By Chris Onuoha
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a harmful practice and a gross violation of human rights. In commemoration of the International Day of Zero Tolerance for female genital mutilation on February 6 2019, The UnCUT Initiative led five communities, Tankoka, Aba Omooba, Olupo, Manlaye and Ile-Ogo in Asa village, Ola-Oluwa local government area of Osun State, in the fight against FGM, as they unanimously agreed to discontinue the practice.
This is a big victory for the The UnCUT Initiative, with a mission to ensure that young women and girls across high risk communities in Nigeria are free from Female Genital Mutilation through the discontinuation of the practice and full protection of their rights through proper implementation of the Anti-FGM policy.
This declaration was proudly supported by the British Council, Action Health Incorporated (AHI), and The New Generation Girls and Women Development Initiative (NIGAWD), in their continuous commitment to ensuring rights of girls are protected in Nigeria. Present at the declaration were the Chairman of the local government, Hon. Oyediran Asimiyu; traditional rulers and chiefs from Tankoka (Baale AbdulGafar Asafa), Aba Omooba (Elewudu Ayinla Murilu), Olupo (Baale AbdulGaniyu Akeem), Manlaye (Baale Adeleke Yekini) and Ile-Ogo (Ologo Addusalam Ola-Saka) communities; perpetrators mostly made up of quack doctors and traditional birth attendants, representatives of the Police force, community members and Anti-FGM champions.
Osun state ranks highest in the prevalence of FGM in Nigeria; followed by Ebonyi, Oyo, Ekiti and Imo states. Generally, South-Western states in Nigeria account for a large number of incidences of the harmful practice. The declaration was made possible through the cooperation of anti-FGM Champions – Oyebamiji Olalekan, Ogundipe Abass, Adesina Kikelomo, Isa Sekinat, Akeeb Monsurat and Makinde Bolaji and perpetrators which constituted quack doctors and traditional birth attendants. All stakeholders signed the social agreement which clearly stated that they were aware of the adverse effects of FGM, its implication by law and support advocacy against it.
The Executive/Project Director of the UnCUT Initiative, Dolapo Olaniyan in her interview, expressed joy in the successful implementation of this public declaration. She further stated the different hurdles the project had faced in the communities and why advocacy had to be intensified. She said “last year, I got reports from one of the Anti-FGM champions about a few weeks old baby that was circumcised in Ile-Ogo community. This spiked a new drive in me to support the champions in carrying out strict advocacy in these regions. I am happy we achieved this win and I hope other communities in the state will follow suit”.
She condemned FGM, describing it as “all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for cultural and medical reasons, which are detrimental to the health and well-being of women and girls”. She explained why her definition was slightly different from the conventional definition, stating that several arguments have ensued from people’s perceptions, deeming the harmful practice right, if done by health care professionals. She also stated that if given access to more funding, the Initiative will collaborate more, and ensure a complete victory.
The members of the Police Force also renewed their commitment as law enforcers, towards ending the harmful practice by decreeing that they will uphold the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act and ensure that fresh cases are duly attended to, and perpetrators brought to book. They also admonished communities represented to report cases regardless of who might be involved.
Certificates of recognition were given to the anti-FGM champions for their great commitment towards ending female genital mutilation in the state. They were also admonished by traditional rulers to put in more efforts in reaching other practicing communities across the state, by working hand-in-hand with other anti FGM champions. All community leaders were also presented with their certificates of declaration and pledged to protect the rights of women and girls in their communities.
Dolapo who is also a winner of the 2018 British Council’s Future Leaders Connect programme had an opportunity to develop her policy making expertise in the UK along with young leaders globally. Dolapo is currently using the learnings from the programme to further her mission to completely eradicate Female Genital Mutilation in Nigeria. The Future Leaders Connect programme identified exceptional individuals (aged 18-35) from around the world and builds a long-term network of emerging policy leaders.