NIGERIA: Female Circumcision: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly?

Hi,  No sooner were the first few editions of this running discourse published than I received a mail from a reader of this column from Rivers State. Juliana Okoh of the University of Port Harcourt sent me two books published by her on the practice of female circumcision, titled: Female Circumcision in Nigeria: Myth, Reality and Theatre, the piece was put together with the help of The five College Program in Peace and World Security Studies in association with the Five College Women’s Studies Research Centre and the UMASS Everywoman’s Centre and published in 2001. I found the two books (the first a research work and the second a play) not just very interesting, but informative and educative.

It is also very short and precise which allows for easy reading and understanding. Juliana did not include her phone numbers, so I could not get in touch personally and thank her for the books. However, I know she wanted to pass them on for the purpose of public enlightenment. I have therefore, selected four chapters of the book which I know will be very useful to our readers. I am also using this opportunity to say that Juliana may reach me through the e-mail address provided on this page first, and we may pick things up from there if she so desires. I want to know how readers can get her books. 

Dearest readers, please do remember that you too can reach across to me on any issue of your choice for the purpose of public enlightenment. You may also write in on any story of your choice, but based on true life experiences. Our address remains: The Human Angle, Vanguard, P.M.B. 1007, Apapa, Lagos. Or e-mail address: Happy reading!!     

Different Forms Of Female Genital Mutilation

1.Circumcision/Sunna: is the mildest form of female genital mutilation. It entails the cutting of parts of the prepuce. It is the only type that is analogous to male circumcision and is classified by World Health Organisation as type 1

2.Clitoridectomy: This is the second type classified by WHO as type II. It involves the partial or complete removal of the clitoris with a part or all of the labia minora. It is also referred to as excision, but the extent of the cut in the latter is a bit wider than that of the clitoridectomy. The latter is a bit wider than that of the clitoridectomy and excision. They are often collapsed into one category.

3.Infibulation: This is the most severe and radical form of practice. It involves the complete removal of the clitoris, the whole of the labia minora and the middle part of the labia majora, after which two sides of the vulva are stitched together with catgut, thorns or thread so as to cover the urethra and the vaginal opening. A tiny piece of wood is inserted to leave a passage for urine and menstrual flow.

In some places, after the sewing of the lips of the vulva, the legs of the girl are tied together from ankle to knee, to facilitate speedy healing of the wound. The infibulated woman is cut open to allow coitus on her wedding night and or later to allow childbirth. This process is known as defibulation. The openings are stitched up after each childbirth.
In some tribes, the woman is sewn back each time her husband goes travelling and is opened again each time he comes back. In case of divorce, the woman is sewn up to forbid her any possibility of intercourse {EL Saadwai, 1980:40} and so also when a woman is widowed. This is known as re-infibulation. Infibulation is also known as Pharaonic circumcision. It is mostly practiced in the Muslim world.

4. Introcision: Some lesser-known variations of female genital cuttings have been collectively referred to as type IV by WHO. These involve the cutting of the internal genitalia and they include hymenectomy, the gishiri and the zur-zur cuts, prevalent in the Northern part of Nigeria and practiced for various reasons explained further down.

Sunna and Pharaonic circumcisions are colloquial terms in Arabic-speaking countries. They do not indicate the extent of cutting. According to Nahid Toubia {1995:11}, Sunna refers to any practice commonly required of Muslims. She also points out that the belief that female circumcision is required of Muslims is a serious misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the Koran.               

The practice of Female Genital Mutilation in Nigeria
Made up of more than 250 ethnic groups, Nigeria is a heterogeneous collection of peoples with different religious beliefs and customs. The Northern part of the country is inhabited mainly by Hausa, Fulani and Kanuri-speaking peoples, majority of whom are Muslims, while the Southern part of the country is dominated by the Yoruba and Ibo who are mainly Christians with a few Muslims scattered here and there. In spite of these religious and ethnic diversities, the people have strong cultural affinities. And the practice of female genital mutilation is prevalent in almost all the subgroups. It is a cross-cultural and a cross-religious ritual. It has a long  history.

