Startled by this loud reverberation from her phone, Ms. Elizabeth Johnson (not real name) jumps out of bed, looked at her bedside clock it is 6:00am in the morning. She quickly reached out for the phone. Remembering it is the reminder alarm she had set the previously, to keep “6th February, 2017 handy as it is the International day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C), a monument she never forgets.
Female genital mutilation also known as female genital cutting or circumcision is a rite removal of the female genitalia. It is a common practice found in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. According to UNICEF Report of 2016, a total of 200 million women are estimated to have undergone the procedures of FGM and are alive in 30 countries including 27 African countries, Indonesia, Iraq Kurdistan and Yemen. This form of circumcision is an equivalent of that of a male child in severity. This is usually conducted by a traditional circumciser particularly an older woman using a blade. The circumcision method varies depending on the country and/or ethnic group. Like circumcision for boys takes place on the eighth day after birth, most ethnic group takes from days after birth to puberty and beyond.
Dated far back as 1929 following the lead of Mario Scott Steven, a Church of Scotland Missionary, the Kenya Missionary Council already referred to Female Genital Mutilation as the Sexual Mutilation of Women. But till 2004 in Laikipiaplateau Kenya, the Kenyans still front it as an honourable rite called the “Samburu FGM ceremony”. But of what significance is it to their victims?
Elizabeth Johnson, had lost her cousin to the cold hands of death at childbirth owing to this practice that violates human rights. It drains her emotionally each time this International day is marked. What can be done to abolish or eradicate this inhuman tradition? She recalls the damaging health effects of FGM that often results in woman having recurrent infections, difficulty passing urine and menstrual flow with excruciating pain and worse of all the inability to get pregnant and/or childbirth complications.
Female Genital Mutilation according to health professional and/or practitioners has no benefit instead inflicts health challenges. From the research carried out, the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children and the World Health Organisation (WHO) were the first to have referred to this act as Female Genital Mutilation in 1990 and 1991. Others used terms such as female genital cutting (FGC) also female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), which is said to be the most preferred by persons who work with practitioners.
A report also had it that Female Genital Mutilation are of classes, these include cutting without removal of flesh, partial or complete removal of the clitoral hood and/or clitoral glands and also removal of flesh and sewing of same called “infibulation”. This procedure is done by clasping the foreskin together and allowing only a little passage for excretion purposes (urine and menstrual fluid). Such victims when married are faced with diverse challenges including health implications, lack of penetration, inability in getting pregnant and complications at childbirth due to the little open. In this regard victims are required to be cut open in order for them to either be penetrated or have their children with ease at every point of childbirth. The sole reason behind this tradition is to prevent the girl child from being exposed to social exclusion, where an African mother wants to regular her daughters’ sexuality, purity, modesty and beauty sees it as an honour to inflict her with such pain and trauma.
Following the recap of Female Genital Mutilation, it may seem antiquated and ancient but surprisingly it is still making waves in most parts of Nigeria including the South West and South East. Female Genital Mutilation is a long standing tradition that is carried out by most Nigerian women on their daughters and grand-daughters. This act as performed by those women using razors, knives and other sharp objects is not mindful of the dangers of infections of different degrees. They see it as a way of protection and prevention from extreme sexuality and the voice of disgrace. Female Genital Mutilation is a pathetic issue confronting women in the name of purification, modesty and beauty. Where a woman cannot enjoy the free and natural gift as endowed her by her creator is injustice, inhuman and the highest level of women human rights violation and it all boils down to the issue of gender inequality and denial of sexual and reproductive health rights.
The consequences of all of these is the unsafe nature of the device used for this mutilation which are not sterilized yet are used on several of the children in the same home or community where it takes place as the circumcisers are traditionalists and know nothing about sterilization or the need for the safe health of those children being mutilated. It is also done without anaesthesia because medical practitioners are not involved in most cases and such children are left in cruelty.
A report from a Ugandan nurse quoted in 2007, “The Lancet”, ‘a cutter would use one knife on up to 30 girls at a time’. Whereas in Egypt, Kenya, Indonesia and Sudan Health professionals are often involved, but only in Egypt was it recorded to have 77 percent of FGM procedures performed by medical professionals as of 2008 and 2016.
Another report from UNFPA 2015 shows that in Nigeria states like Ekiti, Ebonyi, Imo, Lagos and Oyo are well known for this traditional practice but Oyo is said to have ranked the highest in female genital mutilation with over 76.3 percent.
Filled with content after series of research work Ms. Elizabeth only sees FGM as ‘the mayhem of all times’. Looking up ways to save the lives of others from dying like her cousin. She felt the need to call on mothers all over Africa and beyond who are still in the practice of FGM to rather stand in defence of the rights of their daughters and their unborn granddaughters instead of ingraining in the tradition and culture that inflicts health challenges and even sorrow to themselves as it is the only way forward to allowing this path of harmful tradition to die a natural death and fight with the weapon we know best, which is the implementation and domestication of the available legal resources, conventions and instruments such as ‘Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPP), 2015, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)’ etc. In the spirit of working together to put an end to FGM, the 5 mile Women Walk she will be leading will be a way of saying it loud and clear: NO MORE!
Marie-Uneje Jerome is with Lawyers Alert +234 073 129 6971