A visit to Ajegunle market in Oyo state reveals that Nigeria still has a long way to go in eradicating FGM. The practice is deeply rooted in cultural beliefs, so it really difficult to convince people of its dangers.
“Haha.. why won’t I cut my child?” was the common statement we heard when we asked if their female children were mutilated. This is always accompanied with a “I don’t believe you asked that question” look.
While some believe that the practice prevents promiscuity, some believe that it will ensure safe child birth. These are not true.
Alhaji Adaramoja, a 68-year old grandfather, said he cut his female children because he met it as a tradition and handed it over to his children, who also cut their daughters.
A father of one, Hamzat Hammed said, he cut his 6-year old daughter to prevent her from being promiscuous, while insisting that the practice is a must for every female child.
Esther Waheed, a pregnant mother of one, explained that she had to cut her daughter because the culture of FGM was a strong one.
35-year old Motunrayo was cut as a child and so, her parents insisted on cutting her daughter.
Many of the women who confessed to being cut by their parents, explained that they also cut their children.
The Demographic and Health Survey 2013, shows that if a mother was cut it is highly likely that she will cut her daughter.
Surprisingly, some who believe that FGM has nothing to do with promiscuity, still cut their children.
Mama Moni said, “Yes, I cut my child but FGM has nothing to do with promiscuity. A female child that is cut can be promiscuous likewise one that is not cut.”
However, few women said they were not cut, neither did they cut their children. Omolara Azeez, a mother of two girls, said none of her female children was cut.
Selimot Kamorudeen explained that neither her nor her children were cut because her family was a little educated.
Meanwhile, for Ibikunle Aminat, she doesn’t know whether she was cut or not. “I don’t know if I was cut because I never asked my parents. I also didn’t do it to my children because I’ve been hearing that FGM is bad, since I got married,” she said.
For a particular woman, who did not want to be named, she explained that she was cut but was not willing to tell if she cut her children. However, her countenance gave her away, because she sounded like her daughter was cut against her will, which explains the influence of a higher authority in the person of a spouse or an inlaw. According to her, “ I have a female child but I can’t tell you anything and I don’t want to lie because I am a Christian,” she said, despite the pressure mounted on her.
Rofiu Fatimo, a mother of two female children said, “I have two children. A 12 and 18 years old and they were cut at the hospital. I’ve been hearing about the dangers of FGM for a very long time but I was told that if a female child is not cut, she would be promiscuous and she will not satisfy her husband.”
According to the DHS 2013, 11.9 % of girls and 12.7 % of women have undergone FGM by a medical professional.
From findings, the nurses who carry out the practice are often natives who believe strongly in the culture, and this makes the fight against the act difficult because it is carried out in secrecy.
Oftentimes, girls are cut in unsanitary conditions, with unsterilised equipments and no anesthesia. According to Hammed Hamzat, the shell of a snail is also used to cut the clitoris, while the snail slime is administered to treat the wound till it heals.
This method is quite risky because FGM is carried out between infancy and age 15 and this leads to infections, health complications and other times, death.
For some, the campaign against FGM was an affront to culture, with the claim that civilisation ‘destroyed’ everything, and it would take a traditional ruler or their state governor to convince them.
Although, with a little resistance, some accepted that there was indeed nothing beneficial about FGM, some were just confused and didn’t know what to do.
Ruka Morufu, a 23-year old mother of four, said she wasn’t sure what to do because she had been hearing different things about FGM, hence, the delay in cutting her children. “I have three daughters. I cut my first daughter but I’m yet to cut my second and third because we’ve been postponing it. I’ve been scared that I’ve not cut my last two daughters because I’ve been hearing a lot about the dangers of not cutting them.” But after she was educated on the dangers of FGM, she promised not to do it.
The founder of Onelife initiative for Human Development, Sola Fagunrosi explained that the people of Oyo like every other people, still have a strong affiliation with their background, with the belief that FGM has to be sustained.
He explained that after the clitoris is cut, it is given to the parents to keep in a safe place.
“Parents keep the clitoris within blocks so that dogs do not eat it, as they believe that it may cause the child to be promiscuous. In another community, the clitoris is tied round the wrist of that child believing that it wards off evil spirit from her.”
He added that it was possible for a woman not to know she was cut because her organ is within and may not be conversant with the correct makeup of it.
According to him, the child rights law in Oyo state faces the challenges of implementation and the government is not doing what they should.
He explained that if it was in a situation where a girl died immediately she was cut, and it became an epidemic, the government would intervene. “For government around here, it’s always when there is an emergency,” he said.
On the circumcisers, ‘Fagunrosi explained that each time they were engaged on stopping the act, they ask for another source of livelihood, which is an affront on the law and the government. “We are not keen on engaging with the circumcisers again because everytime they come and say we’ve abandoned our knives, there’s several other knives at home.”
Some circumcisers, who accepted to stop the practice, said they would have to double the charge for the boy-child and it ranges between N1,000 and N1, 500 and sometimes, they get food in exchange for the service.
‘Fagunrosi also confirmed that FGM has indeed been medicalised.
“Medicalisation of FGM actually exists, however, it is shrouded in secrecy because they know it is a crime. They do it in a very discrete way because the NMA has an official position around this. Any doctor that is caught will lose his or her license.”
On his experience on the field, ‘Fagunrosi shared the story of a woman whose daughter had to be operated on because she started growing keloids in her vagina. He also told the story of a young lady who would have been cut but for her 16-year old cousin who died after she was cut.
He explained that his NGO is trying to make sure that the demand for FGM is killed by educating as much people as possible.
Even though the discussion around the dangers of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) started since 1993, not much has been achieved.
Female Genital Mutilation involves the total or partial removal of all part of the female genitalia for cultural or medical reasons and it has continued to thrive, marring the lives of female children in different communities.
According to the World Health Organization, Nigeria has the highest prevalence rate of FGM in the world, with about 40 million women, who have undergone the practice. The 2013 DHS indicate, the top 5 states with FGM prevalence are Osun with 76.6%, followed by Ebonyi with 74.2%, Ekiti – 72.3%, Imo – 68% and Oyo-65.6%.