Female Genital Mutilation: The Myth and The Scary Realities
Just like in any socially entrenched tradition, myths surrounds the issue of female circumcision , but onewhich is major in many traditions, has it that, at a point in time, one of the ancestors of the human race “Orisa” and also a traditional deity (to some) in much of Africa and Asia, had a daughter who, at puberty, was said to be extremely wayward and promiscuous, bringing to her father, shame, as no one was willing to take her as wife. In time and after several consultations and divinations, Orisa was said to have been advised to circumcise her so as to take away the seeming “ curse”. The deed was carried out and it was said that she ceased her untoward ways. And since then, in many areas, people tend to see female circumcision as necessity in their lifes.
World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that between 100 and 140 million girls and women are presently living with female genital mutilation and every year, about three million girls are at risk. Its instructive to stress that 28 African countries, including Nigeria, practice FGM, with Somalia in 2015, having the highest estimated prevalence of 92.7% FGM is a deeply entrenched socio-cultural practice in all geo-political zones in Nigeria and its widespread among the poorly educated, low socio-economic and low status group.
On tribal bases National Demographic Health Survey found that there is 61% prevalence of FGM among the Yoruba, 45% prevalence among the Igbos and 1.5% prevalence among the Hausa Fulani tribe in Nigeria. It takes place at regular intervals in various parts of such communities e.g. every three years.
In many communities, the practice is rooted in traditional Islamic ideas about sexuality, purity, modesty and beauty. It is most common in Osun (76%), Offa Kwara state inclusive and Ekiti where it is known as “IKOLA”/ “ISOMO BIRIN LEWA” (Beautifying a girl child) done between 8th day of birth and a year (period when a person can’t refuse consent).
FGM is even regarded as an initiation to womanhood and in still many more, it is seen by some (both men and especially older women as a source of honour failing which their daughters and grand daughters would not be fully integrated into their community socially and they would be exposed to social exclusion. Such parents believe thattheir children who do not partake in such ceremonies would be ostracised from their communities, they and their offsprings become complete outcasts from their communities, some force this tradition on parent of the girl child could even do it without the consent of the victim parent, also, spiritual consequences is not spared this they much fear.
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) which some people erroneously term female circumcision (in converse to male circumcision is “The partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons”
(WHO, UNICEF, 1997). This practice comes in various forms classsfiable broadly into four.; The first is the partial or total removal of the clitoris and or the prepuce.
The second involves the partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora with or without excision of the labia majora.
The third (also termed infibulation) is the narrowing of the vaginal orifice with creation of a covering seal by cutting and apositioning the labia minora and or the labia majora with or without excision of the clitoris.
And the last is unclassified as it involves any and all other form harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes.
Just for the records, the practice has not been proved to have any known health benefits. However, the realities of the negatives of the practice are rather scary.
Among these, primary is the issue of infection to the circumcised. Often times, the medical utensils and items used are not sterilized properly , leading to transfer of infections like HIV from one victim to another.
Consequently, many times, the cuts repeatedly get infected because they are often not well treated and managed. Also, there are often recorded cases of excessive and fatal bleeding of victims which are not readily treated and this may lead to deaths in some cases.
In addition, complications may occur in the process in which case, over time the circumcised may have difficulty in urination and passing of menstrual flow.
It is not unusual for the practice to cause difficulty in getting pregnant and problems too during child birth for the circumcised. And development of cysts as an offshoot of the mutilation is often a recorded case in the circumcised.
All these are not to talk of the accompanying excruciating pain through which the circumcised go in the process of circumcision and through the period of the wound healing. The individual circumcised may have psychological trauma coming from the pain, shock and the use of physical force by those performing the FGM. Post traumatic stress, disorder, anxiety ,depression and even memory loss may occur which often stays with the circumcised for life just like child abuse. The circumcised, feel ashamed, alone and disempowered, unwilling to expose what they had gone through. They are traumatised with sleep problems and chronic stress.
The effect on relationships cannot be overlooked. Women, who have undergone FGM are more likely (than women who have not) to experience painful intercourse, reduced sexual desire basically leading to sexual phobia. They may also experience difficulty or even inability to reach orgasm. The scenario above often gives rise to avoidance of sex culminating in marital dissatisfaction and marital problems.
The society is not spared, in fact in recent times, many societies are suffering most where the practice is still rampant. In such places, we find the communities losing their youths to the outside world. Many of the youths prefer not to go through such practice again, neither, are they ready to expose their daughters to same because of the dangers involved, they prefer to be “stigmatised”, ostracised and expelled from their communities than go through the rigours of the practice and due to the dangers involved.
Such youths see the act as rather archaic and unhealthy and they would prefer to live and breed outside their communities with people from other areas where such practice is not enforced. Because of enlightenment and due to education, some youths also feel the practice is not healthy due to the health risks involved. By no other means minor in the consideration against such a practice is the religious perspective.
Many people today regard the practice as being rather barbaric, belonging to paganistic lifestyle reminiscent of initiation into devilry and the occultic among unbelievers. Although anthropologists in explaining away the issue of the practice of Female Genital Circumcision (FGM) have raised the issue ofcultural relativism and universality of human rights. From the above discussion, we would see that as research proves, the practice is of no scientific or medical benefit to the circumcised while the latter stands to reap many disadvantages.
In May, 2015, The Nigeria government under President Good luck Jonathan signed a federal law banning carrying/participating in FGM. However, this seems to be words without action. The Nigeria government needs to carry out both intensive and extensive awareness campaign to sensitize people to the dangers of FGM/ Circumcision as well, make its health practitioners enforce the law(s) against the practice.
In the light of the above, UNICEF, WHO and UNFPA are making concerted effort to stop the practice all over the world. One takes it to be the common wish of all and sundry to help stamp out the practice completely for the dangers involved.