14 February 2012

Nigeria: Women With Painful Lives- Female Genital Mutilation: The Silent Killer


Agatha William (not real name) smiled at me during a lecture on the evils of female genital cutting. As Mr Anselm Okolo, the facilitator pointed out the dangers of encouraging the practice and the negative effects it has on the girl child, Agatha seemed amused.

Agatha turned to me and said, " I was also circumcised at age 10 and I don't think it is a big deal".

I was fascinated, and quickly asked if she could describe to me how her private part looks like, after the circumcision, because I have never met a woman who had been circumcised before though on various occasions I have being exposed to the evils of the practice (FGM) at seminars; meeting one who had actually undergone the torture was great.

Agatha later confided in me and said, "I don't know what the fuse is all about, am completely normal, it has not diminished my desire for sex because am sexually active, though am not married I can't tell if it has affected my chances of having children.

But I intend to check with my doctor just to be safe, she said.

But Bunmi's story is quite different. She said her mother and her elder sister mutilated her before her wedding when she was 16 to save her from the pains of losing her virginity during intercourse.

According to her, having sex is an ordeal, a duty to be preformed if one has to keep her marriage and have children and not done for pleasure.

As the world marked the 9th annual international day of zero tolerance to FGM/C on February 6th, one is forced to examine if efforts to abolish the act by various NGOs has yielded any positive results.

The WHO describes FGM as a variety of operations involving partial or total removal of female external genitalia. The female external genital organ consists of the vulva, which is comprised of the labia majora, labia minora and the clitoris covered by its hood in front of the urinary and vaginal opening.

In 2007 the WHO classified FGM/C into four broad categories namely Clitoridectomy, which has to do with the partial or total removal of the clitoral hood.

The second or type 2 is known as the excision which has to do with the partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora with or without excision of the labia majora (the inner vaginal lips).

While type three is infibulations which has to do with the removal of the clitoris and the labia minora/majora followed by the stitching and narrowing of the vaginal opening, leaving a very small hole, about the size of a matchstick to allow for the flow of urine and menstrual blood.

The fourth is other unclassified harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes for example pricking, piercing, injecting, scraping and cauterization.

An estimated 100 million to 140 million girls and women worldwide have undergone female genital mutilation and more than 3 million girls are at risk for cutting each year on the African continent alone.

A report complied by USAID, BRIDGE and PRB reveals that a discouraging trend has emerged in some countries where medical professionals are increasingly performing the procedure.

The report added that FGM is practiced in at least 28 countries in Africa and a few others in Asia and the Middle East. Unfortunately, it is practiced at all educational levels and in all social classes and occurs among many religious groups, though no religion mandates it.

Ejiro Otive Igbuzor, the former executive director of Women Empowerment and Reproductive Health Centre (WERHC) speaking on the evils of female genital mutilation pointed out that the practice of FGM is performed in nearly all states in Nigeria.

Igbuzor said in different cultures, FGM exists ,"in some cultures the bride is cut open by her husband with a double edged sword on her wedding night and often times to enable her re-marry, she is re-infibulated if her husband goes on a long journey, dies or divorces her.

He explained that the woman's vagina can be mutilated if corrosive substances are introduced into it to tighten it or holes are pierced around the vagina to decorate it.

In the North, Igbuzor said most girls are subjected to "Gishiri cuts", wherein the vagina is ripped to relieve obstructed labour or expand the vagina opening of a young girl in order for her husband to penetrate easily during sexual intercourse.

He lamented that Gishiri cut is a crude form of episiotomy but added that because the cut is usually done haphazardly, many girls have bled to death.

According to him the prevalence in the North is due to early marriages which, he added, is also responsible for the high rate of VVF.

The WERHC boss also added that the Urhobos in Nigeria remove the clitoris of young girls as a rite of passage to puberty.

His words:"It is the pride of every parent to ensure that their daughter goes through it, and any daughter that refuses to co-operate is held down usually by hefty men while the circumcisor cuts away.

He revealed that the prevalence of FGM in Nigeria is estimated at 36-60%.

Some of the consequences of FGM, Dr Haliru Wara from Federal Medical Centre said include severe/violent pain, shock, hemorrhage, urine retention, ulceration of the genital region, infection and septicaemia.

Other later effects are sexual dysfunction, cysts, keloids, difficult labour and infant mortality.

While psychosocial and psychological health problems include anxiety, depression, infection including HIV, neuroses and death.

US Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton in a press statement to commemorate the FGM day said government has an obligation to protect its citizens from such abuse.

Hillary added that women irrespective of their background deserve the opportunity to realize and urged that this affront to women's equality and the rights and dignity of women and girls be stopped.

"Though a federal offence in the US, the government is still battling with the crime", Clinton said.

In Nigeria, Igbuzor noted that legislation and enforcement laws are vital though such laws exist in states including Abia, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Ogun, Osun and Rivers but that the penalties are mild which, according to him, has not hastened the abolishment of the act. He added that in Delta the law stipulates a three months' imprisonment and a fine while in Edo it is six months' imprisonment and a fine of N1000.

For these harmful acts against humanity to be brought to book the Child Act must be fully implemented across all states and also stiffer penalties must be put in place to check FGM.

More so all those responsible for perpetuating FGM or use it as a form of profession must be given other sources of income or alternative source of livelihood.

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