Although no one can remember exactly how it started, it is generally believed that it has its origin in male desire to regulate and have control over the female body and sexuality, for no man will marry uncircumcised woman believing her to be promiscuous, unclean and sexually untrustworthy. So, a host of superstitions and  beliefs were created to sustain the practice which women themselves were to ensure its permanence, a situation which makes the Senegalese writer and activist, Awa Thiam{1986 :75} to remark: “In Black Africa, it would seem that males have forced women to become their own torturers, to butcher each other." Or as Mary Daly {1978;107-312] would call them “token torturers” of their daughters who, in turn, accept a self-denying code imposed on them by the ‘dominant’ sex.

In Nigeria as a whole, female genital mutilation was and is still practiced in different forms, in different places. The pervasiveness of the different forms of the ritual, generally varies across geographic, religious and ethnic and vast variation exists within each subgroup. For example, Clitoridectomy and excision are practiced on women in the three dominant ethnic groups in Nigeria: Ibo, Hausa and Yoruba {Mclean, 1983, Odey 1986, Babatunde 1998}. Among the Yoruba of South-western Nigeria, only the Ijebu and some Egba are known as the uncircumcising ethnic groups {Adeneye, 1995, Orubuloye and Caldwell,2000]. It is also widespread along the South-southern region, among the ethnic groups such as Edo, Urhobo, Ijaw, Ika, Ibibio, Efik and kwale with the exception of the Itsekiri in Delta State. But infibulation is mostly practiced in the Northern part of Nigeria, especially among the Tiv [Hosken,1982] while the Gishiri cuts and Hymenectomy are common among the Hausa {Mandara,2000}.

Prevalence of Female Genital Cutting in the States of Nigeria
Another survey carried out, by The National Baseline Survey of Positive and Harmful Traditional Practices Affecting Women and Girls in Nigeria {Egunjobi: 2000}reports that the highest rates of FGM were found in Osun State {98.7per cent}, Oyo State {96.8 per cent) and Ondo State {91.6 per cent}. Edo followed with (74 per cent). In the South-East, the highest rate was found in Imo State (95.4 per cent), Abia and Anambra have rates of (82.4 per cent and 75.5 per cent). Significant rates were also recorded in the South-South, Cross River (93 per cent), Delta State (91.4 per cent),  Akwa Ibom State (65 per cent), and Rivers (58.3 per cent). In Kano State, the rate is 55.5 per cent, in Kaduna State, it is 36.5 per cent and in Jigawa, it is (32 per cent).

in women, hence, it protects women against promiscuity. It is necessary to recall that in these societies, female virginity is an unconditional prerequisite for marriage and bridal virginity test serves as a proof of chastity. Among the Ijaws for example, the test is conducted in the girls’ house. On the appointed day, in a room specially designated for the test is placed a bed or mat on top of which is laid a white cloth. As soon as the test is over, the members of the suitor’s family are the first to enter the room to check whether there is blood stain on the white cloth., if possible there is jubilation and a date is fixed for the payment of dowry. But if negative the relationship is abrogated there and then.

This tradition is also prevalent among the Yoruba as illustrated by Soyinka{1984} in Death And The King’s Horsemen. In order to confirm that his younger bride was still a virgin, after his first mating with her on the occasion of their wedding, The Elesin Oba comes out of his hut to show to the waiting crowd, a blood stained clothe. And the crowd shouted with joy.

Emphasis on female premarital virginity is not restricted to the Southern part of Nigeria. In September 2000, Bariya Ibrahim Maguzu, a 13/14 years old girl was found pregnant and charged guilty of pre-marital sex in Zamfara State.  Under the provision of Sharia law based on the Koran, a sentence of 180 lashes was passed on Bariya.

SOURCE: Vanguard

AUTHOR: Yetunde Arebi

URL: Click here

DATE: 07/08/2007

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