At a ceremony in the Nigerian Capital State House this afternoon, Her Excellency, the wife of the President, Mrs. Aisha Buhari, launched a national response to eliminate the practice of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) in Nigeria within a generation. Today’s launch is a collaboration between the Federal Government of Nigeria and the Joint UNFPA/UNICEF Programme on FGM/C Abandonment, in partnership with several civil society organizations.
“I also urge the wives of Governors, particularly those from states where this harmful practice is rampant, to be the voice of the campaign to end FGM/C in their various States,” Mrs. Buhari told guests at the formal launch ceremony. “We are mothers and women and have the primary role to use our privileged positions to make lives better for Nigerians, especially women and girls. I urge you to be vocal on the need for FGM/C to end in Nigeria and take action that will enable this to happen,” she added.
FGM/C is an extremely harmful traditional practice, documented in 28 countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. It comprises all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. Little is known about the origin of the practice, which predates contemporary world religions. It is widely practiced in Nigeria, where an estimated 19.9 million Nigerian women have undergone the procedure.
According to the National Demographic Health Survey 2013, 25% of women in Nigeria have undergone FGM/C, although the practice is slowly declining. Among the myths that still perpetuate the practice are ideas that FGM/C prevents young women from becoming promiscuous or that it is beneficial for the health of her children. In fact, it exposes girls and women to severe and sometimes life-threatening health complications, including hemorrhage, tetanus, sepsis, urine retention, sexual dysfunction and infertility; women who have undergone FGM/C are twice as likely to die during childbirth, and their babies are more likely to during or just after birth.
“Not one of the myths surrounding this practice has any basis in truth,” said UNICEF Nigeria Representative Jean Gough at the launch of the national response. “The only truth is that on every level this is a harmful and brutal practice that has a detrimental impact on the health and the human rights of women and girls.”
The national response to accelerate change and eliminate the practice within a generation – estimated at 20 years – will be based on information gathered in a study on the beliefs, knowledge, and practices of FGM/C that was conducted last year by UNICEF, UNFPA and partners in 6 high-prevalence states: Ebonyi, Ekiti, Imo, Osun, Oyo and Lagos. The findings of the study highlight the need for sustained communication with communities and collaboration with the media to promoting the social change needed for FGM/C abandonment.
“Female genital mutilation is an extreme form of violence against women and girls. It violates her reproductive rights and her bodily integrity,” noted Mrs. Ratidzai Ndhlovu, the UNFPA Nigeria Representative. “To end this harmful practice, we must understand not only where and how it is practiced, but also the social dynamics that perpetuate it, so we can use that knowledge to persuade practitioners to end the practice.”
A new global target and call to action to eliminate Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) by 2030 was launched on February 6, International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM by UNFPA Executive Director, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, and UNICEF Executive Director, Anthony Lake.