Despite being outlawed in May 2015, Female Genital Mutilation is still being done in many societies, although secretly.

A recent visit to Ekiti and Oyo, two South West states with 72.3 per cent and 65.6 prevalence rate of FGM respectively, revealed that the law may not be enough to abolish the practice.

When I asked the market women of Ajegunle, Oyo State, whether condemnations of this practice would deter them, I was met with disbelief.

“Haha. Why wouldn’t I cut my child?”, was the common response, and always accompanied with a look that said: I can’t believe you asked that question.

FGM in Nigeria is an age-long tradition that is rooted in deep cultural beliefs.  A main reason given for FGM is a traditional belief that it deters promiscuity in women, thereby promoting their chastity.  Some believe that FGM also prevents the death of a child during delivery, because according to narratives, if the child’s head touches the clitoris during labour, they will die.

A 2016 report by 28 Too Many, a charity dedicated to ending FGM, estimated the prevalence of FGM among Nigerian women aged 15-49 at 24.8 per cent, with the south-west zone accounting for more than half of those cases.

A father of one, Sadiq* said he cut his 6-year old daughter to prevent her from being promiscuous, whilst insisting that the practice is a must for every female child.

Oftentimes, girls are cut in unsanitary conditions, with unsterilised equipment and no anaesthesia.  According to Sadiq, the shell of a snail is also used to cut the clitoris, while the snail slime is administered to treat the wound until it heals.

Unsurprisingly, this method is risky and may lead to infections, health complications, and other times, death.

For some, the campaign against FGM is an affront to culture.  Proponents of this opinion claim that civilisation ‘destroyed’ everything, and it would take a traditional ruler or their state governor to speak against FGM to convince them otherwise.

The perspectives gleaned from the locals of Oyo state are reflected by the attitude of Oba Ayorinde, the king of Ido-Ekiti, which is a local government area in Ekiti state.

“I don’t think the government or anybody should interfere in personal things because for some of us, circumcision is a religious rite,” he said, “The government should not interfere in trivial things like that.  For me, it’s very trivial.  It’s like a facial mark: It’s not your business whether somebody cuts his baby’s face or not, if it is what they do in their family and it is not a disadvantage to them while growing up. If there are cultures that have anatomical issues, we can stop it.”

He affirmed that the practice of FGM “is circumcision and not mutilation.”

He claimed that because some women insist that they want FGM for their children and do so in the first week of life, the newborn is not aware of the cut and it does not leave an emotional scar.

 “If they say that women who circumcise during childbirth are more susceptible to vaginal tear, on that ground, they should to stop it.  But our parents didn’t have all these problems.”

Oba Iloro-Faboro said he was not interested in urging his people to stop propagating FGM upon girls.

“It’s not my business.  It’s the least of my problems.  I’m not going to tell anybody to go and circumcise their daughter or not to circumcise their daughter.  It doesn’t concern me,” he said.

From my interactions with everyone mentioned in this story, I realised that being educated does not make a difference. The cultural beliefs about FGM is ingrained in these people and they would not trade it for ‘western ideas.’ 

FGM cannot be compared to circumcision as the latter involves the removal of skin on the belief that it is not needed and may cause STDs and other forms of disease. However, the removal of some or all the female genitalia causes more harm than good. 

Sadly, the king’s opinion of FGM reinforces the resolve of some parents to cut their girl children because according to many, if their mothers were cut and they did not experience ‘the consequences’ talked about, then there is no cause for alarm. 

The fact that the consequences of FGM do not occur almost immediately makes it difficult to believe that it is indeed dangerous. 

Findings have found that the practice of FGM is becoming increasingly medicalised, with health professionals carrying out the procedure do it secretly.  In such circumstances, they are often culturally traditional people who believe strongly in the cultural legitimacy of FGM.

In 1994, Nigeria resolved, with other members of the 47th World Health Assembly, to eliminate FGM, but despite the law banning the practice, it still thrives.

Recently, Facebook user, Adebayo posted graphic pictures of children undergoing FGM, offering to administer it for free. After much criticism, he took down the post and informed his followers the next day that he had been educated on the effect of the practice by campaigners from anti-FGM groups, who had visited him in the wake of his post to educate him on the harms of FGM. 

These examples show that FGM is a lingering culture that has to be combated with appropriate measures that complement the law, but are not exclusively the law.

Oba Adewole, the king of Ijero-Ekiti, another area in the state, stated that the people needed to be educated on the negative effects of FGM.  He said that constant education, together with the statistics of the negative effect of FGM, would facilitate acceptance of the message.

The divided thoughts of traditional rulers on this topic are one of the reasons that may make FGM difficult to end because many people are waiting on them to speak against it. 

However, from traditional rulers to the people and the ‘circumcisers’, continuous education is the only way to end this practise. 

 

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