—From "The Cut," Maryam Sheikh Abdi's autobiographical poem
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting, the act of cutting, removal, and sometimes sewing up of external female genitalia for cultural or other nontherapeutic reasons still poses a huge threat to the health and life of millions of women: An estimated 100 million to 140 million girls and women worldwide have undergone female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) and more than 3 million girls are at risk for cutting each year on the African continent alone.
This harmful tradition continues to take place today in Nigeria, irrespective of religion or culture, for reasons that include: Beliefs about health and hygiene, custom and tradition, religious demand, aesthetic reasons, protection of virginity, increasing sexual pleasure for the husband, enhancing fertility and increasing matrimonial opportunities.
According to the latest DHS findings (2003) 85% of girls who have undergone FGM were circumcised between the ages of one and four.
A highly respected woman in the community, such as birth attendants, barbers and medical health workers, performs the ritual. It causes physical and psychological damages to the victims and its effects are both immediate and life-long. The physical effects are as follows: Uncontrolled bleeding, severe pain, urine retention, genital ulcerations, scar formation, VVF/RVF, shock, increased risk of HIV/AIDS infection, and even death.
Some long-term complications, such as infection, have been known to cause infertility and obstructed labour.
The psychological effects are seen in anxiety, depression, frigidity and elimination of sexual pleasure. (Nigeria Progress Report on FGM for WHA 2008)
FGM is a fundamental violation of women’s and girl’s rights. It violates the right to health and to physical integrity, to be protected from harmful traditional practices, to be free from injury and abuse.
Furthermore, girls usually undergo the practice without their informed consent, depriving them of the opportunity to make independent decisions about their body.
Ten states in Nigeria have passed legislation outlawing FGM and zonal training workshops for ex-circumsisors on alternative employment have been conducted, but as a result of inadequate funding, resistance to change as FGM is deeply rooted in culture and erroneously in religion, the so-called “medicalisation” of the FGM practice ( involvement of modern health practitioners in the performance preventing the development of effective and long-term solution for the abandonment of FGM ), and lack of legislation against FGM at the national level there is still an estimated 19 % prevalence of affected women aged 15-49 throughout the country.