February 6th 2013 marks the 10th annual International Day for zero tolerance against female genital mutilation around the world. This day is observed each year to raise global awareness about the dangers of the practice.
Female genital mutilation(FGM) as defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) comprises of “all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reason”. FGM is usually carried out on girls between infancy and puberty. The procedure is mostly carried out by traditional circumcisers without anesthesia using a knife, razor or scissors until most recently where more than 18 percent of FGM procedures are carried out by health care providers.
Current statistics by the WHO shows it is practiced in 28 African countries, parts of the Middle East, and within immigrant communities in Europe, North America and Australia. It is estimated that 100 – 140 million women around the world have undergone this practice.
Nigeria is among the 28 African countries that practices FGM. In the past, Nigeria had the highest number of cases in the world. This amounted to about one quarter of the estimated circumcised women in the world.
A research carried out by TC Okeke, USB Anyaehie and CCK Ezenyeaku in 2012 on the overview of FGM in Nigeria showed occurrence of 77 percent in the South-South, 68 percent in the South East, 65 percent in the South West, and practiced on a smaller scale in the North.
The practice of FGM is deeply rooted in local traditional beliefs which have been passed on from generation to generation. Advocates stress the perceived benefits for the female are maintaining chastity before marriage, better marriage prospects, reduces infidelity in marriage, provides more sexual pleasure for men and aids safe childbirth.
However, there are associated health dangers which can be immediate or occurring later in the female’s life. The procedure can cause haemorrhage (there are documented reports of bleeding to death), infections, cysts, keloids, infertility, sexual dysfunction and complications in childbirth.
Oppositions to FGM make emphasis on the need to eradicate this practice as it has no health benefits and a violation of the human rights of females. Due to this activism, there has been a significant reduction of its practice globally. The world has woken up to this call and several countries have enacted laws prohibiting and banning FGM on their soil.
Countries with existing federal laws to fight FGM include Australia, Burkina Faso, Canada, Central African Republic, Cote D’Ivoire, Djibouti, Eritrea, France, Italy, Norway, Netherlands, New Zealand, Senegal, Spain, Sweden, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, United Kingdom, and United States.
There is no existing federal law prohibiting and banning the practice in Nigeria. However, there are legislation and enforcement state laws with mild penalties in Abia, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Ogun, Osun and Rivers. The WHO, United Nations International Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF), Federation of International Obstetrics and Gynecology (FIGO), African Union, the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), and many women organisations are also addressing this issue in Nigeria.
As the world marks the 10th anniversary of the International Day for zero tolerance against female genital mutilation, I hope this will act as a reminder to the Nigerian government to see the need for a federal law with stiffer penalties in the struggle against the eradication of FGM.
Let us all hope that in the near future, the practice of FGM will be abolished globally and our daughters will only read about it in their history classes.
Guestpost by Uchechi Abakporo.