days after birth, others do it during puberty while others even do it before marriage. We have had of communities where women who were not cut during their lifetime must be cut even before they are buried.

There are basically 4 different types of FGM as classified by World Health Organization (WHO). 

FGM Type I: partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce (Clitoridectomy). The 2 subdivisions are, FGM Type Ia: removal of the prepuce/clitoral hood (circumcision) and FGM Type Ib: removal of the clitoris with the prepuce.

FGM Type II: Partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (excision)

The 3 subdivisions are of FGM Type II are; FGM Type IIa: removal of the labia minora only; FGM Type IIb: partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora; and FGM Type IIIc: partial or total removal of the clitoris, the labia minora and the labia majora

FGM Type III: Narrowing of the vaginal orifice with the 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).

The 2 subdivisions are, FGM Type IIIa: removal and appositioning the labia minora with or without excision of the clitoris; and FGM Type IIIb: removal and appositioning the labia majora with or without excision of the clitoris

The last type is the Type IV also known as UNCLASSIFIED refers to all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for nonmedical purposes, for example, pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterization.

FGM of any type is a violation of the human rights of girls and women and is known to be harmful to girls and women in many ways. This practice is strongly rooted in culture and tradition; it has not been an easy task in getting people to abandon the practice despite the harmful effects on girls and women.

FGM is usually carried out by elderly people in the rural communities, healthcare providers and or mothers of these young girls. However, Ending FGM takes work at many levels such as dialogue and action that engages families and communities, protection and care services for girls/women, enforcement of laws, and political commitment at the local, state, national and international levels.

In 2014, the UNFPA/UNICEF Joint Programme on elimination of FGM: Accelerating Change (UNJP) commenced in Nigeria, UNICEF has been supporting social norms change interventions in Five focal State; Ebonyi, Ekiti, Imo, Osun and Oyo States.

These interventions, being delivered in partnership with government agencies and civil society organisations, include mapping community structures as platforms to drive the community engagements, public fora/community dialogues on FGM abandonment, Other interventions, in Nigeria, include training of EndFGM Community Champions to conduct small group discussions, as well as establishing a state-level and LGA-level coordination structures, called the State and LGA Technical Committees on FGM.  Other interventions include mapping of the existing community structures as platforms to drive the community engagements; public fora and community dialogues on FGM abandonment, training Male Engage Alliance to EndFGM, Community Dialogues and Consensus Building Meetings and conducting educational dialogues and sensitizing men, women and young people about FGM using different settings (schools, churches, health facilities, etc.).

After these interventions, the key stakeholders from the Communities held Consensus Building Meeting and Review Meeting towards a Public Declaration of their decision to abandon FGM in their communities. These consensus building meetings were used to consolidate the impact of the on-going educational dialogues and awareness creation in the five states (Ebonyi, Ekiti, Imo, Osun and Oyo) where the UNFPA/UNICEF Joint Programme is taking place.

Over the years of championing this campaign, women have been pivotal in ensuring that this practice ends. These includes affected women by the practise of FGM, women in power, women with a girl child.

During the onset of COVID-19, we had thought that the global pandemic which encouraged social distancing will limit this practise. However, this wasn’t so and the practise has still continued especially in the aforementioned five states.

We have also recorded good progress with the public declarations dome recently in Ebonyi and Imo State. It is quite shocking that though women and girkls go through the pain of FGM, older women in communities have still remained the cutters. 

Following this, it is important to highlight the roles women (young and old) would play to curb this practise especially in this COVID-19 ERA. 

CREATING AWARENESS

Although much awareness has been made on the need to maintain social distancing and also end FGM, many communities as explained above still practice this painful act since the first lockdown in March, 2020. Because women are predominantly affected, they can help end this practice by engaging in aggressive awareness campaigns in rural communities, where cultural beliefs and societal pressure to conform to existing traditional practices force them to let their girl children go through this excruciatingly painful and medically unnecessary procedure.

Highlighting the harmful health implications of FGM to women in communities where it is practiced, and explaining that girl children who do not undergo FGM grow up to be healthy women and no less female than girls who undergo FGM, would go a long way in changing the mindset of communities that still practice FGM.

ENGAGING SCHOOLS AND RELIGIOUS LEADERS

To end FGM in Nigeria, community based women and women in power must engage with those who can sway communities. Engaging with religious leaders to speak out against FGM in this crucial moment of the country will go a long way to solve two problems (ending FGM and limiting the spread of COVID-19). Nigeria is made up of highly developed and diversified religious groups and much religious leaders are given enormous respect and weight in Nigerian society. Based on the respect they carry, it would be easier for religious leaders to convince parents, community leaders and few health workers who still indulge in this to stop the practice of FGM.

Additionally, women should go directly into schools and talk to students, especially girls, about the dangers of FGM. Since it is girls who are affected, such visits should be led by a young woman, or perhaps even a female victim of FGM who could share her personal experience.

Young women like Ginika (not the real name), a 19-year-old girl from Imo state, Nigeria, can connect on an interpersonal level with other girls and young women. Here is Ginika’s story:

When I was 9 years old, I went to stay with my grandmother in the village for the holidays. On the third night of my stay, she took me to an elderly woman’s house where I was asked to remove my underwear, lie down and spread my legs. I was afraid but grandma assured me that it was going to be fine. Grandma held my hands and the other woman brought out a razor blade and started cutting. I shouted in pain but grandma held me firmly so I couldn’t break free. I was crying and bleeding but grandma held me still. When the other woman were done, grandma carried me home. I could not walk for days and when I asked her why I was made to go through such painful process, she replied that it was a necessary cultural practice to make me a woman and prevent me from being promiscuous.

Also, women should engage religious leaders to speak about the dangers of FGM. Nigeria is highly religious and much respect is given to religious leaders because they are seen as mouthpieces of God. Based on the respect they carry, it would be easier for religious leaders to convince parents and community leaders to stop the practice of FGM.

SEEK GOVERNMENT SUPPORT

For women to end FGM in Nigeria in one generation, they need the government’s support and strong political commitment to enact strict penalties for those who still practice FGM. This is so because at this time, the government would listen to any covid-19 related discussions and would be glad to hear suggestions that would encourage social distancing.

Women and their women led organisations can lead the way in tackling development, gender, and health issues, and they can lead the way to ending the practice of FGM. We just need to be given the chance.

CHALLENGE THE DISCRIMINATORY GOR WHICH FGM IS PRACTISED

Among the discriminatory reasons FGM is practised is a perceived need to control female sexuality. “The purpose of female genital cutting is to ensure that a girl behaves properly, saves her virginity until she gets married and then stays faithful to her husband.” says Alima, A 70-year old woman from Mali.

“Sometimes, when my husband isn’t home, I’ll sit with my neighbours and we’ll discuss all kinds of things. They think the same way as me about cutting.” Her daughter-in-law Fatoumata, explains.

According to Alima, she thinks the practise of FGM should be stopped. Even if nobody listens to you and just carries on, you have to stand firm and maintain the dialogue. Such an ingrained custom can only be changed through perseverance.

Women need to persevere the more and not be defeated by mere discriminatory words. Women all over the world can learn from the young girl in Ebonyi State that led to the public declaration in her community.

At this point, we have come to the end of the conference and encourage you to also participate in our weekly Twitter conferences and quarterly Whatsapp conference.

You can ask your questions as we have a team on ground eager to answer them. Feel free to tag your friends and see you on the last Tuesday of next month.