Marked on every 6th of February, this year’s International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM is themed, “No Time for Global Inaction, Unite, Fund, and Act to End Female Genital Mutilation,” and it is a call to the global community to reimagine a world that enables girls and women to have a voice, choice, and control over their own lives.
In commemoration of this year’s event, SOLA ABE chats with Jolaoluwa Aina about her work as an advocate against FGM.
About Jolaoluwa Aina
I am a development practitioner and an anti-FGM advocate. My advocacy spans about five years and cuts across three states (Kwara, Abuja, and Oyo states) and five local governments in Nigeria.
Currently, I volunteer with the Oyo State Child Protection Network. I have sensitised over 3000 students across four secondary schools and reached over 2000 people through social media.
Her inspiration to advocate against FGM
I was 20-years-old when I first heard of FGM. Seeing and hearing the sad tales of a number of survivors was heartbreaking for me. Also, the culture of silence associated with this practice really disturbed me. Understanding that this practice has no medical benefit whatsoever further fuelled my passion to join the cause to end FGM.
The heartbreaking story of a survivor
One of the most heartbreaking stories of a survivor that I have heard is a young lady who had to be “deinfibulated” during pregnancy because she had the worst form of FGM (Infibulation) performed on her as a child.
She almost lost her life during childbirth after an episiotomy was performed on her to enlarge the vaginal opening to create more space for delivery, but unfortunately, she lost her baby due to obstructed labour.
In addition, her sexual experiences have always been unpleasant.
According to Britannica, infibulation is when the vaginal opening is reduced by removing all or parts of the external genitalia (the clitoris, labia minora, and labia majora) and sewing, pinning, or otherwise causing the remaining tissue to fuse together during the healing process.
The challenges she faces in tackling FGM
Persuading FGM practitioners and communities to change social norms and cultural beliefs to discontinue the practice is a barrier I continually experience as an advocate.
Debunking myths and misconceptions associated with FGM is also a significant challenge. For instance, some people still believe that a girl who is not cut will be promiscuous. To address this, more aggressive advocacy and awareness creation have proven to yield results.
Also, the delay in domesticating the Violence against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act, which will ensure offenders are sanctioned has not been domesticated in every state in Nigeria. Only 13 out of 36 states have laws prohibiting FGM in Nigeria. However, for states where the act has been domesticated, no sanction or arrest has been made to serve as a deterrent to others.
Laws need to be enforced to forestall the practice of FGM in Nigeria. When laws are firm and effective, it will discourage people from the practice or face the consequences if they default.
Her success story
Yes. In 2018, I intervened to forestall an annual practice of FGM in my home state (Kwara). I visited and had a dialogue with a man who posted graphic pictures on Facebook to promote girls’ circumcision at a subsidised rate which he would pay for.
My encounter with him helped to enlighten him about the consequences of FGM. As a result, he stopped funding and supporting female circumcision and he became an anti-FGM advocate.
Also, in 2017/2018, I partook in a UNICEF and UNFPA joint programme on FGM targeted at 5 states. I assisted in raising awareness about the harmful procedure through the #frownchallenge and #endcutinggirls campaign on social media.
Six months later, the campaign reached over 500,000 Nigerians. It generated thousands of public declarations against the practice and led to a decrease in the practice by 14%, according to a report by UNICEF in 2018.
If there are other ways that FGM can be tackled
We can only scale up interventions and increase advocacy efforts to tackle FGM. The importance of media campaigns (mainstream or social media) in enlightening the public cannot be overemphasised.
More aggressive awareness creation especially among young people is needed so as not to pass down the cultural norm from one generation to another. At the grassroots level, the religious leaders and traditional leaders should reinforce the commitment and action to end the harmful practice.