NIGERIA: Female Genital Mutilation


FEMALE Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a barbaric tradition from the dark and ugly past of some societies in the country and elsewhere in the world which must, by universal acclaim, be abolished.

Communities that still practise FGM, described in some places as female circumcision (FC), justify the usually harmful custom by insisting that women whose genitals are not mutilated are promiscuous. The mutilation therefore involves the cutting out of all or most of the female external genitalia, especially the clitoris, which once done, extinguishes sexual sensitivity and pleasure.

FGM is also explained by some as a decree by the ancestors while others consider it a prerequisite for all girls that want to marry. When it is not seen as a puberty rite, it is rationalised as a way of making the female genitals aesthetically more pleasing or cleaner. Also, it is said to increase fertility of women as well as to ensure easy child birth.

As at press time, however, none of these justifications for FGM has been found to be tenable. The most frequently advanced reasons for the practice, that it makes women promiscuous, has, indeed, been the most faulted, since it is difficult to prove that the most wayward females are those that did not experience FGM.

What this means is that whereas none of the reasons being advocated for doing psychological and bodily harm to a large number of females, especially those between infancy and early adulthood, can hold water, evidence abounds that the practice has over the years led to untold psychological and physical misery and pain, suicides, permanent disabilities and the deaths of millions of countless females across the world where it has culturally been practised or where it has been exported to by immigrants from cultures where FGM is practised.

Because much of the FGM is done by largely untrained women with crude implements, no anaesthesia or anti-biotics, there is usually bleeding which sometimes leads to death or anaemia. Besides the direct consequences of bleeding, there is the ever present risk of infection, especially tetanus or HIV/AIDS.

This is because most times, the same knives used on female is used on as many as are brought for the ritual on a particular day or occasion, often without proper sterilisation. In the event of infection which leads to death or disability, the operators explain the disaster away as judgement from the gods for some imaginary wrong that the female may have committed.

The excruciating pain experienced by those who pass through the experience must be noted. The female genital mutilation, or circumcision, in most cases, is still being done by local women, without anaesthesia and sometimes with blunt kitchen knives and bare hands, while some other women forcefully holding down the victims. Besides these, there is also the grave danger of damage to other organs of the female.

It must be in recognition of this needless trauma and ever present danger of death and disability that females face in most parts of the world that an International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation was instituted.

Happily, the 2007 edition of this day was recently marked in Abuja, the nation's capital city by a banner parade organised by the Federal Ministry of Health in collaboration with the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) Nigeria.

On the occasion, attended by a large turn out of health personnel, National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) members, school children and law enforcement agencies, the Minister of State for Health, Halina Tayo Alao, commendably read the Federal Government's riot act to all those who still practise this better forgone tradition or culture, warning that henceforth, there would be zero tolerance for perpetrators of this act of violence against women, this violation of the fundamental human and reproductive rights of females.

The minister's pronouncements give cause for joy because it means that once government can muster the required political will to back up the pronouncement with concrete action, the millions of other females that would have been subjected to the butcher's knife, otherwise called FGM, would be saved the ordeal and, indeed, saved the irreversible damage or outright death that would have been their portion.

To ensure that the country is removed from the list of countries in the world where FGM is still practised, government must immediately spring into action with a legislation that would automatically abolish the practice. Even before the law comes into effect, a massive publicity and enlightenment programme must be mounted across the country, especially in the rural areas, to educate the people on the evils of FGM.

Local radio and television stations, print media, town criers, churches, mosques and other religious bodies and fora as well as health workers at all levels must be activated, sensitised and deployed towards waging this war against FGM. Part of the message must spell out sanctions to be imposed on all those caught practising FGM, whether they are the parents of the victims or the operators, as well rewards should be given to whoever reports any of such perpetrators.

Expectedly, no hospital or medical facility, whether private or public, must be seen or heard to practise such. Immediate withdrawal of the operating licence of such outfits as well as the prosecution of all those involved should be the swift penalty for all those involved.

The legislation to be put in place should shape the national policy on the total abolition of the practice while structures must be put in place to ensure that the legislation and policy are implemented to the letter.

Important as the weapon of coercion is in this matter of national and even global concern, the most critical factor in the war against FGM is education. Once the mostly literate rural populace are educated properly on the baselessness of the reasons for FGM and, indeed, of the grave dangers in continuing with it, they would see the light and millions of hapless females would be saved the ordeal of FGM.

The machinery for this anti-FGM campaign blitz must be put in motion immediately because every day lost surely means several souls lost.

© 2007 Daily Champion. All rights reserved.
Date: 2/26/2007
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