FGM: The pain of a culture that won’t to go away

Girls undergoing circumcision

On February 6 of every year, attention is often called to the prevalence of female genital mutilation in different cultures across the world where it is still being practised. EBENEZER ADUROKIYA and SAM NWAOKO report that unfortunately, despite concerted efforts, the reality is that it is still very much prevalent.

ACCORDING to Wikipedia, female circumcision now called female genital mutilation (FGM) is the ritual of cutting off or removal of some or all of the external female genitalia and is prevalent in parts of Africa, Asia, Middle East including Europe, America and Australia where immigrant communities in earlier mentioned areas exist.

FGM is often done as a rite of passage for girls in some places to checkmate what the society considers as inappropriate s3xual behaviour.

Until the 1980s the procedure was referred to as female circumcision to put it on a parallel with male circumcision, but later on feminists and women’s rights activists began to use the term female genital cut or female genital mutilation to describe the severe cases that are common especially in the Northern part of Africa.

An irony to the FGM is that it is carried out mostly by women. A report has it that in Sudan grandmothers get their granddaughters circumcised by arranging a visit to a relative where it is carried out without the knowledge of the girl’s father.

WHO intervention

The World health Organisation on February 6 very year draws attention to the issue. According to the WHO in its programme of activities lined up for this year, FGM “reflects deep-rooted inequality between the s3xes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women and girls. The practice also violates their rights to health, security and physical integrity, their right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and their right to life when the procedure results in death.

“To promote the abandonment of FGM, coordinated and systematic efforts are needed, and they must engage whole communities and focus on human rights and gender equality. These efforts should emphasize societal dialogue and the empowerment of communities to act collectively to end the practice. They must also address the s3xual and reproductive health needs of women and girls who suffer from its consequences.”

Still a prevalent cultural practice

In Nigeria, the practice is widespread and local superstitions supporting the practice vary from region to region and from  one ethnic group to the other. According to research, Nigeria has a FGM prevalence rate of 25 per cent, but Osun State has the highest incidents in the country.

Mrs Damilola Obinna, a Gender Analyst with UNFPA, speaking on the report of a survey carried out the United Nations body in collaboration with UNICEF in 2015 named the states where FGM is most prevalent in the country..

“After data collation and analysis, we discovered that Osun had 76.3 per cent prevalence rate, Ekiti had 71.2, Oyo, 69.7; Ebonyi, 55.6; Imo, 48.8; and Lagos, 44.8.

Apart from these states covered by the research, the practice is rife in some other states like Delta. For example, FGM is still very prevalent in the state and often done under cover for obvious reason of stigmatisation.

Sunday Tribune gathered from the four major ethnic stocks in Delta State – Urhobo, Ijaw, Anioma and Itsekiri – that the cultural practice is still rampant. According to those who spoke with Sunday Tribune, female circumcision is believed to help curb excessive libidinal urge in females.

Mrs Lorenta Ogbu told Sunday Tribune in Warri in pidgin that: “some people still dey do am for this Warri; the reason be say make the girl pikin nor dey go out dey follow man.

“I know one Urhobo girl when she get belly, nor too tey them do circumcision for her, do party; them dey celebrate wear her fine cloth, Urhobo dey do all these things be say na to kill the urge for woman to have s3x, say if dem nor do am, woman go fit go outside if him husband travel.”

Mrs Ogu, however, added that the practice is gradually losing its essence though many people still stuck to their traditional and superstitious beliefs still engage in it, even for grown up girls.

“I know when them do one girl own, she dey shout; I reach there na circumcision. some people go do am for hospital or carry go give all these old people  to remove the thing for the woman private part.

“Me I no like the thing because na pain person dey pass through. Na only boy pikin dem I know say be normal well,” she noted.

Also in her contribution, Blessing, a lady who works with a courier service in Warri said she could not understand why people are still involved in the practise, while acknowledging that it is gradually fading out. said the practice has reduced

“If woman wan get s3x, she go get, so I wonder why the thing go still dey. My elder sister when she wan marry Itsekiri man, we be Okpe by tribe, so dem bring the suggestion say make them circumcise her.

“Itsekiri people say no. Dem say if dem remove the thing, na im be say she nor go enjoy s3x with her husband for house. Dem nor agree o!.”

An Ijaw septuagenarian, Elder Matthew Evah, in his response said such practice no longer holds much among the Ijaws.

“Female circumcision is something that is of the old generation. In present day Ijaw communities, I don’t think such thing still exists. Even my children who are 40 years and above did not come across it; they have no idea of what female circumcision is about.

“In the past, people used to say the reason for it is to bring the girl into womanhood, but in present day, I don’t think it’s still trending. it’s been long I heard about it,” he enthused.

Why the practice persists

In Ekiti State, which experts have rated as second only to Osun State in the prevalence of the act of female genital mutilation, a lot is being done by various stakeholders to dissuade people from the act. However, a lot of factors have been militating against the campaign in the state. For instance, during a street campaign against FGM in Ado Ekiti in February last year, people on the streets took on medical experts and other stakeholders that organised the rally.

Their questions bordered mainly on culture and tradition. Elderly Mrs Fayose Oluyede, who took on some of the medical personnel then as they celebrated International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, hinged her argument on “what our mothers told us.”

According to her, she learnt that “ladies who are not circumcised are promiscuous, and when they are having a baby, her child’s head must not touch her clitoris otherwise the baby would die.”

The elderly woman’s position encapsulates the cause of the sustained act of FGM in Ekiti, so much that the state has become a pointer to its high prevalence in the country.

However, experts insist that the act has no benefits and remains only a violation of the rights of the girl or woman. The state government in its quest to end the scourge had taken steps to ensure that perpetrators are brought to book.

“Why we engage in it”

According to a 13-yearold female senior secondary school student who took part in a sensitisation project, “I was told female circumcision is our culture and it makes child delivery very easy but with what I have seen now, it is terrible.”

Another reason given by locals in the state is that it curbs promiscuity among ladies. Another student who also took part in the sensitisation programme said: “In my community they don’t call it female genital mutilation, they call it Female Circumcision, I was told it is very good for the ladies and makes them not to be following men. But after watching the movie and the discussion that follows it, I now know that female genital mutilation is very harmful practice that can hurt a girl’s future.”

Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole

An Osogbo-based circumciser simply identified as, Pa Alabelewe, said he had abandoned the practice after the public sensitisation and introducing a law prohibiting the practice by the Osun State Government.

Another practitioner, Pa Kareemu Adebayo, said that a majority of his colleagues in the state had dumped the practice, though he is afraid that those with no other means of livelihood might be doing it discreetly.

“We inherited this work from our parents. I have been doing this work for many years, but not any longer. I am no longer doing it because I have another job. Those without another job will not be able to stop,” he stated.

Another circumciser, Alhaji Fatai Alabetutu, would rather want the government to get the circumcisers another vocation if the practice must stop.

“Government has not given them any alternative means of income to take care of their families. Nobody wants to keep going about to beg”, he explained.

In spite of concerted efforts targeted at eradicating the practice, superstitious cum cultural religious beliefs and sheer ignorance are proving to be major obstacles. It will surely take more than government efforts to eradicate this practice which is taking almost eternity to deal with.

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