UNICEF reports that approximately 200 million girls and women globally have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM), often before the age of 15. Despite being recognized as a violation of human rights, FGM persists for various reasons. This practice inflicts significant physical and psychological harm, regardless of its form or location.
FGM, also termed female circumcision, is a cultural tradition across diverse societies. It encompasses procedures involving the removal or injury of female genital organs for non-medical reasons. Such practices disregard girls’ and women’s essential rights to health, security, and dignity, constituting a human rights violation.
UNICEF emphasizes that FGM carries no health advantages and results in severe, often lethal, complications. Immediate risks include hemorrhaging, infections, shock, and pain. Psychological consequences range from loss of trust to long-term anxiety and depression. In adulthood, women who underwent FGM face heightened infertility and childbirth complications, including postpartum issues, stillbirth, and neonatal death.
Numerous factors contribute to the continuation of FGM, yet it consistently signifies deeply ingrained gender inequality in the societies where it persists. UNICEF’s data underscores the urgency of addressing this harmful practice to protect girls’ and women’s well-being, challenge gender disparities, and ensure the fulfillment of their fundamental rights.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) serves different purposes across societies, with some viewing it as a rite of passage and others as a means to control female sexuality and ensure chastity. Although not endorsed by Islam or Christianity, religious texts are sometimes misused to justify FGM. Communities where FGM is prevalent might consider it essential for marriage or inheritance, putting pressure on parents to continue the practice to avoid social exclusion and marriage eligibility issues for their daughters.
FGM violates fundamental human rights, regardless of its form. It infringes upon the principles of equality and non-discrimination based on gender, and it also violates the rights against torture, cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. The practice further breaches the right to the highest attainable standard of health, physical integrity, and the rights of children. In the most severe cases, FGM even violates the right to life.
Although the precise global count of girls and women subjected to FGM remains uncertain, estimates reveal that over two hundred million females from more than 30 countries across three continents have experienced this practice. This practice’s persistence underscores the need to address cultural, social, and religious norms that perpetuate it, ensuring the protection of women’s rights and physical well-being.
UNFPA reports that more than 4 million girls face the threat of female genital mutilation (FGM) annually. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated this issue, with an estimated 2 million additional cases projected over the next decade due to school closures and disrupted protective programs.
Efforts to eliminate FGM have shown progress, no doubt, with a roughly one-third decrease in its likelihood for girls compared to three decades ago. However, maintaining these gains amid population growth poses a significant challenge. By 2030, nearly one in three girls worldwide will be born in the 31 countries where FGM is most common, putting around 68 million girls at risk.
Without substantial scaling of global efforts, the number of girls and women undergoing FGM could surpass today’s figures by 2030. While FGM is declining in many high-prevalence countries, the progress has been uneven. In certain nations, FGM remains as widespread as it was 30 years ago. For example, in Guinea and Somalia, over 90% of women and girls aged 15 to 49 have undergone some form of genital mutilation, highlighting the ongoing challenges in eliminating this practice completely.
Female genital mutilation or circumcision remains a pressing concern, particularly in Africa and Nigeria. In 2015, global leaders endorsed the eradication of female genital mutilation as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. UNICEF emphasized that while this goal was attainable, it required concerted action to translate political commitment into practical measures.
To raise awareness about the harmful effects of this practice, the United Nations designates February 6 as the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation. This year’s theme, “Accelerating Investment to End Female Genital Mutilation,” underscores the urgency of addressing the issue comprehensively.
While female genital mutilation is practiced in multiple countries across Africa and a few communities globally, it is particularly prevalent in Sierra Leone, Egypt, Nigeria, Mali, Eritrea, Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the northern region of Ghana. These regions have deep-rooted cultural traditions associated with various ethnic groups that perpetuate the practice.
Recent incidents, such as the tragic death of 21-year-old Maseray Sei in Sierra Leone due to a female genital procedure, have sparked outrage. This incident led to a collective effort among women’s rights groups, including those in Nigeria, to advocate for the criminalization of female genital mutilation. These events highlight the ongoing need for increased awareness, policy changes, and collaborative actions to put an end to this harmful practice.
The tragic death of Maseray Sei due to acute bleeding and shock resulting from female genital mutilation (FGM) was reported by the media. A post-mortem conducted on January 14 confirmed this unfortunate incident. In another region, a 15-year-old girl was hospitalized due to severe complications from FGM. In response to these distressing events, women’s rights organizations both within Sierra Leone and globally united by signing an open letter urging the Sierra Leonean government to criminalize FGM and provide protection for women and girls against this harmful practice.
In Nigeria, the exposure of girls and women to obscure traditional practices is a known issue. FGM is widely recognized as a violation of human rights and has been deeply ingrained in cultural beliefs and perceptions for many decades. The deaths and complications arising from FGM incidents, such as Maseray Sei’s case, underline the urgent need for policy changes and legal measures to eradicate this practice, protect the well-being of women and girls, and ensure the enforcement of human rights standards.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a prevalent practice in Nigeria and is typically performed on infants, especially within the first eight days of a child’s birth. In some cases, it’s done before a woman’s marriage or after the birth of her first child. Traditional birth attendants and even certain medical workers, using tools like razors, scissors, and even broken bottles, often carry out these procedures.
Advocates of FGM, stemming from historical practices, often justify the act by claiming it prevents promiscuity, marks a girl’s transition into womanhood, and upholds women’s chastity. Some mistakenly believe it enhances male sexual pleasure, prevents infant and child deaths, and boosts women’s fertility and child survival. These justifications are rooted in cultural and religious beliefs that have persisted over time.
