Insight

FGM: Health officials helping to modernise, preserve primitive practice (1)

Despite harmful health implications on women as well as pains and trauma they go through, some health officials in Ebonyi State are secretly teaching mothers new methods to circumvent the law and vigorous campaigns against the age-long practice of female circumcision otherwise called Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), reports UCHENNA INYA

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C), circumcision of women, was banned in 2017 by the World Health Organisation (WHO) because of its numerous harmful effects on women and the girl-child. It is an age-long practice which started several decades ago. It is estimated that over 200 million girls have been circumcised globally with two million others at risk of being circumcised, according to the Demographic Health Survey. FGM is practiced in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. In Africa, it is estimated that over 28 countries, including Nigeria, practice it.

In Nigeria, FGM is pronounced in the South-East with 49 per cent, South- West (47.5%), South-South (45. 8%) and North-West (20.7%). Osun State has the highest prevalence which is about 78%, while Imo and Ebonyi states follow. For Ebonyi State, it is estimated at 64% while Imo State has 74%. It is generally believed that FGM is mainly an Egyptian culture in Africa which started in the days of Pharaoh.

Egyptian women and girls were very beautiful and Pharaoh reportedly married a lot of them and was unable to sexually satisfy them all. He was seen as a very jealous man who would not want any of his women and girls he had as wives and concubines to be meeting men for sexual satisfaction. Following this, he ordered that those women and girls he had and couldn’t sleep with because of their large number be circumcised so that they would not be promiscuous. However, migration led to the spread of female circumcision to other African countries including Nigeria and other parts of the world.

As a result of its negative consequences, the wife of Ebonyi State governor, Mrs. Rachael Umahi, launched an aggressive campaign against the harmful practice in the state four years ago. She championed a law against it which is known as Violence against Persons Prohibition (VAPP). The law provides a N200,000 fine and or an imprisonment for the perpetrators. Various organisations such as the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Civil Resource Development and Documentation Centre (CIRDDOC), Nigeria Neighbourhood Initiative for Women Advancement (NIWA), Coalition of Eastern Non- Governmental Organisations (CENGOs), National Orientation Agency (NOA), among others, picked up the war against FGM and started going into various communities in the state, to sensitise the people on the dangers inherent in the practice.

Many communities saw the need to do away with the harmful practice and publicly denounced FGM. Already, 10 out of 13 local government areas of Ebonyi State have outlawed the practice. The local governments which have banned the practice are Abakaliki, Ebonyi, Izzi, Afikpo North, Ishielu, Ivo, Ezza North, Onicha.

