-Cynthia Omo

Traditional rulers have proven to be crucial stakeholders to led the camapign to end FGM in Nigeria, as group gatekeepers in the local environment.

In general, most movements that have effectively modified unhealthy cultural traditions and social norms in the past have benefited from traditional rulers’ vital power in the local setting in one way or another.

For example, in any community in Nigeria that has publicly declared the end of FGM, a thorough investigation will always reveal that traditional rulers led the process.

FGM refers to any procedure that involves “partial or total removal of the external female genitals, or the other injury to the feminine genital organs for non-medical reasons.”

There are different sorts of FGM, several of which involve more radical excisions within 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 are shrouded in secrecy, uncertainty and fraught with controversy either as an initiation ceremony of young girls into womanhood or to make sure virginity and curb promiscuity, or to guard female modesty and chastity.

FGM demonstrates deep-rooted gender inequalities and constitutes an extreme sort of discrimination against women. it’s also a significant violation of the rights of girls’ health, security, integrity, dignity, and freedom.

FGM isn’t required by any religion and there’s no scientific evidence that ladies who are mutilated are more faithful or better wives than those that haven’t undergone the procedure.

It is therefore very clear that there’s no single benefit derived from FGM and possible medical complications include 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 had best 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 watchhttps://youtu.be/f0-dYD9cYKo

The Elimination of FGM by 2030 is high on the international agenda, enshrined as target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Efforts to eliminate FGM are embraced by Governments at the Regional and sub-regional level, the media, and increasing civil society and social movements.

However, approaches to end the social norms on FGM have evolved to reflect new learnings. more must be done to deal with the deeply held myths and beliefs in these communities.

In many parts of Nigeria, FGM is protected by deep-seated perceptions embedded in the culture

Additionally, traditional rulers and custodians of culture wield such a lot of power, influence, and authority in their communities that their cooperation and participation in changing the established order in their communities is non-negotiable.

As the stewards of traditional rites of passage, these community gatekeepers are responsible for preserving these rites, cultural values and norms from one generation to the opposite.

Traditional rulers, being the most decision-makers in these communities, any campaign to vary any social norm without factoring them into the method will yield little or no or no positive result.

Based on strict recognition and compliance to the above-stated facts, traditional rulers across Nigeria have done such a lot and are still doing great within the campaign to Eliminate FGM in various FGM practicing communities across the country.

To many, it’s going to be surprising, however, that traditional ruler who should be custodians of culture are today being celebrated for haven contributed and still contributing significantly to eliminate FGM in Nigeria.

This is especially bearing in mind that FGM is seen as cultural practice in most communities where harmful practice is performed.

Importantly, there are modalities for engaging traditional rulers within the campaign to eliminate FGM if we must accelerate change.

To get a community to abandon a social norm, one must seek to ascertain and understand that practice from the community’s perspective.

As we understood, within the case of FGM, most persons who cut their daughters in various communities do this out of affection and ignorance that the practice is a human rights violation.

It is easier to dialogue with the community and obtain their cooperation once they understand from the outset that nobody has come to outrightly condemn their culture. 

They will however be told that a number of these cultural practices which FGM may be a typical example are harmful and will be abandoned, citing the risks of FGM to women, girls, their families and communities.

When the traditional rulers are already convinced of the risks of FGM and therefore the need for its abandonment, they’re going to also open the community gate to the new knowledge.

The traditional rulers themselves will also work with the leadership structure in their community like the women, men, youth, age grades and development union leaders to disseminate the new knowledge.

With the assistance and consent of traditional rulers, it’ll even be easier for various stakeholders performing on ending FGM to access the larger community members, teaching them the harmful implications of FGM and therefore the need for its abandonment.

Usually, it’ll take consistent and several other community dialogues with the normal rulers, custodians of culture and other critical stakeholders within the community to urge them convinced and prepared to expunge FGM from their tradition.

This chain of community dialogue will continue until a threshold is reached and therefore the community decides to return out together at some point to publicly declare the abandonment of FGM in their land.

The beauty of public declaration is that from the day a community takes that wonderful decision, they need also to take ownership of the campaign.

For instance, most of those communities that have taken this decision have also additionally inaugurated local surveillance committees that monitor compliance.

And in a case where anyone is caught still indulging within the practice, the community has stipulated sanctions that the person will face.

