NIGERIA: Curbing Female Genital Cutting
Public health practitioners recently gathered in Abuja and x-rayed the ills of the dreaded practice of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) and came out with a firm verdict that it must end. In unison, they related the obnoxious practice to possible infection of HIV, Vesico Vagina Fistula, difficulty with passing urine and persistent urinary tract infections which can lead to kidney problems or kidney failure, difficulties with menstruation, acute and chronic pelvic infections. These can lead to infertility, sexual dysfunction/psychological/flashbacks, complications during pregnancy, chronic scar formations (fibrosis) and other life-long consequences on the victims.
In his presentation at the meeting facilitated by USAID ACQUIRE Fistula Care Project, Dr. Sa'ad Idris, Zamfara State Commissioner for Health, described FGM/C as all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for cultural reasons. Idris said between 100 and 140 million girls and women in the world are estimated to have undergone such procedures. He added that it is often done as young as 7days old (so many did not know that they have FGM). He added that about 3 million girls stand the risk of undergoing the procedures every year in Africa and according to UN Report, 91 million girls and women are living with the consequences globally.
He said in Nigeria, about 60 per cent of females have under gone these procedures in 33 per cent of all house holds according to WHO. In the nation's six geo-political zones, the Southwest appears to be ahead in the practice with 56.9 per cent FGM according to the 2003 National Demographic Health Survey (NDHS). He described the various incidents of the practice and concluded that it's one whose end has come in the modern age.
The commissioner said the practice originated from the male desire to have control over female body and sexuality. He said female relatives of husband-to-be often inspect a woman before the bride price is paid (virginity test). He added further that FGM is fuelled by the belief that it would reduce a woman's desire for sex thereby preventing infidelity, promiscuity, and lesbianism. It is also seen as "Calming" of woman's personality and a form of cultural identity, which is an ethnic initiation into adulthood.
"Women with FGM are significantly more likely than those without FGM to have adverse obstetrics outcomes including: Prolonged or obstructed labour, obstetric fistula, postpartum (after delivery) hemorrhage and extended maternal hospital stay," Idris said.
In his own presentation, Dr. Garba Ahmed Gusau of the Department of Sociology, Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto, asserted that community members should take actions such as direct stoppage of cutting female genitalia, rehabilitation of victims, advocacy and other forms of sensitisation on the ills of the practice. Gusau said female genital mutilation/cutting and fistula are two problems faced by women and female children in many parts of the world but more particularly in the developing world.
"Bing two problems faced by women and female children, the community needs to know all that there is in terms of knowledge about FGM/C and fistula. Knowledge about the problems could help people take appropriate decisions and act in accordance with decisions taken. As of now, much of the accumulated knowledge about FGM/C and fistula indicates that FGM/C and fistula have negative health implications. FGM/C, as stated earlier negates the health of women and female children. The specific ways in which the two problems work against health of women and children are vital information and ideas which the community should strive to know," the don stated.
Also speaking on the role of the National Youth Service Scheme (NYSC) in preventing the malaise, Ms Grace Akpabio said the practice is traditionally recognized and considered important for the socialization of women, preserving their virginity, curbing their sexual appetites and preparing them for marriage. Despite its perceived socio-cultural benefits culturally, Akpabio said FGC has attracted considerable global criticism as a result of its potential for both short and long term medical complications, especially the harm to reproductive health as well as infringement on women's rights.
Having enunciated the vision and mission of NYSC in national development, she said: "The high level of education and centralised control makes the corps members easily trainable and deployable for a national cause. A considerable number of corps members, especially those serving in rural areas have proved to be role models in schools where they serve. They are therefore an easy and acceptable resource for carrying out an outreach for a worthy cause."
She added that Corps members could organise talk shows on TV and radio to discuss about the dangers inherent in the practice of FGM, which far out-weighs the perceived cultural benefits. "Most women in Nigeria are unaware of their basic human rights and do not see the practice of FGM as an infringement on their human rights.
Although this is an issue of long-held cultural preference, NYSC can serve as a veritable tool through the use of corps members to gain the attention of conservative communities in the grassroots who had been hitherto resistant to change. These communities would be sensitized on the harmful effects of FGM and ways that the practice could be prevented if adequately supported by USAID to embark on the collaborative project," Akpabio said.
A communiqué issued at the end of the meeting urged advocacy and sensitisation to all major stakeholders including traditional and religious leaders, policymakers at both local, state and national levels; women groups; youth and other NGOs. It also urged ministries of education; health, information and women affairs at federal and state levels should be more proactive and collaborative on gender issues.
It also called for community awareness using the already existing primary health care (PHC) structures like Village/Ward Development Committees. It urged all the tiers of government to enact the necessary laws to prevent all harmful practices against women and that the Federal Government should as a matter of necessity sign, ratify and domesticate all necessary international protocols that have to do with the rights of women and children.
AUTHOR: Godwin Haruna
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