The Dangers Of Female Genital Mutilation And The Need To Stop It BY CHARITY BASSEY

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Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) according to the World Health Organization (WHO), is a traditional harmful practice that involves the partial or total removal of external female genitalia or other injury to female genital organs for non-medical reasons. The clitoris is usually the victim in most cases of FGM.

FGM is the specialization of traditional leaders, traditional birth attendants, or members of the community known for it.

According to WHO and available data from 30 countries where FGM is practiced in the Western, Eastern, and North-Eastern regions of Africa, and some countries in the middle East and Asia, more than 200 million girls and women alive today have been subjected to the practice, with more than 3 million girls estimated to be at risk of FGM annually.

FGM is widely practiced in Nigeria, with the south – south region of the country having the highest prevalence rate of 77%.

FGM is regarded as a tribal traditional practice and as a superstitious belief practiced for preservation of chastity and purification, family honor, hygiene, aesthetic reasons, preservation of virginity, prevention of promiscuity, enhancing fertility, and increasing matrimonial opportunities.

 In some parts of Nigeria, the edges of the genitalia are smeared with secretions from a snail foot pad. This is due to the belief that, the snail being a slow animal would influence the circumcised girl to “go slow” with sexual activities in the future.

FGM is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women and as an extreme form of gender discrimination, reflecting deep-rooted inequality between the sexes. Due to its practice on young girls without consent, it also serves as a violation of child rights. 

Furthermore, it violates the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, and the convention on the rights of the child.

In summary, FGM violates the victim’s rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment as well as the right to life when the procedure results in death.

The above and many other factors led to the global community including a campaign to end  it in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the year 2030.

There are many reasons for stopping the harmful practice, and one of them is: FGM has no health benefits. It can lead to immediate health risks, as well as a variety of long-term complications affecting women’s physical, mental and sexual health throughout the life-course.

The short term health risks of FGM include severe pains, excessive bleeding, infections, urination problems, and possible death.

The long term risks include chronic genital infections, and reproductive tract infections. There are also vaginal issues such as discharges, itching, bacterial vaginosis and menstrual challenges such as painful menstruation (dysmenorrhoea), irregular menses, and difficulty in passing menstrual blood.

There are also sexual health concerns, childbirth complications such as increased risk of cesarean sections, postpartum hemorrhage, difficult/prolonged labor, obstetric tears/lacerations, instrumental delivery, and extended maternal stay in the hospital.

Furthermore, there are mental health challenges such as post-traumatic stress disorder anxiety disorder, depression, and the risk of HIV infection.

This is the reason the WHO is opposed to all forms of FGM and strongly urges health care providers to not carry out FGM even when their patient or their patient’s family requests it.

With all said and done about FGM, the next meaningful question to ask is, how can one contribute to end this harmful practice. Unfortunately, there is no one solution to ending FGM. The practice is hugely complicated and the reason as to why it happens differs all over the world. However, the Global Goal 5 (gender equality) have put together a list of 5 things we can do that will help the movement get a little closer to achieving the goal of ending FGM/C by 2030.

These include raising awareness, familiarization with signs and symptoms, FGM safeguarding education, involving men in campaigns and providing funds for activists and nongovernmental organizations involved in the aforementioned solutions.

Every year, the United Nations General Assembly has set aside February 6th as the International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM, to call attention to the issues of FGM. However, the conversation can continue all year round using social media with trends such as #EndFGM, and #SaynotoFGM.

Including men in the conversations and activities will help stem the tide because part of the reason FGM has continued unabated is patriarchy. Educating the populace at every slight opportunity will help to spread the message, as research has shown that prevalence rates are higher in places with little or no sensitization about FGM.

Since 1994, when Nigeria joined other members of the 47th World Health Assembly to resolve to eliminate FGM, several steps have been taken. But, there is a need to do more by making it a common and comfortable discussion to be had. Why? Speaking about it in hush tones will definitely lead to more stigmatization.

Indeed, a multidisciplinary approach involving legislation, health care professional organizations, empowerment of the girls/women in the society, and education of the public at all levels is the best bet to ending FGM.

Charity Bassey is an IT student from the University of Calabar with CrossRiverWatch.

NB: Opinions expressed in this article are strictly attributable to the author, Charity Bassey, and do not represent the opinion of CrossRiverWatch or any other organization the author works for/with.

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