By JOSEPHINE IGBINOVIA
Circumcision ofÂ the male childÂ of the Israelites was a convenant which God made with Abraham, according to the old Testament of the Bible.Â However, from time immemorial, many African communities made it mandatory for the female child to be circumcised, regardless of the immense danger it posed to these helpless little ones.
Erroneously, these communities believe that female circumcision helps to check sexual promiscuity in women, even though thereâ€™s never been evidence that this is true.Â During a brief visit to Nigeria recently, Mrs.Linda J.E.Osarenren, Senior Programme Officer of the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children(IAC), took a critical look at the dangers and irrelevance of female circumcision, even as she urgedÂ those medical personnel who are beginning to aid the act to desist from it.Â Â Â Her words:
IAC’ s Welfare IAC is faring very well despite the economic turndown; we have our funders who have so much confidence in us and have continued to support us. We would have said we are making headway in the fight against harmful traditional practices against women, particularly Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) also known as female circumcision, but another dimension is that medical personnel are now taking up what traditional health attendants are dropping.
In OctoberÂ 2009, we had a conference in Kenya for medical health practitioners, and when I asked a medical doctor why they were taking over what traditionalists were dropping, he said that the reason was because over the years, a lot of campaign against FGM have focused on its medical consequences; bleeding, infection, etc. Thus, the medical doctors felt that in order to reduce the harm, they could do it since they are part of the community; to forestall unnecessary death.
According to them, the culture is stronger than any other orthodox reason given against FGM. Therefore, in order not to be seen as antagonizing, even though they know they ought not to be doingÂ the act, they have to help by giving local anesthesia, stop bleeding and eliminate infection entirely while doing FGM. This act is actually against the ethics of the medical profession and against the WHO resolution.
What IAC is doing now is addressing physicians, and asking government to come up with a very strong law to ensure that any health personnel caught executing FGM will have his license suspended or banned, or face the appropriate punishment.
In Egypt , at least four doctors have been jailed for this reason. Medicalization of FGM in Egypt is as high as 76%, but we know that Egypt is now handling FGM seriously. Right now, Uganda is about coming out with a national law that any medical doctor or health personnel caught executing FGM will be banned for ten years.
While legislation will be on one side, weâ€™ve mapped out intensive teaching and sensitization of health personnel, trying to make them understand the dangers of what theyâ€™re doing even if they think it is â€˜harm reductionâ€™.Â We know that FGM violates the human rights of women and girls. It is an unnecessary procedure, and has nothing to do with preventing promiscuity.
Health personnel should stand their ground, face the fact, and come out with the truth. They shouldnâ€™t partner with a killer tradition.
Now, FGM is on the curriculum of nurses and mid-wives in Nigeria , and weâ€™re making efforts towards including it in the curriculum of other health institutions. By this, we do hope that prospective medical doctors and nurses will be sensitive enough not to touch FGM.
FGM and consequences
For those who might know little or nothing about FGM, I want to note that it refers to the cutting of parts or all of the external genitals; clitoris, labia, etc. What makes it even very contentious is that there isnâ€™t one type like the male circumcision which has just one type; cutting of the foreskin.
In that of the female, thereâ€™s almost no foreskin to cut; what theyâ€™re cutting is a blood-rich nerve path healthy organ that has a function in reproduction. Some do not just cut the clitoris, but go on to cut the inner and outer lips, compromising the elasticity of that part of the womanâ€™s body. When it is healed (hoping it heals properly without infection) there is a scar, and during delivery, scars are inelastic; they donâ€™t expand.
The irony of it is that God has made that part of the womanâ€™s body elastic, especially to aid delivery. Instead of expanding now, the area tears as a result of FGM. So, there is the labour pain as well as the pain of tearing.
This goes with bleeding that may or may not stop easily. After FGM, some children even bleed to death! Some contact infection immediately or later on, and sometimes, this infection ascends to the fallopian tube, leading to infertility. Sometimes, for those whose clitorises were cut, when the sore heals, something bigger than the clitoris appears like a fibroid keloid.
With all these complications; physical, psychological, mental and psychosexual, the ability for a woman to have sexual satisfaction is compromised. Granted that there are people who say there is no medical complication, there is a problem psychologically and mentally which they may not know. This is why FGM is a violation of the reproductive health and rights of a woman.
A married woman has every right to sexual pleasure. These traditionalists believe that a woman was created only for procreation, but we know that sexual relationship is not only for procreation but for unity, communication and pleasure.
A woman has all these rights within the marital context. They believe circumcision is to reduce the libido of a woman so that she does not have desire, but what about the man? Who reduces his own desire? And if he has desire, how does he satisfy it? When the woman who is supposed to satisfy it is unable to, wonâ€™t the man look elsewhere? In the end, female circumcision encourages and increases promiscuity in men.
It also promotes polygamy! That makes it entirely unnecessary for a health personnel to intervene and to carry out a surgery on a healthy organ. Why cut a healthy organ that has a function? Why intervene? These are the questions.
Medicalization of FGM
Health personnel should allow the ethics of their profession to override, and not bow to pressure from the community no matter the circumstance because the health profession states that, â€œYou carry out a surgery to remove a diseaseâ€.
In Nigeria , the medicalization of FGM, as at 2007, was about 74%. The national prevalence meanwhile was about 19%. That might sound small if spread across the country, but the fact is that FGM is community-based. The Ijebus for instance do not do FGM. But when you go to areas like Ondo State where female circumcision is prevalent, it will be as high as 90%.
In Ondo, FGM is done on babies; almost every baby girl is circumcised. When you also go to Akwa-Ibom and the Urhobo area, it will be as high as 60-70%. So, letâ€™s not focus on national prevalence, but go to communities where it is done, and simultaneously address the issue.
Why FGM is unnecessary
We are challenging the so-called traditional rulers and elders to examine FGM. And if they think it to be what will make their women not be promiscuous and their wives to be faithful, what about the counterpart- you as a man?Â How does it stabilize you as a wonderful husband? Your wife is not promiscuous, what about you? How does she think of you, and how happy is she about you?
Marriage is relational, and not only for men to enjoy. The bottom line is that FGM has nothing to do with whether a girl will be promiscuous or not because weâ€™ve seen cases of girls who were circumcised, but yet are jumping from place to place. How do we then explain this?Â My hope is that with education, within a short time, FGM will die.â€™