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Female genital mutilation: Pathetic tales of traumatised victims

•Stakeholders step up war against practice

From Taiwo Oluwadare, Ibadan

Everyday in many parts of Nigeria, tales abound of the many girls and women subjected to female genital mutilation.

As pressure continues to mount against the perpetrators of this act, stories of victims of the practice are being told – by the victims themselves and by those fighting for them.

Recently, different stakeholders gathered in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, to again address this societal malaise militating against women.

A campaigner against female genital mutilation, Mr. Dare Olagoke-Adaramoye, narrated the ordeals of some girls and women, who had suffered the negative consequences of genital mutilation. Olagoke-Adaramoye advocates for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the United Nations International Children ‘s Emergency Fund (UNICEF).

Adaramoye told the story of Nneka, a married woman, who died as a result of the genital mutilation procedure she underwent as a baby in South-East Nigeria some three decades ago. As part of cultural demands and traditional beliefs of that society, Nneka, alongside other girls, had to go through the process.

Adaramoye said: “Nneka’s parents ignorantly allowed their girl to be cut because they reportedly wanted to prevent her from being promiscuous. They wanted her virginity to be preserved so that her bride price would be huge. What Nneka had was Type 3 female genital mutilation/cutting, which is called infibulation. That is the removal of all external female genitalia, which leave a small opening for blood and urine.

“This procedure is usually performed by elderly women under unsanitary conditions, with scissors, razor blade or knives; no anaesthetics were used.

“When it was time for Nneka to get married, a surgical procedure was performed to correct the damage caused to her female genitalia when she was infibulated as a child. Her genitalia had to be opened up for the passage of penis and baby.

“Four years after marriage, she was unable to conceive and had to battle infection traceable to genital mutilation/cutting. For her, sex with her husband was always a painful experience, a result of genital mutilation. In fact, she lost the urge for sex because her clitoris and both the labia majora and minora had been cut.

“She finally conceived five years after marriage. Again, her female genitalia had to be cut open to allow the passage of foetal head while she remained in serious pain. She was discharged from the hospital after some weeks, but disaster soon struck.

“One day while her husband was away at work, the suture of the surgery tore open and she began to bleed. There was no one at home to help her to the hospital. It was too late when help finally came. She had lost so much blood and she died.”

There was also the story of Bolade, a nine-year old girl, who had undergone Type 3 infibulation. The wound healed but it left a huge scar and a keloid in her genitalia. As she grew older and bigger, the keloid kept growing.

“At nine, it was already the size of a big apple,” Adaramoye said. “Her family and friends of the parents had to contribute money to make the girl undergo a specialised surgery to remove the keloid and hopefully still retain the genitalia to be intact for childbirth in future.”

Another anti-female genital mutilation campaigner, Gift Abu, told the story of another woman, who died, following the insistence of her family that she must go through the procedure. Gift, in whose arms the woman died, said the victim’s late husband had been the one shielding his wife from the razor of the circumcisers, who had their chance after he died.

Gift said: “She had been living a normal life without circumcision until she became pregnant for the second time and was due for delivery. While she struggled on her due date, community leaders insisted that it would be a taboo for their daughter to give birth uncircumcised. But as healthcare officers, we refused to allow that. During the melee, there was some delay in giving medical attention to the poor woman. She died in the process.

“Emmanuel, her five-year-old son then became an orphan, as he had lost his father two months earlier. Emmanuel’s father was protecting his wife from being cut, but after he died, the cutters found their chance. They tried to force her to undergo circumcision during labour and told me that I was to blame for her death because I told them not to cut her,” Gift, a midwife at the time, said.

Gift added that since the demise of the woman, the community abandoned Emmanuel, having declared him an outcast for being born by an unclean and uncircumcised woman.

Gift took Emmanuel and found him a safe home with a family friend, Grace, alongside two other girls, Chinwe, seven, and Faith, nine, who had also been rescued from undergoing the female genital mutilation procedure. 

Gift said Chinwe and Faith’s mothers refused to have them cut but feared that if the girls stayed with them, they would be snatched and forced to undergo the procedure.

This and many other stories show the plight of women and girls in Nigeria, who have suffered the ordeal of undergoing the age-long cultural practice of female circumcision. 

Already, there is a law in place that criminalises female circumcision in the country. The law was signed by former President Goodluck Jonathan.

At a summit recently in Mapo Hall in Ibadan, many activists promised to stop the age-long practice.

Gift said some communities in South Eastern Nigeria force adult women to undergo female circumcision when they come home during Christmas seasons. 

According to her, when the women return to their hometowns, no matter the number of years they had left home, they would be subjected to pressure to have their clitoris cut. Proponents of circumcision hold that an uncircumcised woman is liable to promiscuity.

Gift, who joined her husband, Augustine Abu, in the fight against the practice said about 80 per cent of the girls in these communities were circumcised. 

She added that in some communities, whatever position the woman might be holding in the society, once she comes home during Christmas, she must be cut.

