My vagina is not a space for culture.’ ‘Take your knife away from my clitoris.’ ‘No medical solution. The only solution is counselling especially on the psychosocial effects of FGM.’ These and many more were some of the tweets that poured into twitter when on Saturday, July 4th the United Nations Population Fund, Education as a Vaccine and YouthHub Africa decided to engage the Nigerian tweetosphere and the global audience on twitter about the ills of Female Genital Mutilation. FGM. The idea was to sensitise young people about the danger of this age long practice that is largely built around culture, tradition and in some cases religion.
Female Genital Mutilation is also called Female Genital Cutting or Female circumcision. In 1997, the trio of UNFPA, the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Children’s Fund defined FGM as the total or partial removal of the external female genitalia or injury to the female genital organ for non-medical or non-therapeutic reasons. Given the different forms of total or partial removal that exists, there are four types of FGM which were captured in the chat by tweets from @UNFPANigeria. Type 1 is called clitoridectomy and it is the total or partial removal of the clitoris. This is the most common type of FGM in Nigeria. Type II is called excision and it is the total or partial removal of the inner and or outer labia of the external female genitalia with or without the removal of the clitoris as well. Type III is called infibulation and it is the removal of the external genitalia and then the fusion of the wound. It is the most gruesome of the types wherein the circumciser then sews the wound together and leaves a small hole for urination and for menstrual flow. This was the type that got the world’s attention in 1998 when Waris Dirie, the famous Somalian model, actress and former UN Special Ambassador released her book – Desert Flower. In an excerpt which was made available by Reader’s Digest in 1999, Waris wrote – ‘But for all the excitement and success of my new life, I carried wounds from the old. The tiny hole the circumciser had left me only permitted urine to escape one drop at a time. It took me about ten minutes to urinate. My periods were a nightmare always. I couldn’t function for several days each month; I simply went to bed and wanted to die so the suffering would stop.’
Type IV is a pot-pourri of all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia that includes burning, scarring, stretching of the labia, introduction of foreign substance into the vagina to tighten it, incising, scraping, pricking and other forms of harms done to the female genitalia. According to UNICEF, the statistics is still bad for Nigeria with a 25% prevalence rate between girls and women from ages 15- 49. The tweet chat had a chunk of time dedicated to young people on twitter asking questions from Mrs. Funso Orenuga, who manned the backend of the @UNFPANigeria twitter handle to answer questions and share experiences from her 23 years of experience working as a graduate nurse with speciality around reproductive health and rights issues. When asked if any community in Nigeria is immune from the practise of FGM/C, she explained that the Ijebus in Yoruba land are the only known community in Nigeria who do not have the history of FGM and because of this they are called oni bon’de (the ones with a gun underneath). Traditionally, one of the reasons that the clitoris is cut is the wrong notion that it competes with the penis and so it is removed to prevent such competition.
UNFPA and UNICEF Nigeria are currently working in six southern states to mobilise communities to stop the practie. One of the communities where success has been recorded is Alajue village in Osun State. Yours sincerely joined other bloggers and social media influencers with the UNFPA team to interact with different stakeholders in the community. Religious leaders, traditional leaders, Community Health Extension Workers, nurses, circumcisers and girls who had been circumcised were some of the people we had extensive Focus Group Discussions with. ‘There is no single girl in this community, who is above 15 years of age who has not been circumcised’, a CHEW told us during one of the FGDs. These experiences were also shared during the tweet chat and @menagainstgbv who also joined in the tweets shared experiences of some of the work they are doing to ensure that men also become part of the anti-FGM/C campaign.
#EndFGMng was used during the tweet chat to harmonise thoughts peculiar to Nigeria while #EndFGM was also used simultaneously to key the campaign into the global mainstream which mainly involves Africans, Arabs and even migrants who take their female children back home during summer for FGM initiation. About 1,126,000 million people were reached during the twitter conversation. In Nigeria, type I and II are the most common in the southern part, while type IV is prevalent in the north. In cultures where the fattening room is a must for ladies being prepared for marriage, one of the things done to them during their period in the room is FGM/C. It is done with the belief that the removal of the clitoris will help tame the libido of the woman and therefore make sure that she is not promiscuous. Research has proved this rationale as faulty because promiscuity is a personal choice and has nothing to do with the presence or absence of the clitoris or other part of the female genitalia. Of contention during the tweet meet was the appropriateness of male circumcision. While some argued rightly that the removal of the foreskin help to make the penis clean, healthy and without a place to harbour dirt which may introduce infection(s) into the male’s partner, a few folks argued otherwise. FGM/C on the other hand is known to cause long-term consequences like infertility, bleeding, bacterial infection to the bladder and childbirth complications.
Science has shown that FGM/C has no known benefit and there is no known Islamic or Christian injunction to back it up. Nigeria currently stands a chance to bring it to an end especially as the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015 now make it criminal for anyone to perform the act. The new battle turf however lies in sensitising parents and other caregivers who willingly take their girls to circumcisers under the cover of darkness seeking and begging that this ‘violence’ be perpetrated on their girls and ladies in the name of culture.