Despite these beliefs, it’s critical to recognize the significant physical and psychological harm that FGM causes. The practice violates human rights, undermines women’s well-being, and perpetuates gender-based discrimination. While cultural beliefs can be deeply ingrained, efforts to raise awareness, provide education, and enforce legal measures are essential to ending this harmful practice and ensuring the rights and health of women and girls are protected.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified four types of female genital mutilation (FGM). The first type involves clitoridectomy, which is the partial or total removal of the clitoris. The second type, known as excision, includes the removal of the clitoris and labia minora. The third type is infibulation, where the vaginal opening is narrowed through repositioning the labia minora or majora and sometimes stitching, often with the removal of the clitoris. The fourth type encompasses any non-medical procedure on female genitalia.
All four types of FGM are practiced in Nigeria. Typically performed by elderly women in communities, these custodians of tradition lack formal education or medical training. The WHO also highlights the immediate and long-term complications arising from FGM. Short-term effects include hemorrhaging, infections, severe pain, urinary retention, and psychological trauma. Long-term consequences encompass chronic infections, ulcers, painful scar tissue, issues affecting the bladder, uterus, kidneys, mental and sexual health, infertility, childbirth difficulties, and heightened risks of infant and maternal mortality.
These practices underscore the necessity of educational and awareness initiatives, as well as legal measures, to put an end to FGM. By understanding the complexities and consequences associated with this tradition, societies can work towards protecting the well-being and rights of women and girls.
UNICEF data reveals that nearly 8 out of 10 adolescent girls who undergo female genital mutilation (FGM) in Nigeria experience it before the age of five. However, there’s promising evidence of a notable generational shift in FGM prevalence, with women aged 45–49 being over twice as likely to have undergone the procedure compared to girls aged 15–19.
In 2015, under the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan, the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act was enacted, aiming to eliminate FGM and other forms of gender-based violence. However, this law has yet to be fully implemented in some Nigerian states.
Experts in the medical field and child protection agencies have united in their call to cease this practice, urging governments to enforce the VAPP Act. Medical professionals, including Mrs. Fidelia Anaele of Eko Hospital in Lagos, emphasize the significance of the clitoris for a woman’s sexual experience. Removal of the clitoris drastically diminishes sensitivity, requiring external aids and making intercourse painful. The aftermath of FGM also includes the formation of fibrous tissue, further complicating sexual intercourse. This not only causes physical pain but also instills fear in women during sexual encounters.
Addressing these issues necessitates comprehensive efforts, including legal enforcement, education, and awareness campaigns, to eradicate FGM and protect the rights and well-being of Nigerian women.
Dr. Tunji Akintade, Chairman of the Association of General and Private Medical Practitioners of Nigeria in Lagos State, urged government entities to enforce laws that protect the rights and dignity of women and girls. He condemned the recent trend of “medicalization of FGM,” labeling it entirely unacceptable, and called on the public to report any medical practitioners involved in such practices to the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria for necessary disciplinary action.
Maryam Enyiazu, a UNICEF Child Protection Specialist, dismissed the rationales behind FGM as “baseless and unfounded.” She emphasized that ample documented evidence indicates no value in subjecting female children to mutilation. Enyiazu highlighted the infringement on fundamental human rights and the health consequences of FGM, both immediate and long-term. Short-term effects include severe bleeding, infections that can complicate childbirth, and potential HIV infections due to unhygienic conditions and unsterilized equipment often used. She underscored the risk of death due to excessive bleeding, compounded by the absence of anesthesia during the procedure.
However, in the remaining part of this essay, we will delve into the reasons supporting the abolition of female circumcision, exploring key aspects that highlight its negative consequences.
- Violation of Human Rights
Female circumcision infringes upon the fundamental human rights of women. Every individual has the right to bodily integrity and autonomy, which FGM clearly violates. By forcibly subjecting girls and women to this practice without their consent, societies perpetuate gender-based oppression and subjugation.
- Health Risks and Physical Consequences
Female circumcision poses serious health risks and physical consequences. The procedure is often performed under unsanitary conditions, leading to infections, excessive bleeding, and even death. Long-term complications include chronic pain, urinary problems, and difficulty in childbirth. Unlike male circumcision, which has proven health benefits, female circumcision lacks any medical justification.
- Psychological and Emotional Impact
The psychological and emotional toll of female circumcision cannot be ignored. The trauma inflicted during the procedure can have lasting effects on a woman’s mental well-being. Feelings of shame, anxiety, and depression can result from this violation. Abolishing FGM would ensure that women are not subjected to unnecessary psychological harm.
- Cultural and Religious Arguments
While some argue that female circumcision is a cultural or religious practice that should be respected, it’s crucial to recognize that cultures evolve and practices must adapt to changing norms. Cultural relativism should not justify causing harm. The human rights of women must take precedence over cultural or religious beliefs that perpetuate their subjugation.
- Education and Empowerment
Abolishing female circumcision is essential for the empowerment and education of women. By eradicating this practice, societies can promote gender equality and provide women with opportunities to lead healthier, more fulfilling lives. Education and awareness campaigns can help shift societal norms away from harmful traditions.
- Legal and International Efforts
Numerous countries and international organizations have already taken steps to outlaw female circumcision. Legislation against FGM is an acknowledgment of its harmful nature and an effort to protect women’s rights. By participating in these global efforts, societies can contribute to the advancement of women’s rights worldwide.
In conclusion, the abolition of female circumcision is imperative to safeguard the physical, emotional, and psychological well-being of women. The practice infringes upon their human rights, subjects them to unnecessary health risks, and perpetuates gender-based oppression. While cultural and religious arguments exist, they should not override the fundamental rights of women. By eradicating female circumcision, societies can promote gender equality, education, and empowerment, fostering healthier and more equitable communities. It is high time to prioritize the well-being and rights of women over harmful traditional practices.