Female Genital Mutilation: The Myths, Reality

Genital cutting process (Photo: ICIR)

In most African and Asian countries, including Nigeria, where female circumcision is believed to be common, parents believe that they care for their daughters and prepare them for better future by cutting their clitoris.
Apart from this, they do it also, in some communities, as a rite of passage such as religious requirement, to preserve chastity, enhance fertility and ensure sexual pleasure for men when they get married.
Erroneously also, some African communities believe that non-removal of clitoris could even cause child’s death at birth with a tendency to grow longer and result in embarrassment.
So, if a female is not circumcised, she is psychologically ostracised, seen as unclean, unhygienic and may be stigmatised as someone that may become prostitute in future.
Although a gynaecologist, Dr Nawal Nour from Harvard Medical School, U.S., observes that girls typically undergo genital mutilation between six years and 12 years of age, perspective observers note that it is performed also on new- borns.
Apart from disapproving the practice, medical experts express worry about the method of genital cutting by local “midwives’’ who use unsterilised knives, razors and scissors, among other objects.
By most accounts, female genital mutilation has been reported to be responsible for some of vaginal and uterine infections and infertility.
The World Health Organisation also states that some of the health complications of female genital cutting include painful urination, urinary tract infections, vaginal discharge, itching and painful menstruation.
Others include; pain during intercourse and decreased satisfaction, increased risk of childbirth complications and psychological problems.
This announcement notwithstanding, female genital cutting is carried out by “certified’’ nurses and physicians in their offices under anesthesia to reduce pains.
Irrespective of the place it is done and the type of medical personnel that are handling female genital mutilation, the international medical community strongly opposes it on ethical grounds.
For instance, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution banning it because the practice is harmful and a serious threat to women; done forcibly without a girl’s will which contravenes treaties such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Also, for the danger it poses on the girl’s life, inter-African committees on traditional practices with the collaboration of local non-governmental organisations have put in place extensive educational campaign to eliminate female genital cutting.
In that regard, stakeholders in health sector solicit technical assistance, advocacy and funding from various national and international development agencies.
They note that the call for campaign against female genital mutilation is fundamental because it is violation of human rights — girls and women.
In apparent reaction to this call, Dorothy Njemanze Foundation, a non-governmental organization, in collaboration with FilmCorp Advocacy Films, produced a film recently to sensitise the public to the harms of female genital mutilation.
Entitled “Alero’’ and presented in Abuja, the film told the story of a young school-girl who was circumcised by her parents as part of the customs of her village against her will , shedding light on the physical and psychological effects she had to endure.
Dorothy Njemanze, the Producer of the film, noted that the film was part of plans to commemorate the International Day for Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation.
“The essence of the film is to use visual means, especially motion pictures, to showcase the dangers involved in practicing female genital mutilation.
“It is aimed at shedding light on the wrong misconception that female genital mutilation only takes place in rural areas.
“It takes place rampantly in urban areas, contrary to popular opinion, as people call these practitioners from the villages to the cities and towns to circumcise their girls.
“The film was made in line with international standards with the help of FilmCorp Advocacy Films, and could be viewed on international movie sharing platforms such as Netflix,’’ he said.
Lead actress, Joy Otaro in the film, who played Alero, said the movie opened her eyes to the realities of FGM and pushed her to fully understand the horrors women who were cut faced.
Otaro urged young people to be actively involved in the campaign against female genital mutilation till the menace would be fully eradicated from the cultural system.
A member of the audience, Jane Maduka, commended the cast and crew for the film, especially its ability to pass the message and evoke lots of emotions from the audience.
She expressed the hope that initiatives such as the film would enable the younger generation to see the need to fight female genital mutilation.
She said the foundation was out to fight for the rights of humans and females in particular using the entertainment media.
A medical doctor and human rights consultant, Dr Eleanor Nwadinobi, who gave more insight on female genital mutilation, said it had been a practice over time mostly in African and Asian countries.
“The practice is done in rural areas and it involves a female clitoris being cut off so that she won’t be promiscuous; most times, this is done with rural implements which are not sterilized.
“This is done at birth, at puberty or when a woman is pregnant with her first child and in some cases, some women lost their lives due to continuous bleeding,’’ she said.
However, Mr Ben Alugh, a member of Education as a Vaccine, a non-profit making organisation, observed that a study by the United Nations Population Fund conducted in Nigeria showed that female genital mutilation was mostly practised in the south-western part of the country.
“The study found out that Osun had the highest number of female genital mutilation, while Ekiti came second,’’ he said.
He observed further that since youths were moved by what they see, the use of audio-visuals to fight and educate the populace of the dangers of female genital mutilation was a welcome development.
Concerned citizens, however, commend the efforts of some organisations that have taken it as a duty to inform the public about the harms of female genital mutilation, insisting that it violates human rights conventions that protect women and children from cruelty and violence.
In view of the dangers it poses to womanhood, Nigeria provides the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act, 2015, stating that any person that performs female circumcision of genital cutting or hires another person to do such commits an offence.
The act also stipulates that the offenders are liable to imprisonment of four years or a fine of N200, 000.
Oketunde writes for News Agency of Nigeria.


Ruth Oketunde