BY EKENE ODIGWE
Isatu grew up in Lagos but originally is from Maiduguri. The parents are of middle class but the grandmother who regularly visits is of the opinion that because Ahmed (the son) married an uncut woman (Marian), their generation is cursed and that Isatu will never marry or be fruitful, therefore at the age of 15 due to family pressure, the parents allowed their only daughter to be cut. The daughter’s cut was too deep that she bled to death right there while starring at her killers face.
This is the fate of many children across the world with Nigeria recording the highest number of female genital mutilation (FGM) cases, accounting for about one-quarter of the estimated 115–130 million circumcised women in the world. Although, there has been an overall decline in the prevalence of the practice in the last three decades, according to UNICEF not all countries have made this progress and the pace of decline has been uneven.
Sylvia Chioma, the project coordinator for the GIRDLE Network, stated that the unevenness is happening because of the global non-acceptance of FGM as a common human rights violation. She is of the perspective that there is a thin line between the supporters and the opponents, besides the law proscribing FGM is like a ‘toothless bulldog’ as cultural beliefs seem to supersede the constitution. Although, the federal government of Nigeria in May 2015 under the former president Goodluck Jonathan signed a federal law banning FGM and they have also been series of declaration about the welfare and emancipation of the girl child by the World Health Organization, the government still hasn’t really shown enough commitment, which begs the question; how serious is the government at implementing the anti-FGM law?
In a related development, Nnenna has been engaged to Olaniyi for about three years now and in his kindred, it is common rite to have females cut just before puberty or prior to marriage. Since their first talk about marriage, Olaniyi had told Nnenna what his relatives would expect her to do. He is exposed, lives in the city but still holds the belief that every woman is never complete until she is cut. That is something Nnenna could not fathom. It baffles her that he would think and even indulge in such an act. Of course, first she was petrified, but was she ready to remain single? This has become a violation and a dilemma. Dr Chris Ugwu, the executive director; Society for the Improvement of Rural People (SIRP), explains that as an organisation that recently secured the hosting opportunity to Engage Men in Nigeria, he is hopeful with social communication techniques, intergenerational dialogue, it will be possible to effect a societal paradigm shift. He agrees that insisting that a lady has to be cut before marriage is part of male chauvinism and patriarchal hegemony.
On July 17, 2018, the story of how Dahir Nur’s daughter died of blood loss, two days after being taken to a traditional circumciser broke out. It was the most painful thing in recent times. Harmful traditional practices (HTPs) often leave many physically, medically, psychologically and emotionally damaged for life. FGM leads to lifelong pain and problems with sexual health and childbirth. In some cases depending on the environment and type of the procedure, FGM can lead to serious health issues such as infection, illness and death. As a result, bleeding is severe, and infection can affect all or part of the genitals or reproductive organs. It is no gainsaying that majority of girls and women who have undergone FGM live predominately in sub-Saharan Africa and the Arab states.
Tony Mwebia is a social worker who believes that by making men part of FGM conversations, sensitisation and training, it will be easier to rely on their ego and discretion in joining the fight. He opined that many men yield a lot of power by virtue of positions they hold in the society as religious leaders, politicians, prominent businessmen, judges etc. Targeting the few powerful who are willing to join the movement can easily influence others in abandoning FGM.
How best to help women traumatised by female genital cutting is still an open question, says Liao. “Although we’ve known about this issue for a long time, in terms of psychotherapeutic interventions it has really been off the radar,” she says. “There’s a lack of knowledge about it, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to do nothing and wait 20 years until the research comes out.” In the meantime, she says, psychologists can adapt standard psychological approaches to treat anxiety, depression, PTSD and other psychological problems. Liao leans toward mindfulness-based approaches. “They’re less wordy and interpretative, which may suit people less used to self-narratives,” she says.
Finally, appreciating that ending FGM is not only protecting girls who are currently at risk but also ensuring that those to be born in the future will be free from the dangers of the practice is the kicker to save the day. Hence, the media has to step up their campaigns while activists should adopt advocacy activities with mothers-in-law, traditional rulers and birth attendants, religious leaders.
We need a sustainable strategy to keep our daughters, mothers and nieces from a cycle of pain. Ending female genital mutilation is a fight for all. Nigeria’s VAPP 2015: Violence against Persons Prohibition Act 2015, which criminalised FGM practice, should be given its full precedence. We also have to sensitise young and teenage boys so that they grow up knowing that FGM is harmful and they should be their sisters’ protectors and defenders, and not subject another to this violation.
Ekene Odigwe is an OAP at coalcity929fm, fellow at YALINetwork, and an SDGs advocate.