Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Hi, No sooner were the first few editions of this running discourse published than I received a mail from a reader of this column from Rivers State. Juliana Okoh of the University of Port Harcourt sent me two books published by her on the practice of female circumcision, titled: Female Circumcision in Nigeria: Myth, Reality and Theatre, the piece was put together with the help of The five College Program in Peace and World Security Studies in association with the Five College Women’s Studies Research Centre and the UMASS Everywoman’s Centre and published in 2001.
I found the two books (the first a research work and the second a play) not just very interesting, but informative and educative. It is also very short and precise which allows for easy reading and understanding. Juliana did not include her phone numbers, so I could not get in touch personally and thank her for the books.
However, I know she wanted to pass them on for the purpose of public enlightenment. I have therefore, selected four chapters of the book which I know will be very useful to our readers. I am also using this opportunity to say that Juliana may reach me through the e-mail address provided on this page first, and we may pick things up from there if she so desires. I want to know how readers can get her books.
Dearest readers, please do remember that you too can reach across to me on any issue of your choice for the purpose of public enlightenment. You may also write in on any story of your choice, but based on true life experiences. Our address remains: The Human Angle, Vanguard, P.M.B. 1007, Apapa, Lagos. Or e-mail address: email@example.com Happy reading!!
Prevalence of Female Genital Cutting in the States of Nigeria
Factors Militating Against The Eradication of FGM in Nigeria
There is a belief by many that once a law is passed against FGM, the practice will disappear. This has not been the case in Nigeria, neither is it so in other parts of Africa and Asia. Reports have shown that, in spite of law prohibiting it, the practice of female genital mutilation is increasing steadily in Europe and America. So, passing a law is one thing, but implementing that law is another thing. For example, President Daniel Moi of Kenya condemned FGM in 1982, but, today in Kenya, the practice continues unabated, especially among the Gikuyu and Meru.
And there is still an ever increasing intense debate on the issue in Kenya among the elites as well as among the common people (The Guardian. 2002: 7).
In 1964, a British law prohibited all forms of female genital mutilation in Sudan. But, when Mahmud Mohammed Taha took over power, he passed another law in 1974 banning Pharaonic circumcision but allowing excision. Egypt also has passed several laws in 1959, 1978, banning female circumcision, yet, the practice remain unchanged.
This is so because in every society exist some people who are resilient to change.
But things started to change gradually in these other countries when interested agents put out specific project to educate the people about the hazard of the practice. In Sudan, for instance, a College of Nursing and Midwifery is charged to educate the people against the practice. Also an educational booklet in Arabic has been developed and concrete programmes have been started in rural areas with financial assistance from an organisation in Sweden. In Kenya, similar programmes financed from the same source have been going on. In Somalia, Government is supporting research and preventive educational programmes are being established.
Unlike in East Africa and in Sudan, where the campaign against circumcision is very advanced, the contrary is tenable in Nigeria. Some state governments have passed laws prohibiting the practice. At the federal level recently, Senator Janet Adeyemi sponsored the Bill H22, which aimed at outlawing Female Genital Mutilation practice in the Federation of Nigeria. But, the villagers who practice the ritual do not have formal education and they have no access to media information.
They know little or nothing about laws passed at the seat of power except what their elected representatives come back to tell them. The representatives will not tell them anything that will put them in a disadvantageous position before the electorate whose support they need to remain in power. As a result, even though the politicians participate in passing laws at the state and federal levels, when they go back to their constituencies, they pretend as if it is not an important issue.
This is so because the community can hardly give their vote to anybody who has no respect for its custom and tradition, no matter how good the intention of the person for the community is. So, since political power confers a person with a chain of rights, even educated men and women, and politicians themselves, sometimes, succumb to have their daughters circumcised. That is to say, after passing laws in the Senate/House of Representatives, to ban circumcision, through the newspapers, they tell the world that they have banned circumcision. Thereafter, the Edicts end up in the cooler.
On the other hand, the practice is performed on girls by the members of their families in the firm belief that what they are doing is good and necessary for the child as well as for the family. In Nigeria, it is very rare to see a child going to report her parents to the Police, not to talk of a 14-year-old girl.
So, laws forbidding female circumcision, even if they are chartered, cannot be enforced if there is no one to report the offence to the law enforcement agents. Hence, there is a need to fashion out in Nigeria an effective means for enlightenment campaign.
On this note, the observation of Saadawi (1980:33) concerning resistance to the eradication of FGM in Egypt is very relevant to Nigeria: “The importance given to virginity and an intact hymen in these societies is the reason why female circumcision still remains a very widespread practice despite a growing tendency, especially in urban Egypt to do away with it as something outdated and harmful.
Behind circumcision lies the belief that by removing parts of a girl's external genital organs, sexual desire is minimized. This permits a female who has reached the dangerous age of puberty and adolescence to protect her virginity and, therefore, her honour with great ease.”