Ending genital mutilation — The Nation Editorial

Posted by News Express | 23 February 2022 | 451 times

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But for the activities of the United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) as well as the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), which held a number of events to commemorate this year’s International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), on February 6, the very important occasion would have gone unmarked by all levels of government in the country. Yet, reports by UNICEF on incidence of FGM, which were presented on that day, showed that Nigeria is one of the worst hit countries by this menace described by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a traditional and harmful practice that involves the partial or total removal of female genitalia or other injury to female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

In a press statement to commemorate the day, the UNICEF representative in Nigeria, Mr Peter Hawkins, pointed out that “FGM remains widespread in Nigeria. With an estimated 19.9 million survivors, Nigeria accounts for the third-highest number of women and girls who have gone through FGM worldwide. While the national prevalence of FGM among women in Nigeria aged 15-49  dropped from 25% in 2013 to  20% in 2018, prevalence among girls aged 0-14 increased from 16.9% to 19.2% in the same period”. Elaborating further on the features of the menace in Nigeria, Hawkins said that  incidence of FGM  is prevalent among Nigerian girls aged 0-14 with an estimated 86% of females cut before age five while eight percent were cut between ages five and 14.

The practice of FGM is widely perceived as not only being cruel, subjecting those forced to undergo the procedure to enormous torture but also a violation of the human rights of those involved. Again, as Hawkins put it, “The practice of FGM not only has no health benefits – it is deeply harmful to girls and women, both physically and psychologically. It is a practice that has no place in our society today and must be ended as many Nigerian communities have already pledged to do”. Statistics released by UNICEF indicate that “State prevalence ranges from 62% in Imo to less than one percent in Adamawa and Gombe. The incidence of FGM is highest in the South East (35%) and South -West (30%) and lowest in the North East (six percent).

There would thus appear to be little correlation between the prevalence of this practice and literacy levels across different parts of the country. This is why UNICEF concentrated the takeoff of its initiative to bring the FGM practice to an end tagged ‘The Movement for Good’ in five states, namely Ebonyi, Ekiti, Imo, Osun and Oyo where the practice is highly prevalent, as nearly three million girls and women from these states are estimated to have gone through the FGM procedure in these states over the last five years”. The ‘Movement for Good’ aims to reach five million adolescent girls and boys, women – including especially pregnant women and lactating mothers – men, grandparents and traditional, community, and religious leaders, legislators, justice sector workers, to participate in an online pledge to ‘say no’ to FGM.

The initiative by UNICEF is particularly timely and noteworthy as the agency has also noted that “As COVID-19 continues to close schools and disrupt programmes that help protect girls from this harmful practice, an additional two million cases of FGM may occur over the next decade”. UNICEF’s ‘Movement for Good’ initiative is designed to challenge misconceptions on the menace, particularly the discriminatory reasons for its practice and break the silence around FGM, working closely with communities. There are large numbers of girls and women who are known to have either died or had to live with life-long bodily harm after undergoing the procedure. Mostly carried out on children who have not yet reached the age to refuse to undergo the practice, the FGM is recognised internationally as a violation of children’s rights as well as of the human rights of girls and women.

This deeply rooted cultural practice is also reflective of the inequality in the treatment of girls and women relative to the male gender in several communities.

Also speaking on his organisation’s efforts to bring an end to the FGM menace, Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Mr Tony Ojukwu, lamented that there are several protection and supervisory gaps in national and international frameworks as it affects survivors of FGM. He disclosed that to cope with the challenge, the NHRC in 2017, developed a manual which “provides a general background analysis of women’s human rights and FGM which is a type of violence against women and girls. The manual also provides a guide for reporting FGM in line with prevalent standard”. In collaboration with UNICEF and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) the NHRC has undertaken a joint programme on elimination of FGM which entailed training of stakeholders in this regard in five states – Imo, Ebonyi, Osun, Oyo and Ekiti.

The efforts by organisations like UNICEF and the NHRC to curtail the FGM practice can only have the desired maximum effect when the federal, states and local governments buy into and give strong support to this campaign. There is the need for intensive public enlightenment programmes, especially at the grassroots, to help dispel the mistaken sexual, gender, health and cultural prejudices that are at the root of the FGM practice which renders large numbers of women incapable of leading fulfilled lives and contributing meaningfully and productively to the wellbeing of society.

Source: News Express

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