Chronicles of Ebiere: A Panoramic View Of Female Genital Mutilation In Africa

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🎨:by Ufuoma Evuarherhe (Facebook)
When will Female Genital Mutilation finally stop in Africa? Isn't enough already enough? Read the short illustrative chronicles of Ebiere below to appreciate the problem and then a panoramic view of what is still happening in some rural areas of the African continent. My heart bleeds for victims.

Ebiere looked at herself in the mirror as she prepared to step out for her meeting, her heart beat a little more erratic than it normally would. ‘Quiet! Faint heart she said in her thought- this is not the first time you will be speaking publicly but she knew why, this would be her first time talking to her people about an experience she had in the community that almost ruined her life. She was going head on to engage the traditional leaders, politicians, women leaders and young people to challenge   a deeply entrenched cultural issue with a view to reorienting  their beliefs and possibly getting  a    commitment from them to change the rules.
👀: Royalty Free Vector

Ebiere  remembered with fondness, the trip to the village, when she was 5 years, where the beach was the place to be...hang-out with older siblings and friends, learning skills to search out snails and crabs and preparing them into a delicacy that a 5 star chef will be envious of. That was why 10 years down the line, when her parents mentioned a vacation to the ‘villa’ from the UK, her excitement went out of the roof . Little did she know that she was being deceived to the ruthless traditional human part butchers and in this situation, her treasured genital will be the prime target.    As was the culture, she went with her mum greeting relatives and leaving behind packs of Eclairs. They got to a relative of theirs who was a known matron in the community and after all the pleasantries of how she had grown so beautiful , she was taken into one of the rooms where to her bewilderment, some other  older and definitely stonger women held her down; removed her pants and then the old matron started cutting away at her external genitals.

 Holding back tears she described to the group in front of her how she screamed out her lungs, calling out to her mother. ‘It was like I was being raped and cut as if cutting ordinary paper’. I died at that point, felt so helpless, abused and worthless’, she said.

‘On our way back home, whilst  bleeding and in excruciating pain with tissue paper between my legs, my mother explained that I had just passed through the rites of womanhood. Apparently all the women there at the butchery-in-disguise  including my mum had gone through the procedure and here my mum was claiming to have done her best to make sure it was a matron that did it and not some old woman. What rites? Am I to be grateful for undergoing a procedure without my consent; held down like some prey; no pain numbing agents; no gloves or pain relief medications; no recovery room?...grateful indeed! I was told I was now a woman, who will eventually become pure, chaste and fertile. "Huh? Really?" she thought.   That triggered the rebel in me, she continued.... When we eventually returned to the UK, during my college years later on, I was determined to have all the ‘fun’ these barbaric people wanted to deprive me of. This did not relieve the deep anger and hatred I had for my culture and with my grade plummeting, I was called in to have a discussion with my staff advisor who happened to be a Kenyan lady. I opened up to her and she told me she was a victim as well, but that with support from friends and other NGOs she was able to overcome the mental effects of female genital mutilation. To show her power over the experience, when her daughter was of age she took her back to Kenya, called all her Massai relatives and threw a huge party for her to mark the rites of womanhood;showering her with gifts, jewelries and cards with wise sayings. She made sure to use the occasion to challenge the norms of her community, letting everyone know that her daughter was in all ramifications a woman who was going to grow up to be chaste, fertile and wise without the de-humanizing experience of female genital mutilation.

This, as Ebiere related to her kinsfolk, was the reason she was back in the community to testify to everyone who cared to listen that, circumcision did not make her chaste but only drove her to prostitution.  Chastity was a matter of orientation and not due to tampering with the female genitals.

The World Health Organization defines "female genital mutilation- FGM"(now currently known as female genital cutting) as all surgical procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organ for non-medical reasons.
It is a cross-cultural and a cross-religious ritual. It has a long history and is said to have been practiced in more than 20 African countries including: Kenya, Guinea, Nigeria, Ghana etc. Some other parts of the world have also been implicated, with native immigrants being reported to secretly perform the procedure in western countries like the United Kingdom and the United States. The major victims are usually young girls sometime between infancy and age 15.   Historians are yet to fully unravel the origins of this crude culture. Women right activists are however of the opinion that, the roots may not be far from age long  gender inequality practices,deeply entrenched in the culture of indigenous  African ancestors. It is said that in the bid for men to regulate and control the bodies and sexuality of their women, they are required by culture to only marry circumcised women; who are termed as clean, sexually pure and trustworthy. These gave rise to many superstitions and beliefs largely guarded and upheld by the womenfolk to sustain the practice and ensure it did not become extinct. Certain women became custodians carrying on with the propagation and practice of this belief. Crude and unsterilised cutting instruments such as scalpels and blades where collected and passed on to their progeny. Instead of FGM to ameliorate promiscuity, it rather endangered women’s lives with complications such as severe bleeding, leakage of urine and faeces as well as,  childbirth and psychological problems.