So, with the community gradually owning up to the campaign, led by the Traditional rulers, the practice of FGM will gradually and completely be eliminated from that community.

Overall, the method of expunging FGM from a community is typically an extended process, with traditional rulers as critical and essential drivers of this process.

Additionally, the thought of community ownership of the #EndFGM campaign will remain a mirage without the essential involvement of traditional rulers to lead the Campaign.

A key takeaway is that, too often, governmental, and non-governmental interventions intended to assist girls at risk of FGM in the past have isolated elders and overlooked the worth of community-led solutions.

It is very expedient to notice that in communities around the world where people have openly declared to #endFGM, it’s been led by the traditional rulers/custodians of culture.

Instances, where collaboration with custodians of culture have paid off handsomely within the #endFGM campaign across Nigeria, are hereby mentioned in the next tweets:-

On 19th June 2017, traditional rulers & the custodians “Ishiukes” of custom in the Izzi clan, Ebonyi State, Nigeria led a historic massive end FGM Pubic Declaration. This was the first of its kind within the country. Watch video:-https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=szNL-DstglQ&list=PL2bH-jsY2oExqQcFCO6ImNJV0dCtudFBE&index=10

Apart from the historic Izzi public declaration, more have also happened in other states across the state such as:-

Video: Public declaration of FGM in some Communities   in Osun State. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zO0utLYwIaM&t=82s

Video: Public declaration of FGM in some Communities  inOyo State https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iecGvewbU6o&list=PL2bH-jsY2oExqQcFCO6ImNJV0dCtudFBE&index=8

Video: Public declaration of FGM in some Communities  in Imo State. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AEsgX54TNJI&list=PL2bH-jsY2oExqQcFCO6ImNJV0dCtudFBE&index=4

Video: Public declaration of FGM in some Communities  inEkiti State https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rwLxS_mt4Fg&t=99s  

During these events, the custodians noted that they took the choice supported enlightenment they received on the health implications of the practice on women and girls.

It is worthy to notice that several years of #endFGM efforts in the Izzi clan, Ebonyi and therefore the other states that didn’t properly factor in these traditional rulers & custodians of custom didn’t yield much.

Suffice to mention that an #endFGM public declaration/affirmation refers to “formal public ceremonies involving one or more communities—typically villages, but increasingly also districts and ethnos that participate in an occasion where they manifest, through their representatives, the precise commitment to abandon FGM”.

A public declaration is therefore a flash of broad social recognition, which shows that the majority support abandonment of FGM, and presumably will abandon the practice.

When traditional rulers & custodians of culture lead this public declaration, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the declaring community is henceforth free from FGM, anyway; But it surely represents a milestone within 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 a part of Nigeria, traditional rulers & custodians of custom are next to the gods. they’re seen to be infallible and know what’s good for his or her people.

To this end, we must appreciate and celebrate the critical role traditional rulers & custodians of culture are playing and are still playing to Eliminate FGM from their various communities.

In many other cutting communities across Nigeria where #endFGM public declarations are yet to be recorded, various collaborative efforts with traditional rulers & custodians of culture are interestingly leading to community-level #endFGM dialogues.

These dialogues have helped community members to talk 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 most important challenges in Eliminating FGM. A situation where people who are cut don’t dare to share their pains.

Getting the custodians of culture and traditional rulers to become #endFGM advocates have given the EndFGM message “strong credibility” and have helped in drumming wider support from members of various cutting communities to end the practice.

Also, introducing alternative rites of passage is within the ambit of traditional rulers & custodians of custom as lawmakers.

When our traditional rulers & custodians of custom function as law enforcers, they assist make sure that community members respect the community and country’s law.

When it involves changing a social norm in any community little or no success may ever be possible if traditional rulers in such settings are undermined.

Therefore, traditional rulers must be essentially engaged until FGM completely becomes a thing of the past in Nigeria.

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 within the #endFGM campaign.

As we lend our voices and support the global effort to end FGM, we must note that our traditional rulers hold the key to eliminate this harmful practice from all cutting communities.

We must continue to celebrate all traditional rulers to have used their capacity to advance this noble cause as well as continue to seek collaboration with others who are yet to sign up to the campaign.

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.

It’s time to hear and respond to your questions and/or opinions based on the conference. Keep them coming.