Nearly 20 million women and girls in Nigeria have undergone FGM. In 2015, there was a landmark ban on FGM in Nigeria, and the international community has prioritised ending FGM in the new Global Development Goals under Goal 5 – to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
However, there is still so much to be done. Nigerian youth CAN make a difference in this issue.
Here, The Girl Generation and Youthhub Africa blog competition winner Anita Chika Nwankpa shares her views.
“Doctor! You have to help me!” I looked up to see a tall, dark-skinned and desperate-looking lady with red, teary eyes.
“My baby cannot suffer what I’ve suffered!” she sobbed, as she finally broke down in tears.
“Poor child”, I muttered, as I examined her.
Little Jemimah’s mother left her in her grandmother’s care while she travelled for just two days, only to return and find her daughter had been circumcised.
This is the plight of many Nigerian girls.
Nigeria has the highest number of cases of female genital mutilation (FGM), accounting for a quarter of all cases of FGM worldwide. Many Nigerians still engage in this ancient act for cultural reasons and in a bid to maintain chastity amongst their daughters.
Jemimah’s story is a grim reminder and a constant motivating factor in my commitment to end FGM.
There is no religious, sociocultural, or medical justification for mutilating any female.
We must put an end to FGM now.
If not now, when? If not us, who?
To tackle FGM, first, we must accept the fact that it is rooted in culture and some spiritual beliefs and, as such, the solution(s) must involve a sociocultural approach while being rooted in sound medical evidence.
Often, those who carry out FGM believe they are performing a good service to the mutilated ones. It is therefore important that we reach out to all stakeholders involved in this sociocultural problem of gender-based violence.
My proposal is an advocacy campaign at four strategic levels.
This part of the campaign will work alongside already existing community-leaders.
We will establish communication with them and enlist them to be a part of the solution making process.
The community-based advocacy will be done by well-known youth and community leaders and championed by the traditional rulers in the area.
We will encourage traditional rulers to abolish the cultural practice of FGM amongst their people and implore them to facilitate negotiations with groups of individuals that may oppose this stand.
Religion also has a strong role to play.
Religious figures and leaders of all sects, particularly those who follow the ways of our ancestors and custodians of tradition are crucial to the success of this intervention.
Health providers are uniquely positioned to advise their clients to desist from FGM. Our definition of health providers extends beyond hospitals/ formal health providers to include traditional birth attendants (TBAs) who have no formal training but deliver babies.
We intend to improve awareness about the dangers of FGM and to discourage pregnant women, during pregnancy and delivery, from considering female circumcision for their babies.
By providing specific education during antenatal visits in the hospitals, formal health providers will also be instrumental.
Additionally, because many Nigerian women deliver at home, churches or with TBAs, we will enlist the support of TBAs by incentivising them not to practice FGM and to discourage it.
Peer educator and medical outreach programmes can be conducted regularly, targeting young girls in secondary schools; involving them in inter-school activities centered on issues surrounding female health, and discouraging other harmful procedures to the female genitalia like genital piercing, douching and use of chemicals for vaginal tightening.
Victims of FGM should be offered free gynecological and mental health services and also be encouraged to share their experiences and the negative impacts of FGM with the public.
The promulgation and enforcement of laws that criminalise FGM is a viable solution that should be explored in detail. However, care must be taken not to disrupt communities or provoke ethnic unrest.
This is why diplomatic relations with community leaders and community ownership is of utmost importance to our approach.
Social Media Advocacy
Social media today, is an extremely vital means of education and advocacy.
By writing about FGM and sharing it with friends, I hope to create a cascade of vital information that will positively impact people and influence them not to consider it, and to join in the fight against FGM.
If we must end FGM, we must work together, and we must act now.
Dr. Anita Chika Nwankpa is a Nigerian medical doctor who currently works at the Niger-Delta University Teaching Hospital (NDUTH) in Bayelsa.
She is a strong advocate for the rights of the girl child and maternal and child health issues.
She’s currently a programme manager for the “Save a Child project” organised by Joint Medical lifesavers Foundation, a non-profit, which promotes and provides access to healthcare for underserved communities in Nigeria.
She believes in youth involvement as agents of positive change in the society.
Youthhub Africa is a youth led communications and leadership organisation that focuses on youth opportunities and development.
It aims to equip and celebrate a new generation of African thinkers, leaders and innovators, and to support young people take front row seats on development issues on the African continent.www.youthhubafrica.org.