“You don’t have a choice; you must be cut or you are seen like an outcast in the community and your voice will not be heard,” she said. 

Statistics of female genital mutilation in Nigeria made available by the National Library of Medicine noted that Nigeria had the highest absolute number of cases in the world, accounting for about one-quarter of the estimated 115–130 million circumcised women worldwide.

“In Nigeria, female genital mutilation has the highest prevalence in the South-South (77 per cent among adult women), followed by the South-East (68 per cent) and South-West (65 per cent.) The practice is on a smaller scale in the North, paradoxically tending to a more extreme form,” the report stated.

Dr. Comfort Momoh, a Nigerian medical practitioner based in the United Kingdom, renders support for women, who have gone through female genital mutilation.

The woman, who runs London’s African Well Women’s Clinic at St. Thomas’ Hospital, said she treated over 350 women suffering from female genital mutilation complications each year, even though the practice had been illegal since 1985. She added that no fewer than 30,000 young girls were under the risk of the barbaric procedure in the UK. 

“As a medical practitioner with over 25 years experience, I’m aware that a lot of consequences can arise by four types of genital mutilations,” she said.

“The first type is clitoridectomy, when the clitoris, which is the top part of the private part has been removed completely or by half. The second type is sunna, when the clitoris and inner lip is removed which is also known as Labia minora. The third type is infibulation when the clitoris, inner lip and the big lip, labia majora are removed. In this situation, the edges are stitched together leaving a tiny opening for the passage of menstrual flow as well as urine. The fourth type refers to the unclassified forms of female genital mutilation, which may involve pricking, stretching, cauterisation, or inserting herbs into the vagina.”

She added that immediate complications include excessive bleeding when the clitoris is removed, whether with scissors or blade.

“Women with genital mutilation are exposed to recurrent urinary tract infection and vaginal infections that can prevent them from getting pregnant,” she said. 

According to her, other complications include pain during sexual intercourse and during menstrual period. She said victims also stand the risk of contracting HIV. She explained that if the patient has Type 3 mutilation, she would have to be cut open again, as she wouldn’t be able to get normal penetration during sexual intercourse. 

But there seems to be some hope. At the summit in Ibadan, circumcisers agreed to stop the practice, which has been condemned as a violation of the rights of the girl child.

Practitioners of circumcision present at the event were from Oyo, Osun, Ekiti, Ondo and Ogun and Kwara States. They pledged to discontinue with female circumcision and stick to just male circumcision.

But it seemed not all the circumcisers, who are members of the Circumcision Descendants Association of Nigeria (CDAN), were in total agreement. Some of them admitted that the practice had no significant benefit to the child but stressed that the practice had long formed part of their business and source of livelihood. They said the trade was passed down to them by their forefathers.

One of the practitioners wondered what alternative venture the government and campaigners had for them, as they could not afford to limit their business to male circumcision alone.

Stakeholders, including their coordinator, Chief Abiola Ogundokun, explained that there were proposals to support the circumcisers in other profitable businesses. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who was represented at the summit by Dr. Femi Majekodunmi, assured that the practitioners would never be let down for taking a decision to protect and empower the girl-child.

At a meeting with wives of governors from the South-West states held in Ibadan recently, wife of Oyo State governor, Mrs. Florence Ajimobi, lamented that Oyo ranked third among states in Nigeria with the highest prevalence of female genital mutilation, coming behind Osun and Ekiti and ahead of Ebonyi, Imo and Lagos states. She said her office was collaborating with other stakeholders to ensure the total stoppage of the practice.

Various stakeholders are also stepping up efforts to ensure the termination of the practice. Adaramoye explained that his organisation was fully involved in the campaign.

He said: “In 2008, a global UNFPA/UNICEF joint programme on the abandonment of female genital mutilation/cutting was launched. The programme is currently being implemented in 17 countries. Nigeria joined the global programme in December 2013, but the actual implementation commenced in 2014 in Imo, Ebonyi, Osun, Ekiti, Oyo and Lagos states, with a joint Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting Situation Assessment. These states were chosen on the basis of high prevalence of female genital mutilation cases based on the Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) data in 2003, 2008 and 2013.

“According to the NDHS, the female genital mutilation prevalence rate in the South West is the highest in the country. Although little progress has been made from a prevalence rate of about 57 per cent in 2003 to 48 per cent in 2013, a lot still needs to be done. But the South-East has seen a steady increase in the practice, from 40 per cent in 2003 to 48 per cent in 2013,” he stated.

Adaramoye informed that the practice is based on myths and religion passed down for many generations. “Some communities believe that the clitoris contains powers strong enough to cause harm to a man’s reproductive organ or to damage or kill a baby during childbirth,” he said.

He stressed, however, that there were programmes dispelling these myths and putting the records straight.

He explained that programmes, campaigning against the practice are currently on social media and on radio in the six states where the prevalence of female genital mutilation is high. He also informed that many state governments are working towards implementing laws protecting the rights of women and the girl-child, especially laws on the abandonment of female genital mutilation.

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