As Nigeria joins in the celebration of International Day for Zero Tolerance Against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) today, CHIOMA UMEHA writes that the country which shares 25 per cent of the burden of FGM which occurs in Africa is home to millions of girls and women who have undergone FGM, a dehumanising practice which endangers their life.
Like every young lady who is ripe for marriage, Chinwe Ude was happy to tie the nuptial knots at the age of 24. But, her joy was cut short by dyspareunia – pain during sexual intercourse. The diagnosis of Chinwe’s condition was linked to FGM.
Also, Funmi Adigun, 23, suddenly began to experience vagina itching, painful urination and menstrual problems, shortly after marriage. She was further diagnosed with genital tissue and reproductive tract damage as a result of FGM which was performed on her at the age of five.
For Miriam Abubakar, her joy knew no bounds when she got married at the age of 33. Hardly had she completed her honeymoon when she started having vagina itching and painful urination. Next, she began to experience menstrual problems. Miriam was later diagnosed of chronic genital infections and cyst.
Subsequently, her new marriage was threatened. Miriam’s joy when she later became pregnant was short-lived as she was a victim of prolonged labour, post-partum haemorrhage and still birth.
Her doctor had performed surgery on her to correct the damage done to her female genitalia after she was infibulated as a child before the pregnancy occurred. Her genitalia had to be opened for the passage of penis and baby.
Also, her female genitalia were further cut open to allow passage of foetal head while she remained in serious pains.
Her parents had ignorantly allowed her genitals to be cut when she was age one, because they reportedly wanted to prevent her from being promiscuous. They wanted her virginity to be preserved so that her bride price would be huge.
“I married my heartthrob after searching patiently for a husband; today I cannot enjoy my marriage. I blame my parents for everything. If my parents had not insisted on tradition, my marriage would not have crashed,” Miriam tearfully told DAILY INDEPENDENT.
Chinwe, Funmi and Miriam represent millions of girls who go through torture under the knives of genital mutilators worldwide.
What the three women underwent was Type 3 FGM, which is called Infibulation. That is the removal of all external genitalia, which leave a small opening for blood and urine.
This procedure is usually performed by elderly women using scissors, razor blade or knives under unsanitary conditions and no anaesthetics used.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that Female genital mutilation includes all procedures which involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or injury to the female genital organs, whether for cultural or any other non-therapeutic reasons.
The world health body further classifies FGM into four major types, namely; Type I (Clitoridectomy), Type II (Excision), Type III (Infibulation) and Type IV.
Commenting, Olutayo Aderonke, UNICEF FGM Consultant, Ekiti, Osun and Oyo, noted that the health implication of FGM ranges from excessive bleeding, pain, shock, genital tissue swelling, infections, pro-longed labour, Caesarean Section and postpartum haemorrhage are some of the risks of Female Genital Mutilation.
Aderonke spoke at a recent two-day review meeting with ‘Media – Radio – Partners on Ending FGM in Nigeria,’ which was organised by National Orientation Agency (NOA), Oyo State with support from UNICEF.
The United Nations (UN) health body in 2018 reported that young girls between zero and 15 years, even women are subjected to female genital mutilation in worldwide.
“Of the 200 million girls and women globally living with the consequences of FGM, 44 million are aged less than 15 years,” the report further said.
According to the report, three million girls are at risk of the practice every year, with Nigeria being among the four countries where two thirds of all women who have undergone FGM live; the other three countries are Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan.
Specifically, Nigeria shares 25 per cent of the burden of female genital mutilation which occurs in Africa.
Analysts are therefore worried over the high level of ignorance concerning the practice of FGM among Nigerians.
Most recent estimates from ‘UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme On FGM Abandonment: Accelerating Change Phase II report from 2014 to 2017,’ shows that Nigeria has zero to 28 per cent prevalence of FGM practice alongside Yemen.
In 2016, UNICEF estimated that at least 200 million women and girls in 30 countries have been subjected to FGM.
Concerning the practice in Nigeria, Aderonke said, despite being known to be widespread in the country and important in international discourse. She also said that national data on FGM’s prevalence in the country is comparatively rare.
She explained that earlier focus in the country has generally been on three major types of FGM, including; Type I, Type II, and Type III.
However, she added that recent evidence shows that different forms of Type IV are as prevalent as the other three types, especially in the northern region, where little attention has been paid over the years. Type IV comprises a variety of practices that do not involve removal of tissue from the genitals.
The UNICEF FGM Consultant further observed that the FGM procedure can take place anytime from a few days after a child’s birth to a few days after a woman’s death in many parts of Nigeria.
Corroborating, Benjamin Mbakwem, also FGM Consultant for Ebonyi and Imo States, UNICEF Enugu Field Office, said it is an outdated practice and tradition that is threatening the rights of girls and women to development, protection and ultimately, survival.
Mbakwem stressed that no form of female genital mutilation is safe as it endangers women’s life.
Describing the structure of the normal female external genitalia, he said this includes: Skenes and Bartholin’s glands, vaginal orifice, urinary meatus, clitoris, perineum, labia minora and labia majora.
According to him, the functions of the normal female external genitalia are: lubrication of the vagina, allowing the escape of the menstrual flow, sexual intercourse and delivery of the baby.
He further said, it allows emptying of the bladder within a few minutes, it assists women to achieve sexual satisfaction, supports the pelvic organs, separates the vagina from the anus, protects structures and orifices and protects the inner structures and orifices.
The unaltered female genitalia are the prepuce, labia minora, labia majora, Bartholin glands, clitoris, urethra, vaginal introitus, perineum and anus, adding that any form of FGM affecting the female external genitalia has grave implications.
He explained that female genital mutilation is classified into four types including, Clitoridectomy which is the partial or total removal of the clitoris (a small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals) and in very rare cases, only the Prepuce (the fold of the skin surrounding the clitoris).
Under the first type of the female genital mutilation, he said, there are two other parts which is the removal of the prepuce/ clitoral hood (circumcision ) and the removal of the clitoris with the prepuce (clitoridectomy).
The second type is excision which is the partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the Majora – the labia are ‘the lips’ that surround the vagina.
The last type, he added, is the Infibulation which is the narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the inner, or outer, labia, with or without removal of the clitoris.
According to him, the final type is the unclassified which is the use of all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, for example; pricking, pulling, piercing, incising, scrapping and cauterization.
However, he faulted the practice, noting, “This is an unbridled contravention of the international Child Rights Act adopted by Nigeria in 2003 to domesticate the convention on the Rights of the child.
“Despite the fact that some States have passed it into law, it is still a daunting task fighting FGM in the Southwest,” Mbakwem insisted.
According to WHO, the practice of FGM enables the victims to be automatically open to various risks which may be immediate, long term, psychological, sexual functioning, or obstetric.
The immediate risks the victims are exposed to include: excessive bleeding, pain, shock, genital tissue swelling, infections, wound healing problems, as well as death, the UN health body reports.
Contributing, Dr. Olasunbo Odebode, Child Protection Specialist, UNICEF, Abuja, noted that the victims are further exposed to long term risks which may include: genital tissue damage, vaginal discharge and itching, menstrual problems, chronic genital infections, reproductive tract infections, urinary tract infections, keloids and cyst.
Bemoaning the tragic consequences of FGM on victims, she said, they are at risk of childbirth complications including; prolonged labour, post-partum haemorrhage, still birth, early neonatal death, caesarean section, extended maternal stay and episiotomy among other factors.
Apart from the physical risks the victims are exposed to, they can also be affected psychologically. Dr Odebode said, “Victims can be depressed, have anxiety disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).”