Female genital mutilation (FGM) is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) 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.
In Nigeria, subjection of girls and women to obscure traditional practices is legendary. FGM is an unhealthy traditional practice inflicted on girls and women worldwide. FGM is widely recognized as a violation of human rights, which is deeply rooted in cultural beliefs and perceptions over decades and generations with no easy task for change.
Though FGM is practiced in more than 28 countries in Africa and a few scattered communities worldwide, its burden is seen in Nigeria, Egypt, Mali, Eritrea, Sudan, Central African Republic, and northern part of Ghana where it has been an old traditional and cultural practice of various ethnic groups.
FGM is widely practiced in Nigeria, and with its large population, Nigeria has the highest absolute number of cases of FGM in the world, accounting for about one-quarter of the estimated 115–130 million circumcised women worldwide.[ 2 ] In Nigeria, FGM has the highest prevalence in the south-south (77%) (among adult women), followed by the south east (68%) and south west (65%), but practiced on a smaller scale in the north, paradoxically tending to in a more extreme form. The national prevalence rate of FGM is 41% among adult women. Prevalence rates progressively decline in the young age groups. However, there is still considerable support for the practice in areas where it is deeply rooted in local tradition.
Variation of FGM in Nigeria
FGM practiced in Nigeria is classified into four types as follows:
Clitoridectomy or Type I (the least severe form of the practice): It involves the removal of the prepuce or the hood of the clitoris and all or part of the clitoris. In Nigeria, this usually involves excision of only a part of the clitoris.
Type II or “sunna” It is a more severe practice that involves the removal of the clitoris along with partial or total excision of the labia minora. Type I and Type II are more widespread but less harmful compared to Type III.
Type III (infibulation). It is the most severe form of FGM. It involves the removal of the clitoris, the labia minora and adjacent medial part of the labia majora and the stitching of the vaginal orifice, leaving an opening of the size of a pin head to allow for menstrual flow or urine.
Type IV or other unclassified types recognized by include: introcision and gishiri cuts, pricking, piercing, or incision of the clitoris and/or labia, scraping and/or cutting of the vagina (angrya cuts), stretching the clitoris and/or labia, cauterization, the introduction of corrosive substances and herbs in the vagina, and other forms.
In Nigeria, of the six largest ethnic groups, the Yoruba, Hausa, Fulani, Ibo, Ijaw, and Kanuri, only the Fulani do not practice any form.
FGM varies from country to country, tribes, religion, and from one state and cultural setting to another, and no continent in the world has been exempted. In most parts of Nigeria, it is carried out at a very young age (minors) and there is no possibility of the individual’s consent. Type I and Type II are more widespread and less harmful compared to Type III and Type IV. In Nigeria, there is greater prevalence of Type I excision in the south, with extreme forms of FGM prevalent in the North. Practice of FGM has no relationship with religion. Muslims and Christians practice it, but it is more widely spread in Christian predominated parts of Nigeria.
Current situation of FGM in Nigeria
FGM is widespread in Nigeria. Some sociocultural determinants have been identified as supporting this avoidable practice. FGM is still deeply entrenched in the Nigerian society where critical decision makers are grandmothers, mothers, women, opinion leaders, men and age groups. Often used as a way to control women’s sexuality, the practice is closely associated with girls’ marriageability. Mothers chose to subject their daughters to the practice to protect them from being ostracized, beaten, shunned, or disgraced. FGM was traditionally the specialization of traditional leaders’ traditional birth attendants or members of the community known for the trade. There is, however, the phenomenon of “medicalization” which has introduced modern health practitioners and community health workers into the trade. The WHO is strongly against this medicalization and has advised that neither FGM must be institutionalized nor should any form of FGM be performed by any health professional in any setting, including hospitals or in the home setting.
There is need for abolition of this unhealthy practice. A multi-disciplinary approach involving legislation, health care professional organizations, empowerment of the women in the society, and education of the general public at all levels with emphasis on dangers and undesirability of FGM is paramount.