One of the last bills former president Goodluck Jonathan passed into law, was a bill abolishing female genital mutilation and imposing heavy criminal and financial sanctions on persons who still engage in the archaic practice. It was a victory for many human rights and women’s rights groups in particular who had seen first hand experience of just how damaging, both medically and otherwise, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is on women on whom the procedure has been forced.
In recent years, there has been some progress especially in Northern Nigeria in enforcing the new bill. However for religious or cultural reasons, FGM practices remain pervasive, especially in Ekiti and Osun states in South Western Nigeria, which have taken over the North to become the states with the highest rates of FGM.
According to a statement given to the News Agency of Nigeria by UNFPA gender analyst, Damilola Obinna, the organisation carried out a survey in 2015, in the wake of Jonathan’s groundbreaking bill, to assess just how widely the effects of FGM are felt. The statistic put Osun state clear ahead in terms of prevalence with a 76% incidence rate of coerced circumcision.
“After data collation and analysis, we discovered that Osun had 76.3 per cent prevalence rate, Ekiti had 71.2, Oyo, 69.7; Ebonyi, 55.6; Imo, 48.8; and Lagos, 44.8.
Female Genital Mutilation in Southern Nigeria has been much harder to eradicate because the practice is enshrined in the region’s culture rather than its religions. The practice usually performed by female ‘healers’ is performed on newborns and newly married women in response to the unfounded belief that the clitoris and external female genitalia are responsible for complications during pregnancy and eventual still births and circumcision eradicates the risk. It is also performed on teenage girls at the behest of their families who believe that circumcision can significantly reduce sexual drive and tame promiscuity.
This is especially worrying to the UNFPA and to us at the Sexuality Blog, because Ekiti also has the highest education rate in the country. It suggests that formal education is ineffective in educating people to obey the law and abandon the practice. There is the question of widespread misogyny and how FGM is a more literal manifestation than most of the society’s need to police the sexualities of its women, even if it means exposing them to disease and a greatly reduced quality of life.
Perhaps if the laws are enforced more stringently, it might provide the incentive that education has not, by making these people to once and for all abandon female genital mutilation, ensuring that a whole generation of women will be better for it.
Featured Photo Credit: Reuters/Siegfried Modola.