ABUJA, Nigeria — According to the World Health Organization (WHO), female genital mutilation, or FGM, is a collective term that includes many different procedures that purposefully injure or alter female genitalia for non-medical reasons. There are a variety of practices performed on girls, ranging from removing the clitoris and/or the labia to narrowing the vaginal orifice. The most commonly practiced form of genital mutilation in Nigeria is the removal of flesh. There are no health benefits associated with FGM, but great risks to the mental and physical health of the girls affected.
The WHO lists a number of complications associated with FGM, including infection, shock, long-term urinary and menstrual problems and even death. Victims of FGM also have an increased risk of experiencing complications during childbirth and psychological problems, including depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
In 2015, president Goodluck Jonathan passed a federal law banning the practice of female genital mutilation in Nigeria. However, the law is only one step toward putting an end to the harmful tradition. According to a 2016 report by the charity 28 Too Many, the prevalence of FGM among Nigerian women aged 15 to 49 did not change significantly between 2013 and 2016, despite the ban being enacted. Unfortunately, the ban is not enforced consistently due to a lack of funding.
In a 2012 study on FGM at the University of Nigeria, participants named a variety of reasons for the custom. Some regarded it as a “tribal traditional practice” that had to be protected. Others expressed superstitious beliefs, as FGM is said to protect women’s “chastity and purity, family honor, hygiene.” Some participants justified the practice by claiming it increases fertility and heightens the husband’s sexual pleasure. Around 15 percent of women and 24 percent of men affirmed that FGM was “required” by their religion in a 2013 survey.
Religion is one of the main factors determining a woman’s risk of becoming a victim. While only around 20 percent of Muslim women are cut, about 30 percent of Christian women are affected. In women practising traditionalist religions, the number reaches almost 35 percent. 28 Too Many suggests that efforts fighting FGM should work to encourage faith leaders and religious organizations to “challenge misconceptions that FGM is a religious requirement.”
Acceptance of female genital mutilation in Nigeria has been declining in the past two decades among both women and men, as surveys show. In 2013, more than 60 percent of men and women indicated that the practice should be ended. Furthermore, women who receive higher education are less likely to subject their daughters to FGM. Because of this, 28 Too Many advocates the spread of education as a necessary step to end female genital mutilation.
Among the young generation in Nigeria, the use of mobile phones is increasing. Because of this, the organization believes that social media can be an important tool to spread information about the risks of FGM and to draw the attention of the state’s government to the issue.
As Tanya Barron from the charity organization Plan International states, it is by “changing attitudes, not just laws” that will allow us to overcome female genital mutilation in Nigeria, and all over the world.
– Lena Riebl