Insight

FGM: Health officials helping to modernise, preserve primitive practice (2)

Despite the harmful health implications of female circumcision otherwise known as genital mutilation, as well as the pains and trauma women go through, some health officials in Ebonyi State are secretly teaching mothers new methods of circumventing the law, UCHENNA INYA reports

We’ve stopped mutilating women, girls -Cutters

A Traditional Birth Attendant (TBA), Mrs. Uguru Ugbala Oke, from Uduku Igbudu community in Ikwo Local Government Area of Ebonyi State, told our correspondent, who visited the community, that she started circumcising women and girls when she was young. Oke disclosed that when some Non- Governmental Organisations (NGOs) approached her to stop the practice, she initially opposed it.

The TBA said she continued the practice until she was convinced why she should stop it. According to her, she has no option than to stop female circumcision even though it was a very difficult thing for her to do. Oke said she depended on the practice for survival. She said: “I am one of the women in our community circumcising our women and girls.

We use some fresh leaves to stop bleeding after the cutting. We usually apply the leaves on the place the woman or girl is bleeding to stop the bleeding. The fresh leaves include cassava leaves and another leaf we call ‘opumeh’. Once you bring the leaves together, ferment them and apply on the place the victim is bleeding, the bleeding will stop. This is how we control the bleeding.

“For a long time now, there have been campaigns against FGM in our community and I had to stop it. I stopped it when we were using what we call ‘aguba’ for the cutting. Those that are still doing it till today are no longer using ‘aguba’ but razor blades to do the cutting. “I started practicing FGM when I was a young girl.

I have circumcised many girls and women in my community. I continued practicing it till I became an old woman like this. I was combining it with farming, I am a farmer. I was feeding from both FGM and agriculture. I was also using herbs to service pregnant women and girls as a Traditional Birth Attendant. “When some organisations approached me and told me to stop practicing FGM, I told them that male circumcision should also be stopped because it is the same thing. But they told me that male circumcision is a culture and also biblical and can’t be stopped. They gave me many reasons why FGM should be stopped and those reasons convinced me to stop it.”

Some other TBAs in Ebonyi State who were specialists in female circumcision have also been made to drop the practice and join the crusade against FGM. Some of the TBAs, Mrs. Gloria Okorie from Ivo Local Government Area, Mrs. Beatrice Nweda Izzi from Local Government Area and Mrs. Grace Nwokpo from Ebonyi Local Government Area, declared that now that they have known the consequences, they would no longer venture into Female Genital Mutilation, which they said has brought so many problems to female children in their localities who have passed through the cutting.

The traditional birth attendants, during their confession at a one-day enlightenment campaign, organised by the National Orientation Agency (NOA) in the state, described their acts as harmful practices against the girl-child which should be discouraged by every woman, parent and that anybody found still engaged in the act should be arrested and prosecuted . According to Okorie, no girl is complete after undergoing female genital mutilation. She said: ‘’I thought I was doing female children a good thing when I was cutting their female organs after birth.

I thought doing that will make them complete and bear children when they grow up. ‘’I also thought that any female child that is circumcised will not be jumping from one man to another but I have come to realise that all these beliefs are false.’’

The TBA disclosed that she got to know the implications of the practice when she was advised by the wife of former governor of the state, Mrs. Josephine Elechi, during her enlightenment visit to the area on her pet project. She said: “Mrs Elechi told us that it is very bad to cut genital organs of female children and threatened to deal with anyone found perpetrating the act ’but some people like us were still doing it in secret. I later discovered that once you cut the genital organ, the place where baby passes out during child delivery is blocked and the child will not come out while the mother may even die. So I have to stop it entirely and don’t want to be associated with the practice any more.

“I have been telling people that I no longer do it. Even people are still coming to me to circumcise their female children and I used to tell them no, I don’t do it anymore. And if I see anyone doing it, I will personally report the person to the police.”

Okorie added that “if you are not careful while cutting the female genital, the victim may die because of the excessive bleeding and if you are not an expert as a cutter, you will damage so many things in the girl’s body”. A Women Leader and FGM champion in Afikpo North Local Government Area, Mrs. Felicia Egwu Oko, said the women broke various items used in perpetrating the act before the public during the event to indicate that they have totally abandoned the practice. According to her, the champions of FGM in the area have been going round various communities in the local government to fish out the perpetrators of female genital mutilation. She said: “The symbolism of what we did is that those tools are what we used during Female Genital Mutilation. There is a big clay pot called ‘Oku’.

After the mutilation, we use the pot to put hot water and dress the part that was cut. The smaller clay pot called ‘Nja’ is where we put oil; not eating oil, oil like ‘okwuma’, ‘Eke’ oil we get from the boar. We rob the oil on the genital parts that were removed.

“Then the leave called ‘Okpuruonya’ is for birth. After cutting the genitals or after birth, that Okpuruonya is what we use in our villages. We gather them, boil them very well and place them on the woman that has given birth or whose genitals were cut. The woman sits on it while the heat from the leave will help her to recover quickly.

The water from the leaves is given to the woman to drink. “After birth, we use an egg to show that the woman is strong. If the woman just comes out from birth or the village birth theatre or after mutilation. To show she is strong, we give her egg to break.

