Survivors of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) from different parts of Nigeria have shared their harrowing experiences of FGM which according to them has impacted negatively on their lives.
The women shared their experiences at a one-day seminar to mark the 2024 International Day on Zero Tolerance for FGM organized by Centre for Children’s Health Education, Orientation and Protection (CEE-HOPE) in collaboration with Hearts100.
According to Ref World, an international charity, in Nigeria, the estimated prevalence of FGM among women aged 15 to 49 is 24.8 per cent. Also, over 20 million women and girls in the country have undergone FGM. This represents 10 per cent of the global total of FGM cases.
Even though the majority of them were mutilated as children, they all shared that they continue to feel the negative impacts of the act in their adult lives.
Ololade Ajayi, a gender rights activist and founder of DOHS Care Foundation for Vulnerable Women and Children, related her FGM experience back in Ekiti State and how it continues to impact her marriage. “My saving grace is that I have an understanding husband because like every other victim, FGM affects our sex life,” she said.
Mrs. Ajayi went on to narrate first-hand experiences of victims back home during her childhood in Ekiti, including those who died due to bleeding while others had infections including sepsis, infertility as well as various forms of psychological trauma and how many of the victims were stigmatized or blamed for the ordeals.
Speaking in a similar vein, eminent gender rights advocate and founder of the Tonia Bruised But Not Broken Foundation, revealed the difficulties of coping in her marriage in the aftermath of FGM carried out on her in childhood as well as rape experiences with a family member (uncle) which are some of the spurs for her current work fighting for abused women and children.
Another speaker and also a survivor, Yinka Kenny, Executive Director of the Yinka Kenny Girls Foundation, said health workers especially nurses cut babies at hospitals without the consent of their parents and said the practice must be stopped. She also encouraged school girls at the seminar to speak up against FGM. ‘Your voice is your power, don’t let anyone shut it up,’ she said.
Mrs. Bridget Simon, a trader from Ifelodun community narrated her FGM experience and how her younger sister died from female circumcision during her childhood days in her home state of Ebonyi. She revealed that she has fought moves so far to circumcise her four daughters.
Kingsley Obom-Egbulem, an author, youth mentor and public health advocate who was also a speaker at the event, said the reproductive health, mental health and general well-being of women and girls are impacted by FGM. “No human part should be cut. FGM implies that humans are playing God, questioning why He created the clitoris.’’ He added that men should support the fight against FGM so that the national campaign could gain momentum.
Also, a leading advocate against FGM, Mrs. Margaret Onah of Safehaven Development Initiative, traced the origin of the practice to Japan, saying FGM is a global practice which must be stopped. She also tasked the relevant authorities to implement the various laws that have been enacted and which criminalise the practice, including the 2015 VAPP Act.
Founder of Women’s Rights and Health Project (WRAHP), leading women’s rights activists, Mrs. Bose Ironsi, quoted the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Nigeria’s statistics which estimates that in 2023, more than 4.3 million girls are at risk of FGM, with the number being projected to reach 4.6 million by 2030.
Mrs. Ironsi, a retired nurse, said the reasons for female circumcision are mostly false. “There are no biological or medical reasons for FGM; it is all about the need to control women’s bodies. Women should not accept female circumcision as a norm,’ she said. According to her, while the male circumcision is to enhance maximum sexual pleasure for males (besides some health benefits), the opposite is the case for women, which she termed a gross violation of the human rights of women.
Earlier in her opening remarks, Betty Abah, CEE-HOPE’s Founder, emphasized the need for FGM-related issues to be put on public burners because it is a life-and-death matter because many innocent women and girls have had their lives cut short because of the practice while some others continue to live with invisible yet painful scars.
“We need to keep encouraging women and girls to speak up against FGM, and this can be achieved when the government enforces the law and metes out punishment to those carrying out the practice or encouraging it at any level,” Abah added.
Ms. Anne Rüffer, founder of the partner organization, Hearts100s, stressed the need for the Nigerian government to address issues around Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) by creating awareness about the issues and implementing existing laws.
She said, “there is a need to pressurize lawmakers to activate the relevant laws to protect women and girls even as we work to scale up our efforts in providing protection for women threatened by SGBV via our shelter (Hearts of Hope) as well as providing economic empowerment for these and other vulnerable women across Nigeria via psychosocial support, skills training, business grants and others.”
The seminar also witnessed screenings of several multimedia productions by CEE-HOPE and Hearts100 on the FGM campaign, namely interviews including that of Ms Debbie Ariyo, Founder of AFRUCA-UK and also those of survivors including Ms Fatima Dawud from Borno State.