Nigeria: FGM – Any End to a Needless Practice?
Vanguard, Feb. 24, 2015
Also available on the allAfrica website
If Chiamaka Agwu had a choice about whether or not to be circumcised 40 years ago, certainly, she would have chosen not to be circumcised.
But as luck would have it, the choice was made for her and she was circumcised, a development she regrets to date. Chiamaka’s predicament is not unconnected with complications arising from the act which was carried out by a Traditional Birth Attendant, TBA, in her community.
Coming from a family of seven children, (six girls and one boy), Chiamaka recalls that although she and her five sisters were all circumcision, she is the only one that has developed complications.
Following the deed, Chiamaka who hails from Ebonyi state says she has battled health challenge after health challenge.
Her woes began right after the circumcision and manifested in different forms. First it was like fever. No week passed without her getting ill and this continued until she became of age.
Due to the numerous health challenges, her physique has changed from that of a woman to a man. She is frigid and withdrawn from having relationship with the opposite sex. Worse still, her sex life is zero.
“At 40, I cannot boast of a boyfriend, not that I don’t like to have one, but I don’t feel anything for a man. This has continued to turn many of my suitors away. I hate to discuss this with my friends. I cannot tell them I am circumcised.
“Even when I tried to keep one male friend some years back, at a time he wanted to have his way with me, but I resisted. In the course of my struggling with him, I got injured. Since then, the trauma I faced that fateful day has lived with me. It is something to be avoided. “Till date, I am still asking why it should be me. I still experience pelvic pains,” she stated.
Chiamaka is one of the estimated 140 million girls and women worldwide who have been subjected to various types of female circumcision, a form of Female Genital Mutilation, FGM, which is the cutting, partial or total removal of the external female genitalia for cultural, religious or other non-medical reasons.
The practice ranks high as one of the many instance of domestic violence that is used as a check or cure for sexual promiscuity among women.
Unfortunately, FGM is still widely practiced and the national prevalence rate is 41 percent among adult women. WHO reports show that 91.5 million girls and women above nine years old in Africa are currently living with the consequences of FGM. There are an estimated three million girls in Africa at risk of undergoing the abuse every year.
According to the World Health organisation, WHO, FGM is practiced in more than 28 countries in Africa and a few scattered communities worldwide. Its burden in Nigeria is an old traditional and cultural practice of various ethnic groups.
Abandoned practice: “Although, many families have abandoned the culture but are shying away from admitting there has been a serious problem in Nigeria and a harmful practice in place for hundreds of years will only make the problem worse. It is still happening,” Mrs. Edith Okon, a victim of FGM stated.
In her article entitled; “Stop FGM”, an anti-FGM activist, psychotherapist, Leyla Hussein described FGM as one of the worst physical and psychological scars a girl can be left with.
“I was cut when I was seven years old. I didn’t know what FGM was until the day it happened to me. FGM is child abuse and needs to be stopped. One misconception is that it is similar to male circumcision”, she stated.
In a study conducted by TC Okeke, USB Anyaehie, and CCK Ezenyeaku, on the Överview of FGM in Nigeria”, Nigeria , because of population, accounts for about one-quarter of the estimated 115-130 million circumcised women in the world.
In the study, the team found that despite the increased international and little national attention, the prevalence of FGM overall has declined very little.
Vice President of the CommonWealth Medical Association, Dr. Osahon Enabulele, described FGM as having no health benefits for girls and women.
The adverse consequences of FGM are shock from pain and haemorrhage, infection, acute urinary retention following such trauma, damage to the urethra or anus in the struggle of the victim during the procedure making the extent of the operation dictated in many cases by chance, chronic pelvic infection, which Chiamaka is currently battling.
Health implications such as prolonged labour, delayed 2nd stage and obstructed labour leading to fistulae formation, and increased perinatal morbidity and mortality amongst others have been associated with FGM.
Victims are also bound to suffer mental and psychological agony which is deemed the most serious complication because the problem does not manifest outwardly for help to be offered.
“The victims are in constantly in fear of the procedure and after the ritual they dreads sex because of anticipated pain and dreads childbirth because of complications caused by FGM. Such girls may not complain but end up becoming frigid and withdrawn resulting in marital disharmony,” he explained.
However, as the WHO, UNICEF and other stakeholders are working towards ending the harmful practice, experts are of the view that there is need for intensification of education of the general public at all levels on the dangers and undesirability of FGM.
Experts describe FGM as crude, dangerous, wicked and unhealthy. FGM is not required by any religion and there is no scientific evidence that women who have been mutilated are more faithful or better wives than those who have not undergone the procedure.
The bottom line is that there is need for abolition of this unhealthy practice. A multidisciplinary approach involving legislation, health care professional organisations, empowerment of the women in the society, and education of the general public at all levels with emphasis on dangers and undesirability of FGM is paramount. At the grassroots, efforts should be taken to join in the crusade to say “No” to FGM anywhere it is practiced.