If she cannot hold the egg and break it, it is a sign that she is very weak.” According to Oko, she is now one of those educating parents, especially women on the dangers inherent in female genital mutilation. She added: “We the champions have gone round the communities and the villages to sensitise the people to abandon the FGM practice. Today everybody has known that he or she has to go to the health centre and we have told health centre nurses that we will prosecute any health centre that allows Female Genital Mutilation/ Cutting.” A woman in the local government, Mrs. Oko Ukachi Gladys, disclosed that her village lost over 20 children to FGM. This, according to her, forced the people to abandon the practice.

She said some of the victims died during labour while some others bled to death after undergoing FGM. Gladys dismissed the belief in some quarters that uncircumcised girls are very promiscuous. She said “We stopped FGM a long time ago because we lost over 20 children to it. Some of them bled to death, some died during child delivery. So, because of it we, the people of Kpoghirikpo, stopped it entirely. We are very happy that the entire communities in the local government have resolved to end it. I am one of the champions, that is, those fishing out the perpetrators. We no longer allow any woman to mutilate any girl-child in our community. We stopped FGM in the area before Governor Dave Umahi and his wife started fighting it and we have joined them in the fight.”

UNICEF, NOA intensify war, train surveillance teams

To ensure that FGM is eradicated in all the 144 communities in Ebony State, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the National Orientation Agency (NOA) have been going round the communities, sensitising the people to the need to abolish female genital mutilation.

A former Director of NOA in the state, Dr. Emmanuel Abah, said the two organisations have also taken their campaigns to many schools in the state. According to him, following the sensitisation, over 88 communities have publicly denounced the harmful practice while others are on the verge of doing so. Abah spoke on the implications of the communities denouncing FGM. He said: “These communities who have denounced FGM have shown the world that they have abandoned the practice.

“The implication is that whoever that does it after the declaration will not claim that he or she is not aware that it has been outlawed. So, any sanction, any punishment, anything that can be meted by the communities, the person will not claim that he or she is ignorant of it. The communities can now hand over the recalcitrant people to the law enforcement agents CONTINUED FROM PAGE 23 for prosecution. Addressing thousands of schoolgirls at Urban Models Girls Secondary School, Abakaliki, during one of the campaigns against the practice, Abah lamented that some girls donate themselves for mutilation.

He said: “The thing is that some of the young girls volunteer to be mutilated/ cut, no more the parents. Some of you donate yourselves to be cut, to be violated. “UNICEF said you should join us in the fight, say no to FGM. FGM leads to excessive bleeding.

As at today, so many children have died as a result of this. You waste potential women that could have contributed to the social economic development of this country through FGM.” Abah told the students that two female students of Ebonyi State University are currently battling for survival at the National Obstetrics Fistula Centre (NOFIC), Abakaliki, following complications arising from FGM. The former NOA boss also urged the students not to be allowed to be mutilated. He said: “Two students of Ebonyi state University have already developed problems. We have taken them to UNICEF. They are being treated at the National Obstetrics Fistula Centre (NOFIC), Abakaliki, free of charge. We don’t allow the victims names to be mentioned; we protect them. Even when they are talking while we are interrogating them, we cover their faces. So, we have handed them over to the centre for treatment.

“They were mutilated when they were young and now the problems developed. The problem may not be immediate. Ten years after, the problem starts. If you know any FGM persons who have any complication, any problem, send them to us quickly. A stitch in time saves nine, report to us immediately. “In Ukwuagba community, we took the victims for medical checks to the NOFIC; that has been done. The Commissioner of Police has given an order that the perpetrators and parents of the victims should be arrested.” On her part, the Head of Department, Legal Department of the agency, Theresa Ama, urged the girls to report anyone that practices the act in the state to the agency for appropriate action. Ama advised the students to resist every form of mutilation of their bodies to avoid contracting diseases which can terminate their lives.

She said: “FGM has a lot of negative consequences on the victims. Go to Vesico virginal fistula centre here in Abakaliki and see many girls and women who passed through it. It causes uncontrollable passage of urine and faeces. If a knife is used to mutilate your body, what is the first thing that will happen to you? It is painful; you will feel the pain, the trauma.

“You can also contract many diseases, especially sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS if you allow yourself to be mutilated. There is a woman in Izzi who performs this female genital cutting on girls. She gathered 10 children at once for mutilation and used one material and mutilated them. One of the victims, that is the fifth child she mutilated, had HIV.

After mutilating the children, all of them contracted HIV except the first four she mutilated and all the children died except the first four. “Some said if you don’t mutilate a girl-child, she will find it very difficult to give birth but that is a blatant lie, it is not true. It rather makes the woman not to deliver smoothly during labour because the virginal is no longer elastic having been mutilated. A woman’s virginal is supposed to be so elastic that if she wants to deliver a baby, it will be so easy but if the woman is mutilated, her virginal will close and she will not deliver easily.

“If you see anywhere they are doing FGM or planning to do it or where they are discussing how and where to do it; or if your mother gives birth to a female child and she is planning to circumcise or mutilate the child, call me on the phone. I will land there with policemen and arrest everybody there. “Last week, we arrested some people at Ezzamgbo and they are still in police custody. We have to all join hands and fight this ugly practice against us.” UNICEF and NOA have trained 24 surveillance teams to ensure that FGM is completely eradicated in the state.

The NOA Programme Manager, Uchenna Unah, noted that why women were chosen for the job is because the harmful practice has to do with them. He said: “Why we choose women for this is because it has to do with them, because women are the ones that will carry their girl children for circumcision. We want the women to look downwards into the communities to make sure that no one would carry out this obnoxious practice, to stop anyone that does that by bringing the person to book.”

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