By Funmi Ajumobi
As the world marks the annual International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, FGM, in the context of COVID-19, with the theme, ‘No Time for Global Inaction: Unite, Fund, and Act to End Female Genital Mutilation.’ the Nigerian government appears indifferent, while the unwholesome practice continues unabated. WO engages stakeholders:
By now, FGM should have ended — Onah
Margaret Onah is Executive Director, Safehaven Development Initiative, an NGO based in Lagos and Calabar. She works with vulnerable women, girls, such as sex workers on their human rights, HIV/AIDS, gender violence, and Female Genital Mutilation at grassroots levels.
“If I’m going to rate us, I can say we have gone up to 45 per cent. The Nigerian government does not see Female Genital Mutilation as a serious issue the way they are attacking Covid-19 or HIV. They don’t release money for the work to be done. Most of the funding to end this heinous act against women and girls is donor funds.
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“By now, we thought FGM should have ended in Nigeria but there is not enough awareness because of funding. Some communities are aware of the dangers and yet, they still do it. They still believe it is their tradition and their culture.
“The UNFPA and UNICEF are the ones that have big and concentrated projects they are doing on FGM and despite that, they are not everywhere.”
Policies, UN figures
“have policy in Nigeria against FGM, Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act, VAPP. How many states have validated it? Have they ever implemented it? Have you ever heard in a community where somebody was arrested because the person cut the daughter?
“When you take such a case to the judiciary, they always postpone the hearing until you get weary. What we need to do is the printing and re-printing of the law in local languages that people will understand and if anyone is caught, the law should get them prosecuted. If this is done, people will sit up.
The highest used to be Ekiti, Oyo, Osun, Imo, Ebonyi. Lagos is being used as a control state because each clan and community have family members in Lagos. We believe that those coming from every other state are practising it in Lagos.
I disagree with UN on the prevalence because the South-South states of Cross River State, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Delta and Edo have high prevalence as well and they are not working in those states.
In those states, when their daughters want to get married, in the night of their bride price payment, they cut them. It is only NGOs that are working there but the government is not doing anything to stop them. Before we went to those communities in Cross River State, every woman had been circumcised.
FGM and childbirth
It is done because they want to cut the sexuality of women; they want the woman to be faithful to her husband. What is then the function of the clitoris they are cutting off from the woman? It helps the woman to have sexual pleasure. It helps the woman in childbirth.
When the woman is about to deliver, the clitoris expands and allows the baby to come out easily but when it is not there, you see the woman pushing and struggling to give birth for hours or days. Both the mother and the child may get tired and die or one of them can die in the process.
Men and FGM campaign
So, FGM is one of the causes of child mortality in Nigeria. Men should know and be aware that clitoris helps both the man and woman to have sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure is a fundamental human right for both male and female and this mutilation has made a lot of women unable to have sexual satisfaction and they are sad about it.
If you talk to 20 women on the street today, 10 out of them that have been circumcised will tell you they don’t have sexual pleasure. Men should be part of this campaign.
When a man goes to marry from Cross River or Edo and on the night of the bride payment when they want to circumcise her, he should be able to refuse it. Some women have pus in their vaginal throughout their lives because of circumcision.
When Safehaven Development Initiative, SDI, started in 2006, we discovered two communities in Cross River first and we worked with the community leaders. They requested for us to redefine their culture where bride’s clitoris is cut on the night of bride’s price payment. We redefined it as Alternative Right of Passage Without the Cut.
In 2009, we have the first party on the Alternative Right of Passage Without the Cut ceremony where, for the first time, 40 girls were not cut. There and then, we agreed that we cannot be waiting for the communities because they always have this ceremony done at the end of the year.
Individual families can celebrate their girl without cutting her and since then, they have been maintaining it. We have been working with a local government area for the past four months and the community leader has told them that anybody caught will give a cow. Nobody wants to give out a cow because of the cost, so no one is practising it in that community.
In September 2019, a community also stood up and signed that they were not going to do it anymore but they only demanded money for kola. Other communities there also publicly declared that they don’t want to do it anymore. We have about 13 communities that have publicly declared they don’t want to do it again because of our campaign in Cross River State.
Between male and female circumcision
The male cutting is beneficial to the male because if it is not done, it can lead to infection.
That is why any man that is not circumcised can easily pass infections to his partner. When the foreskin of the penis is removed, it helps to keep the place clean and it won’t harbour dirt but men that are not circumcised can easily infect a woman with HIV and other diseases.
It is the clitoris of a woman that is supposed to give her sexual pleasure and to also help her during childbirth that is cut off.
Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act, VAPP, was enacted in May 2015 by former President Goodluck Jonathan when he was leaving the office. Some states adopted it but many have not. All those states that are recognised to be prevalence in FGM have adopted it but they are not implementing yet.