LOS ANGELES – In late March, 72-year-old former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari successfully defeated incumbent Goodluck Jonathan in Nigeria’s presidential election. Buhari, a Muslim member of the All Progressives Congress (APC), was presented with a challenging opposition because Jonathan’s political party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), has controlled the presidential office for the past 16 years.
Senior political analysts have called the victory a “milestone for multiparty democracy on the continent,” according to The Huffington Post. Yet this historic result was tentatively received, as many questioned if the PDP would willfully accept the sudden shift in power.
However, when questioned about the loss, Jonathan stated, “I thank all Nigerians once again for the great opportunity I was given to lead this country and assure you that I will continue to do my best at the helm of national affairs until the end of my tenure.”
He has certainly kept his word.
Jonathan forged a lasting legacy on May 5 when he signed into written law a ban on female genital mutilation, abbreviated FGM. FGM is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”
FGM has no health benefits, and can only lead to an extensive list of life-threatening symptoms. Immediate risks include severe pain, shock, hemorrhage, tetanus or sepsis, urine retention, open sores in the genital region and injury to nearby genital tissue. Victims of genital mutilation are also at risk for several long-term symptoms, such as recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections, cysts, infertility, increased risk of childbirth complications and newborn deaths, the need for later surgeries and death.
The violent practice is most common in Africa and the Middle East, where WHO estimates over 125 million women and girls alive today have been cut.
Despite the extensive health risks of FGM, the procedure is widespread in areas where cultural, religious and social influences seek to prevent young women and girls from engaging in sexual intercourse. According to WHO, FGM is “believed to reduce a woman’s libido and therefore believed to help her resist ‘illicit’ sexual acts,” as well as to preserve a woman’s purity and cleanliness.
The United Nations banned genital mutilation in 2012, but Jonathan’s legislation is significant because it explicitly presents Nigeria’s united front against gender-based violence and discrimination. Many hope that Nigeria will serve as an example for the remaining countries in Africa and the Middle East which do not currently criminalize FGM.
Although this law is a step in the right direction, the underlying cultural, religious and social perspectives that encourage violence towards women must be changed.
Director of gender, violence and rights at the International Center for Research on Women, Stella Mukasa, stated, “It is crucial that we scale up efforts to change traditional cultural views that underpin violence against women. Only then will this harmful practice be eliminated.”
– Hanna Darroll
Sources: Huffington Post, WHO, The Guardian
Photo: Rejected Princesses