NIGERIA: First Ladies And Female Genital Mutilation

Among the dangers a woman faces in most poor nations of Africa, Asia and the Middle East (and some affluent ones) is the avoidable risk of being circumcised/cut as an infant or, more unwillingly, as a young adult.

The practice of female circumcision, or what has come to be known today as 'female genital mutilation/cutting' (FGM/C), evolved from the dark past of our human existence.

Defenders of the practice have done so on grounds of culture and tradition, or, more problematically, on religious-moral grounds that prescribe or condone the act of cutting off portions of a young woman's genital organs in the belief that this will make the woman more chaste.

It is said that about 3 million infants and young African girls go through the ordeal of mutilation yearly. This figure may be higher, considering that not all cases are reported by victims who are usually cowed by the feudalist tradition of subservience. A similar number is at the risk of going under the mutilators' knives in similar manner, experts say.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that between 100 and 140 million women worldwide have been operated on or cut in this manner.

But recent findings by such world bodies as the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), and several human rights organisations have shown that the belief in the efficacy of female circumcision to deter female promiscuity, has not much scientific basis.

Instead, what has become obvious is that the practice of FGM causes 'immense pain, bleeding, infection, abscess plus shock, sometimes leading to death' The practice also may result in stunted growth and complications while giving birth later, by the women so cut.

Rooted in ancient tradition and culture and in cynical anatomical ignorance, many countries have unsuccessfully attempted to stamp out the act of female genital circumcision/mutilation.

This is in spite of the fact that about 16 African countries, where the practice of FGM persists, are themselves signatories to the African Union's Protocol on the rights of women, article 5, which clearly calls for legislations banning FGM.

However, while there are signs of a shift away from the practice of FGM, many AU states have failed to ratify the protocol. Moreover, there have been no effective national legislations to discourage practitioners of the anti-human act.

And, where those legislations exist, there have not been much stomach or political will, to enforce them.

This is why we commend the efforts of the Burkino Faso First Lady, Mrs. Chantal Campaore and world bodies like the UNFPA and UNICEF, who have once again brought the issue to international front-burner.

Even though Burkina Faso, one of the world's poorest countries, is one of the African countries that have outlawed the practice of FGM, the practice still goes on in spite of legislation that prescribes prison terms and fine for offenders. Mrs. Campaore has recently now called on African First Ladies to come together and work for the eradication of that odious practice.

She made this intent know in a high-profile government meeting in Ouagadougou, the Burkinabe capital, with the human rights organization No Peace Without Justice who had gathered last week to discuss steps to be taken towards a global ban on FGM.

We commend this effort to mobilize African First Ladies who have so far contented themselves with addressing self-serving, attention-seeking issues that add nothing to the well-being of their compatriots.

The eradication of FGM will not only serve the human rights of our women population; it will save lives, restore the dignity of the African woman and ensure that, rather than being seen as the playthings of the male folks, they would be empowered to take their rightful places in building Africa.

It is tempting to dismiss this renewed drive to eradicate FGM as merely diversionary, especially when rights, including education, are denied women in Africa. While education is crucial, which is why ignorant populations will not be in a position to make informed choices about life, we urge African women in positions of authority to join with Mrs. Campaore to do more in bringing the practice of FGM to an end through joint advocacy and mass mobilisation.


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DATE: 12/11/2009

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