Genital Mutilation: Global Response In Defence Of Women Blessing Aseminaso

Yesterday, February 6, the world in deference to the United Nation’s calendar, in one accord, highlighted the harm meted to girls and women through female genital mutilation by purveyors of archaic cultural practices that endanger and pervert their sexuality.

 In an expression of the UN’s commitment to the elimination of the practice, the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres wrote, “On this Day of Zero Tolerance, I call for increased, concerted and global action to end female genital mutilation and fully uphold the human rights of all women and girls.”

According to the UN, “Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures that involve altering or injuring the female genitalia for non-medical reasons and is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women”.

“It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women and girls. The practice also violates their rights to health, security and physical integrity, their right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and their right to life when the procedure results in death”.

“The procedure is most concentrated in 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East, but is also common in several Asian countries, including India, Indonesia, Iraq and Pakistan, as well as among some indigenous groups in Latin America, like the Emberá in Colombia. Moreover, FGM continues to persist amongst immigrant populations living in Western Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand “.

In July 2018, the Secretary General’s report on” intensifying global efforts for the elimination of female genital mutilation states that efforts to end these practices should also target the groups of women and girls who are most at risk, in particular those who face multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, including refugee and migrant women, women living in rural and remote communities and young girls, so as to leave no one behind”.

Similarly, the principles of universality and respect for human rights that underpin the 2030 Agenda mandate that stakeholders address female genital mutilation, regardless of individual circumstances, prevailing cultural and social norms, or country of origin or destination.

“UNFPA, jointly with UNICEF, leads the largest global programme to accelerate the abandonment of FGM. The programme currently focuses on 17 African countries and also supports regional and global initiatives. This Day also falls under the ongoing Spotlight Initiative, a joint project of the European Union and the United Nations to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls. One of the specific threads of the Spotlight Initiative targets sexual and gender-based violence, and harmful practices in Sub-Saharan Africa, which include female genital mutilation.”

Organized by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and #Dysturb, there is an exhibition at UN Headquarters in New York: “68 Million Girls at Risk” that celebrates the successes achieved over the past decades in the urgent global fight to abandon female genital mutilation (FGM). It aims to raise awareness and encourage action regarding FGM and to present a compelling argument for the abandonment of FGM. This exhibit is on display from 6 February – 25 March 2019.

FGM is an age-long traditional practice in several countries and among diverse tribes that focuses on incising the genitals in infants and teenage girls. Some even way past teen age.

FGM is often motivated by beliefs about what is considered acceptable sexual behaviour. It aims to ensure premarital virginity and marital fidelity; and in many communities it is believed to reduce a woman’s libido and help her resist extramarital sexual acts. When the vaginal opening is covered or narrowed the fear of the pain of opening it, and the fear that this will be found out, is expected to further discourage extramarital sexual intercourse. 

In Cross River state, for example, FGM is an expensive rite of passage and indigent parents actually strive to ensure that their girls go through the rite. The practice involves a girl being kept in a fattening room where she is fed very well to make her appealing for marriage.

In some communities, it is usually done on eight day old girls and even on adults while some do it when the girl is between ages 10 and 15. For some, it is done on the night when the bride price is paid and in cases where the girl gets pregnant and she is yet to be mutilated; it is done seven months into the pregnancy. They believe that the practice would help prevent sexual promiscuity, curb sexual desires and that it is a custom they cannot do without as some men would not marry an uncircumcised female.

 On the eve of its departure, the government of President Goodluck Jonathan finally signed into the bill outlawing the practice of FGM and other harmful practices that discriminate against women. Violence against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPP) 2015, was a milestone as it signified government backing against the harmful practice against the dignity of women.

  According to the law, “a person who performs female circumcision or genital mutilation or engages another to carry out such circumcision or mutilation commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 4 years or to a fine not exceeding N200,000 or both.”

The   Act covers most of the prevalent forms of violence in the country, ranging from physical violence, psychological violence, sexual violence, harmful traditional practices, and socio-economic violence.

The National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) is named as the service provider under Section 2 of the Act. Under the VAPP Act, female circumcision or genital mutilation was prohibited across the country, among other forms of violence.

Other punishable offences under the Act include rape, spousal battery, forceful ejection from home, forced financial dependence or economic abuse, harmful widowhood practices, child abandonment, harmful traditional practices, harmful substance attacks (such as acid baths), political violence, forced isolation and separation from family and friends, depriving persons of their liberty, incest, indecent exposure and violence by state actors (especially government security forces) among others

But nearly four years after the VAPP Act, the law appears feeble as it has not been domesticated by many state in Nigeria. Currently, the VAPP Act is only applicable in Abuja and in Anambra State. Also many Nigerians do not know about this Act.

In February 2016, wife of the president, Hajia Aisha Buhari, launched a national campaign to end FGM and urged all stakeholders to work together to halt the harmful practice. Though government intervention underlines the need for collective action, very little is done in this regard.

Education remains an important empowerment tool with a positive intergenerational effect as parents   with a good dose of education are less likely to have their daughters circumcised. This was the thinking until recently investigations indicate the involvement of medical personal in female circumcision in what has been described as the medicalization of female genital mutilation. The point s to chop off the flesh of a woman’s genitals is a form of torture as it has no relationship with proclivity to promiscuity.

As the World Health Organization stated “FGM comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalis or other injury to the female genital organs for non medical reasons. It is internationally recognized, a violation of the human rights of girls, and women and children and reflects the deep rooted sexes.

FGM is one cultural practice that should end very fast if not with immediate effect. The law should be domesticated in all states and made active quickly to save our mothers and female children from discrimination and abuse.

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