FGM is one of the forms of violence against girls and women and it is practiced in Africa for the following reasons:
Psychosexual:  It is believed that circumcision will reduce a woman’s sexual desire, thereby preserving her virginity and chastity even in marriage.
Sociological: As part of maturation rites, women are initiated into the sacred rites of womanhood through circumcision. This accords the young woman social acceptance by the womenfolk and community members in general.
Hygiene and aesthetics: In some cultures, the female external genitalia is unsightly. In order to make it appealing and ‘clean’, it is shaved off.
Religion: Some religions approve of it, while some just accept it and do not condemn it as the rationale of it aligns with what they believe.
Others:  To some others it makes women fertile, aids in delivery and health of the baby and also increases marriage prospects.

BASIC STATISTICS – Prevalence of FGM among adult women by geopolitical zones in Nigeria
Region Prevalence
Type of Circumcision
Type 1 Type 2 Type 3
North East
North Central
1.2% 64.6% 2.5%
North West
South West
2.2% 36.3% 1.3%
South East
0.3% 12.2% 2.7%
South South
3.0% 66.6% 7.5%
Source: Nigerian Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS), 2003

The Procedure
It involves partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital. It is of 3 types.
Type 1: known as clitoridectomy, involves partial or total removal of the clitoris, the small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genital.
Type 2: known as excision which is the partial or total removal of the clitoris with or without excision of the labia majora ("the lips" that surround the vagina).
Type 3: known as infibulation, and is the most severe form, here the clitoris, labia minora and the inner part of the labia majora are cut off, the vaginal opening is then stitched closed except for a small opening to allow for passage of urine and menstrual blood. Most women that undergo this type are required to have this ‘seal’ opened close to childbirth and it is then resealed again, making her relieve the trauma repeatedly.

Health Implications
There are no health benefits or otherwise from FGM; only harm. It is usually traumatic, without consent and in unsanitary conditions with unsterilized objects. Adverse effects include:
*  Failure to heal 
*  Cyst formation 
* Urinary tract infections 
*  Hepatitis, HIV etc 
*  Infertility 
*  Bladder/anal/vaginal abnormal connections leading to leakages 
* Abscess/pus formation
* Excessive growth of scar tissue
* Painful sexual intercourse
* Reproductive tract infections
* Obstructed labour
* Increased risk of bleeding & infection during birth

Age at circumcision
1 -4
5- 6
7 –8
9 – 10
11 – 12
Person who performed circumcision
Traditional circumcisers
Traditional birth attendants
Other traditional methods
Other health workers
Source: NDHS, 2003

👀:Cut Alert Foundation

International Response:
FGM is recognized internationally as a violation of the fundamental rights of young girls and women. The practice strips them of their right to freedom from all forms of physical and mental abuse; violence or injury; right to be protected from traditions prejudicial stratification of children and women as well as, their rights to make reproductive decisions, free from discrimination, coercion and violence.
February 6th of every year has been declared by the World Health Organization, as a day set aside to condemn the FGM practice across the world.  Some girls between the ages of 6 and 18 are however still being mutilated especially on the eve of their wedding while others are cut a day to the day they would be delivered of their baby, hence the need to step up the practice termination campaign.

Nigeria’s Response
There is a National Policy on Female Genital Mutilation (October 2000) and a National Strategic Plan of Action with funding and support from UNICEF, WHO etc to eliminate all forms of FGM, using a multi- sectorial approach to engage and sensitize traditional leaders, policy makers, legislators etc on the reduction of these practices.
Former Nigerian President, Goodluck Jonathan signed the bill  "Violence against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015" into law in May 2015. This landmark step puts Nigeria ahead of some other countries in criminalizing FGM and other vices such as forceful ejection from home and harmful widowhood practices. Besides, it also prohibits abandonment of spouse, children and other dependents without sustenance, battery and harmful traditional practices.

Limitations and Challenges
Laws are not enough! Though FGM has been made illegal, it is still been practiced underground. Imagine even educated folks bringing their children back home for ‘vacation cutting’. For a practice so deeply entrenched, education is needed for people to willingly give up this culture. 

*  If the Government won't do it for the people, who will? The time has come for already existing legislation to be enforced to the letter and very stringent measures of punishment visited of offenders.
* There is need for continued strengthening of advocacy programmes against FGM by mass, electronic and new age media to inform, educate and communicate the harmful practice; in order to drive for sustained social change as regards the matter.

I had to go all academic about this issue on a Tabloid Health Magazine Blog to show how important this issue is to the young African female who coincidentally, is the future mother of a promising continent. THIS HAS GOT TO STOP!

WHO| Female Genital Mutilation

UNICEF| End Violence,Stop Female Genital Mutilation

NHS| Female Genital Mutilation

Nigerian Demographic And Health Survey 2003

  • Written br:Dr. Azi, Esther Ibinabo 

  • Dr. Azi, Esther Ibinabo is a versatile Change Agent. She acquired her degrees in Human Anatomy, Medicine and Surgery and a post graduate degree in Gender and Women Development all from the u University of Port-Harcourt. Her passion for Preventive and Social Medicine with emphasis on Women and Health drove her to acquire a certification from John Hopkins University via Coursera on Gender Based Violence (GBV), for which she volunteers part time at the GBV Clinic of Medecins Sans Frontiers (Doctors without borders) in Rivers State, Nigeria. She is currently a Resident Doctor with Community Medicine Department, University of Port-Harcourt Teaching Hospital. 

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