In December 2011, two sisters, Joy and Patience Youmgbo came back from Lagos, a bustling commercial city in South West Nigeria to visit their grandmother in Amassoma, Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of Bayelsa, a state in the core of the area of the Niger Delta. A state which incidentally happens to be where the president of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan is from. Pressured by family members to undergo a crude female circumcision operation which would see them lose the clitoral hood or the clitoris itself, along with the inner labia of the vagina under the expert hand of an old midwife, Joy was the first to go. After the operation, fifteen year old Joy would bleed to death as a result of injuries gotten from the circumcision. Alarmed by the death of her sister and afraid for her own life, seventeen year old Patience would flee the family home in Amassoma on February 14. Till this day, Patience remains missing.
Sadly, the story of Joy is just one of the many in the country. Millions of women have across the country have been scarred or killed by this practice. The World Health Organization (WHO) identifies four types of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)
Type I: removal of the clitoral hood, the skin around the clitoris, with or without partial or complete removal of the clitoris;
Type II: removal of the clitoris with partial or complete removal of the labia minora;
Type III: removal of all or part of the labia minora and labia majora, and the stitching of a seal across the vagina, leaving a small opening for the passage of urine and menstrual blood (infibulation);
Type IV: other miscellaneous acts, including cauterization of the clitoris, cutting of the vagina, and introducing corrosive substances into the vagina to tighten it.
In Nigeria, Type I-III is in practice with Type IV practiced to a lesser extent. Type III, the most severe form, is in practice in the Northern part of the country, while Type I-II is predominant in the Southern part of the country with the Yoruba as the main group behind it. The Ijaws (the tribe which the Youmgbo sisters belong to) and the Ibos (a group in South Eastern Nigeria) practice any of the three, depending on the local community. According to a 1997 WHO study, an estimated 30,625 million women and girls, or about 60 percent of the nation’s total female population, have undergone one of these forms. These procedure is most times carried out by illiterate old women who use crude looking razors and knives on their victims in very unhygienic environments.
The practice of FGM stems from a cultural bias against women and crass ignorance. Some cultures give promiscuity, uncleanness, marriageability and desirability as excuses for this unwholesome practice. Even more idiotic is the claim by some communities in the country that a male child dies during child birth when his head comes in contact with the clitoris. There is no doubt that a patriarchal mental leaning is behind cultures that insist on mutilating the female genitalia. Nigeria is not the only country in the world where such a dangerous outdated practice takes place. In Africa, where twenty eight countries participate in this heinous tradition, it is estimated that 92 million girls 10 years old and above have undergone FGM (WHO). Parts of the Middle East also practice FGM. Immigrant communities in Europe, North America and Australasia are not left out of this practice, making the sum total of victims worldwide to reach 100-140 million.
I find it deplorable that in this age of technological advancement, the third world continues to be held back by religious and cultural practices that places man at the lowest rung of civilization while the rest of the world moves forward. More needs to be done in order to put an end to this evil practice. In Nigeria for instance, there are no sufficient laws to criminalize such acts. People who oppose this practice rely onSection 34(1)(a) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria that states, “no person shall be subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment,” as a basis for their argument that the practice be banned. To catch up with the rest of the world in terms of development or even meeting the U.N MDGs, third world countries caught up in the throes of backward religious and cultural inclinations, need to criminalize FGM. If this had been the case, the Youmgbo family would have been cooling their heels in detention centers and clitoral abattoirs will cease to exist.
Written on February 26 2012 on www.umariayim.blogspot.com