In the year 2019, I had the most shocking revelation about female genital mutilation (FGM) and it all started when a talented young journalist was referred to me for guidance and interview regarding my work in the area of FGM.
I started working on FGM in 2017 when I had encounter with a fellow nursing mother at an immunisation clinic in Ibadan, southwest Nigeria. She bragged about how she, a young mother, must circumcise her baby girl.
“It will all be my fault when she becomes promiscuous in the future”
a young mother in Ibadan
I did my best to convince her but, because I was not known to be a doctor in their midst (I was just a young mother who brought her daughter for immunization at the health center in the neighbourhood), they could not understand why I was boiling with passion to convince her not to go through with her plan.
Moreover, I had few supporters as many of the mothers were in favour of circumcision for the girl child. The staff finally brought the vaccines, we queued, got our babies immunised and that was it. I realised a lot of young mothers are struggling to decide on girl child circumcision with little or no guidance.
On meeting the young journalist, Omobolanle Adesuyi, she was working on a reporting for The Impact Africa TV Network (IATV) on Female Genital Mutilation in Nigeria and according to her, today, at least 200 million girls and women alive have had their genitals mutilated, at least 20 million of them in Nigeria.
UNICEF in December 2018, revealed that six out of 10 women between ages 15 and 49 in Oyo State are victims of FGM, making Oyo state the fifth highest in Nigeria.
I could not believe her. This is because FGM is now being discussed almost everywhere and I did not expect the statistics to be this high anymore.
I also had a problem with the data because there are lots of women that don’t even know whether they were cut or not, I had to ask her, can you remember if you were cut or not?
In Ibadan, FGM is still being carried out in Ibadan under our watch, especially in the rural communities. The perpetrators believe that the act has numerous benefits for a girl child, including easier genital hygiene. They argue that there are some diseases that eat up the private part of an uncircumcised girl child which may lead to sleepless nights and danger in the future. These are false.
One of the perpetrators said she mutilated all her three daughters, granddaughters and other children in the neighbourhood. Her husband, Mr Oyetunde, also supported his wife’s “great work”. He argued that numerous taboos and consequences are associated with not circumcising the girl child.
The Oyetundes, just like other leaders in Nigeria’s rural communities, are aware of the stand of government and healthcare workers when it comes to female genital cutting but they are holding fast to their belief because, according to them, they care for the girls.
There is a huge gap in engagement of stakeholders in the local communities, messages should not just be sent home via the mother of the child especially in the patriarchal society where wives have little or no say in the care of their children.
This is not peculiar to Nigeria.
I know someone from The Gambia whose view on FGM nearly drove all women activists crazy when he vowed that his daughters will be circumcised. One would assume that education would take away some beliefs away from people but in this case, it was of no effect.
Back in Nigeria, I recently discussed with Tolu Ogungbamigbe, a fresh nursing graduate, about her healthcare experiences in Nigeria. She also described a similar trend in Ekiti.
“They were all looking at me with disgust, they could not believe I was not circumcised. It was as if I was irritating them when gently counselling them on the dangers of girl child circumcision.”
Tolu Ogungbamigbe (Nurse)
We need to do much more in 2020
Interacting with last mile health officials and volunteers made to conclude that nothing fundamentally much has been achieved regarding FGM in Nigeria and in several other African countries. And as we approach 2020, we need to tackle this social menace because it must not continue, it has to stop.
It is now evident we need to review the strategy of involving leaders in various communities in FGM cause so that we can tackle the problem from the source. Because, apparently, current approaches are not delivering the desired results quickly.
Late 2018, I addressed a group of Community Birth Attendants in Ibadan and I saw their passion for knowledge. They need us and we need them as last mile FGM educators and advocates against the harmful practices. These and other local players are needed to ensure prompt referrals.
Even as we might argue that there is a better level of awareness on this scourge than before, it is still evident that traditions, religion, and local leadership still have strong hold on the practice of FGM. Without seeking to address these pillars, there will be no end in sight. Current publicly available statistics will be just the tip of an iceberg.