The secrete practice

However, despite the public renouncement of FGM by the local governments, the people have refused to stop the practice. Rather, parents have modified the practice. Mrs. Regina (surname withheld), a nursing mother at Ozibo village in Ebonyi Local Government Area of Ebonyi State bathed her four months old baby girl. After bathing her and cleaning her body with a towel, she started rubbing shea butter popularly known as ‘okwuma’ in Igbo on the baby’s clitoris. She was pressing the clitoris of the baby and the baby who was very quiet when she was bathing her, started crying. She cried uncontrollably until her mother was done with the pressing of the clitoris. This reporter asked why Regina was pressing the baby’s clitoris. Her response was a shocking revelation of the new method adopted by parents, allegedly with the connivance of health officials, to circumvent the laws banning FGM. She said: “Since government has stopped open circumcision of our girl-child, we have been told the new method of circumcising our children. We were educated on how to do this by health workers at our health centres when we went for immunisation. That is what you saw me doing. Why we do this is that we can’t allow our girl-child to be promiscuous when they grow up. “We know it is an offence to circumcise our girl-child, we know what the government is doing about it but this new method is not as harsh as the former method which involved the use of sharp objects to cut the clitoris. This one is just pressing the clitoris gently and you achieve the same result with the other method of circumcision, which is to stop promiscuity.” A researcher, Dr. Obinna Edeh, is also of the opinion that FGM was still prevalent in the state despite the campaigns against the practice. He said FGM is still in practice and even tacitly encouraged in various communities in the state. Edeh made this known in Abakaliki, the state capital, during a consultative meeting with gate keepers and duty bearers from communities and government agencies in the state. It was organised by Women Aid Collective (WACOL) in collaboration with the Ford Foundation. He said: “Although open circumcision is no longer practiced in the state, some forms of it still exist. Women rub ‘dusting’ powder or Vaseline on the clitoris of their baby girls to reduce its size. Eventually, the same result is achieved, that is, an almost nonexistent clitoris and with it a diminished sexual appetite.” Edeh, who is a lecturer in the Department of Law, University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN), regretted that women and girls in Ebonyi State have suffered all forms of violence and called for an end to it. On her part, Mrs. Nancy Oko-Onya, the NIWA founder, during a training of media practitioners organised by CENGOS, said mothers are now using dusting powder, petroleum jelly, sheer butter (okwuma) and other substances to circumcise their baby girls. Oko-Onya, who is also the state Coordinator of CENGOS, said the items have become hot cake and very expensive in the market and at times even scarce because of their usage by mothers to circumcise their baby girls. She said: “People no longer rob dusting powder because of heat rashes but because of genital mutilation. When women (grandmothers) want to travel overseas with some of these items, the first thing they put under their bags and cover them with their clothes is petroleum jelly and shea butter (okwuma). Once they get overseas, they use the items and circumcise their girl-grandchildren. “Most girl victims told us that they are feeling pains in their private parts after these okwuma, dusting powder were applied on their clitoris and pressed for female circumcision. This type of female circumcision is even done in hospital, Afikpo. “Our state has VAAP Law. Does it protect people from FGM? How many people have been arrested and prosecuted in line with the law?” Former Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Ebonyi State Council, Mrs. Veronica Osim, blamed health workers for promoting the new method of FGM. She said: “There is a matron in one of the hospitals in Abakaliki who practices this method. The health workers need to be talked to because they are the ones educating the women on the new method of doing this FGM. They educate the women on how to do it; ‘just do it this way and do it the other way, the clitoris cannot be jumping up and down, cannot be this high, let it go down’ and they ask the women to use shea butter or the Vaseline or dusting powder to do it.”

We no longer enjoy sex -Victims

Investigation shows that any girl who was circumcised cannot enjoy sex as she often feels pains when having sex. Most of the victims of FGM fear sex and usually run away from it whenever it is mentioned by their sexual partners. This has caused problems in many marriages with many husbands divorcing their wives and many other young relationships that usually metamorphosed into marriages ending abruptly. Also, many mutilated women and girls in the state have bled to death.

In fact, a woman leader at Kpogirikpo, Afikpo in Afikpo North Local Government Area, Mrs. Oko Ukachi Gladys, told our correspondent that her village alone has lost over 20 women to FGM. “We lost over 20 children to Female Genital Mutilation (female circumcision). Some of them bled to death, some died during child delivery,” she said. Some victims of FGM in the state narrated how they nearly bled to death and how they have lost their sexual lives after their circumcision. They said sex is now the most difficult thing to engage in after their mutilations.

Mrs. Felicia Nwali is from Igbudu community in Ikwo Local Government Area of Ebonyi State. She got married at a very young age and became pregnant. It was during her first pregnancy that she was circumcised. Nwali told our correspondent that she experienced severe pains during her circumcision and almost bled to death. She said: “I was circumcised when I got married and became pregnant. I passed through severe pains and wept uncontrollably. My husband took very good care of me after my circumcision; he bought many good things for me. The good care by our husbands after our circumcision made our women to always undergo circumcision. “Your circumcision as a woman is a period your husband will show you true love in our community, he will pamper you like a baby and treat you specially. That is why you, as a woman, will not hesitate to be circumcised whenever you are asked to do so by your husband. “After your circumcision as a woman, your husband will keep you in the house for three months without you doing anything. He will take very good care of you; buy you things he never bought for you in life. He will kill goats for you alone; buy clothes and other things for you. That good care by our husbands after our circumcision made our women to always undergo circumcision. FGM is a rite of passage to womanhood in our community and any woman who refuses to do it is seen as an incomplete woman.

