International Day of the Girl Child 2020: Female Genital Mutilation
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as all procedures which involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia and/or injury to the female genital organs, whether for cultural or any other non- therapeutic reasons.1 This procedure is an unhealthy traditional practice inflicted on girls and women worldwide; no continent in the world is exempt from this practice in history.2 FGM is widely recognized as a human rights violation, rooted in cultural beliefs and views pertaining to women and sexuality over decades, across different societies. FGM as practiced in Nigeria is classified into four types namely, clitoridectomy, “sunna”, infibulation, and unclassified types.3
The practice of FGM is widespread covering practically every state of the Federation and many ethnic groups though in varying magnitude from infancy to adulthood.4 FGM practices vary from tribe to tribe, and from one state and cultural setting to another. In most parts of Nigeria, it is carried out at a very young age (minors) and there is no possibility of the individual's consent.5 The practice of FGM transcends religion as both Muslims and Christians practice it, but it is more widely spread in Christian predominated parts of Nigeria, which is mostly the South.6
Factors Influencing FGM in Nigeria
It has not been possible to determine the origins of the practice of Female Genital Mutilation, but the practice is still deeply entrenched in the norms in Nigeria. Some socio-cultural determinants have been identified as supporting this avoidable practice.
Custom and Tradition: There has been a plethora of reasons given to justify FGM as a cultural/traditional practice. They include, purification, family honour, hygiene, aesthetic reasons, protection of virginity and prevention of promiscuity. Others include increased sexual pleasure of husband, enhancing fertility, giving a sense of belonging to a group and increasing matrimonial opportunities.7 All of these reasons however are rooted in the discrimination of women and girls and therefore pose a very serious and insidious problem as FGM is generally routinely performed as a core part of conformity to the society and community identity.
Influence of Women in the Community: The likelihood of a girl to undergo FGM is irrespective of the financial and education status of the household she comes from but largely dependent on the mother’s consent and belief of continuation of the practice to prevent premarital sex or as a religious requirement.8 In other words, conditioning women into a system in which FGM is allowed is likely therefore to result in the preservation of this practice by the same women on other girls in their communities.
Consequences of FGM on Girls and Women in Nigeria
An estimated 100–140 million girls and women worldwide are currently living with the consequences of FGM.9 The gravity of the harmfulness of this practice cannot be understated. The results of these procedures often lead to traumatic physical and mental health consequences for girls and women who are victims of FGM and in some cases, death.
Adverse Health Consequences: There are numerous health complications that plague victims of FGM, and they range from mild, to serious and even fatal illnesses. Some of them include, shock from pain and haemorrhage, damage to the urethra or anus, chronic pelvic infection, and so many more, as well as complications in pregnancy and childbirth.10
Mental and Psychological Trauma: This can be a difficult problem to solve because the problem does not manifest outwardly for help to be offered. The young girl is in constant fear of the procedure and after the ritual she dreads sex because of anticipated pain.11 She inevitably also dreads childbirth because of complications caused by FGM. Such girls may not complain but end up becoming frigid and withdrawn resulting in a poor standard of life. These psychological effects affect various parts of the girl’s life, including her self-esteem, education, health, and personal security.
Eradicating FGM in Nigeria
The perpetuation of the practice in Nigeria is reflective of the deep-rooted inequality between the sexes and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women and girls. The society needs to collectively work to eradicate its practice.
Promotion of Awareness: Awareness of the pervasiveness of the practice and its harmful effects should be created to discourage FGM.
Policy Advocacy: Government bodies and NGOs should work together to establish and enforce policies that deter people from the practice, targeting its root causes, which is generally gender discrimination.
Education: The government must work to educate private and public individuals, community leaders, and health workers on the harmful effects of FGM and how to prevent its continuity.