March 10, 2016 Nnamdi Eseme, Correspondent for the International HIV/AIDS Alliance Women Deliver Young Leader

How Can Young People End FGM in Nigeria?

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What role can young people play in ending female genital mutilation in Nigeria?

Female genital mutilation (FGM) in Nigeria continues to raise the concern among young people, especially girls and women. According to the World Health Organization, female genital mutilation is defined as all procedures which involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia and/or injury to the female genital organs, whether for cultural or any other non-therapeutic reasons. The procedure can be incredibly painful, and it can also lead to harmful side effects such as excessive bleeding, genital tissue swelling, fever, infections, urinary problems, and even death. The need to end this practice is great.

While the practice of FGM isn’t limited to Nigeria, a report by UNICEF stated that in the past, Nigeria had the highest absolute number of FGM cases in the world, amounting to approximately one quarter of the estimated 115-130 million cases in this world. This statistic shows how common the practice of FGM is in Nigeria Because of this, it is necessary to highlight the role young people can play in totally eradicating the practice of FGM in Nigeria.

Creating Awareness

Although FGM was banned in Nigeria in May 2015 by the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan, many communities still practice this painful act. Because young people are predominantly affected, they can help end this practice by engaging in aggressive awareness campaigns in rural communities, where cultural beliefs and societal pressure to conform to existing traditional practices force parents to let their girl children go through this excruciatingly painful and medically unnecessary procedure.

Highlighting the harmful health implications of FGM to parents and traditional leaders in communities where it is practiced, and explaining that girl children who do not undergo FGM grow up to be healthy women and no less female than girls who undergo FGM, would go a long way is changing the mindset of communities that still practice FGM.

Engaging schools and religious leaders

To end FGM in Nigeria, young people must engage with those who can sway communities. Young people should engage with religious leaders to speak out against FGM. Nigeria is made up of highly developed and diversified religious groups and much religious leaders are given enormous respect and weight in Nigerian society. Based on the respect they carry, it would be easier for religious leaders to convince parents and community leaders to stop the practice of FGM.

Additionally, young people should go directly into schools and talk to students, especially girls, about the dangers of FGM. Since it is girls who are affected, such visits should be led by a young woman, or perhaps even a female victim of FGM who could share her personal experience.

Young women like Chituru*, a 19-year-old girl from Imo state, Nigeria, can connect on an interpersonal level with other girls and young women. Here is Chituru’s story:

When I was 9 years old, I went to stay with my grandmother in the village for the holidays. On the third night of my stay, she took me to an elderly woman's house where I was asked to remove my underwear, lie down and spread my legs. I was afraid but grandma assured me that it was going to be fine. Grandma held my hands and the other woman brought out a razor blade and started cutting. I shouted in pain but grandma held me firmly so I couldn't break free. I was crying and bleeding but grandma held me still. When the other woman was done, grandma carried me home. I could not walk for days and when I asked her why I was made to go through such painful process, she replied that it was a necessary cultural practice to make me a woman and prevent me from being promiscuous.

Also, young people should engage religious leaders to speak about the dangers of FGM. Nigeria is highly religious and much respect is given to religious leaders because they are seen as mouthpieces of God. Based on the respect they carry, it would be easier for religious leaders to convince parents and community leaders to stop the practice of FGM.

Seek government support

For young people to end FGM in Nigeria in one generation, they need the government's support and strong political commitment to enact strict penalties for those who still practice FGM. This has already begun.On February 9, 2016, the UNFPA in collaboration with UNICEF, the Federal Ministry of Health, Federal Ministry of Women Affairs/Social Development and the Guardian UK, launched a program that calls for the abandonment of FGM in Nigeria. This is a step in the right direction as Goal 3 of the post 2015 sustainable development goals (SDGs) says that government at all levels must ensure healthy lives and wellbeing for their citizens, including any practice that negatively affects the health of her citizens, such as FGM. SDG goal 5 also seeks to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, an ending FGM is a critical starting point. Young people can lead the way in tackling development, gender, and health issues, and they can lead the way to ending the practice of FGM. We just need to be given the chance.

*Names changed to protect privacy


Nnamdi Eseme is a Women Deliver Young Leader, key correspondent for the International HIV/AIDS Alliance and news writer for the Global Health Next Generation Network from Nigeria, working to improve the sexual and reproductive health of girls and women in his community by reporting stories that matter to them. He tweets @Eseme01.

Photo courtesy of: Arne Hoel, World Bank

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