“My daughter also got married, became pregnant but refused to be circumcised. I begged her to do it but she vehemently refused. She later gave birth and I pleaded with her to be circumcised after her child delivery and she still stood her ground and refused to be circumcised. She is alive today and nothing happened to her. I am supporting the fight against FGM because I would have bled to death as a result of it. But I want to ask, do male children also not bleed after their circumcision, has this bleeding stopped circumcision? Why is the emphasis on stopping female circumcision?” Another survivor, Chinyere Nwaewuru, from Agubia community in the same local government, also disclosed that she was circumcised when she was pregnant after her marriage. She, however, said she stopped having sexual urge after the act. Nwaewuru described her experience during the circumcision as horrible and terrible. According to her, she almost bled to death after the cutting but she is alive by divine intervention. She said: “I was circumcised when I got married at a young age. Before I gave birth to my first child, I was circumcised. I wouldn’t have agreed to be circumcised but my father told me that any child that is not circumcised will be a nuisance. So, I had to agree. Actually, I didn’t bleed after the circumcision but I experienced severe pains and nearly died. It made me not have sexual urge. I have been living with my husband since after my circumcision but there is never a time I have feelings for sex as a woman. “I always feel angry whenever sex is mentioned to me by my husband. If he later has his way, I will be feeling serious pains when he is having sex with me. This has been my major problem since I was circumcised. I have completely lost my sexual life as a woman because of the circumcision. “FGM can cause divorce in a marriage. When you don’t have urge for sex after being circumcised or mutilated, your husband can divorce you because sex is the beauty of any marriage. So, I didn’t allow my daughter to be circumcised because of what I passed through. I didn’t allow them to circumcise my daughter and I have resolved not to allow any of my female children to be circumcised.” Miss Azubuike Emmanuella is a native of Afikpo in the Afikpo North Local Government Area of Ebonyi State. She is very beautiful and she is in her 20s. She told the New Telegraph that she was 11 years old when she was circumcised and that she wouldn’t wish any girl to have the experience she passed through during and after her circumcision. Emmanuella said as a girl, having sex is now a difficult thing for her. According to her, sex has remained the most painful thing to her and that she doesn’t know what to do to stop it. She added: “If you are a girl or a woman that experienced FGM, you will not enjoy sex. I was 11 years old when I passed through it. It is an experience I will not wish any girl to have. It is a memory that I cannot forget in a hurry. I couldn’t sit normally, I couldn’t urinate normally. “As a girl, having sex now is very difficult for me. It is too painful that I cannot endure the pains and I don’t know what should be done to stop the pains whenever I am having sex. But I am so excited that my village has resolved to end FGM. I am not even sure that any other girl or woman is happier than me because of this aggressive war that has been launched against this ugly phenomenon. I am so happy.” Ukazu Rita Adamma, single, a native of Mgbom community in the local government, corroborated Emmanuella. She said she has lost sexual appetite following her circumcision and called for an end to FGM practice in society. She said: “I am a victim of FGM and it is not good because we that experienced it find it very difficult to have sexual urge. If you succeed in having sex, you won’t even be satisfied while having it. There are many negative effects of FGM, apart from this ugly experience I have. FGM causes bleeding, bareness, Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) among others. “I feel so happy because this thing is what we have been aiming to stop. But we thank God that the government has finally helped us. The fight is a good idea. Definitely we will end Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting. “Though we have already stopped this harmful practice, the government and international organisations’ resolve to stop it will strengthen our decision and the fight against the practice. “I am one of the champions; that is those fishing out the perpetrators. I and others were chosen in my village for this assignment and we have started working. There was a woman who we caught trying to mutilate a girl. We swooped on her and she pleaded to be forgiven, promising that she will not practice it again.” Another survivor of FGM, Mrs. Eunice Obasi, from Onicha Local Government Area of the state, narrated her own experience. She said: “Circumcised women pass through many pains when giving birth. The clitoris that was tampered with in the name of circumcision affects the woman, because that part of the woman’s body which is supposed to be elastic during delivery will become so tight and difficult for the baby to pass through. That will now make the nurses give you a cut in order to give a passage for the baby to come out. “I was circumcised and was given a cut while giving birth to my first baby. It pained me so much that I will not wish that any of my children will experience the same thing. Honestly, I thank UNICEF and the state government for this thing they are doing for women and girls to end the practice.” Mrs. Blessing Ogbu from Amanato community in the local government also spoke on efforts to stop FGM. She said: “We have stopped female circumcision. Before now, it was seen as a sacrilege for women not to be circumcised. But since we learnt of the disadvantages and stopped, truly we see our women deliver their babies freely. Since the government has done so much to bring to an end this obnoxious practice, we will ensure that nobody will secretly do it again in our community.”

TO BE CONTINUED

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