Female the prevalence of FGM in Nigeria,

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM); also known as Female Genital
Circumcision, is the partial or total removal of the female genitalia. This practice has been documented in 30
countries, mainly in Africa, but also in some parts of the Middle East and Asia
(Appendix, Figure 1) (WHO, 2013).
According to a study by the World Health Organization (WHO), almost 200 million
women worldwide have undergone FGM, and three million are at risk of FGM every
year. West African countries score the greatest percentage of FGM in Africa.
27% of females between the ages of 15 and 49 in Nigeria are victims of FGM (UNICEF,
2013). In the course of working on my dissertation project, I will be examining
the factors that affect the prevalence of FGM in Nigeria, whether it is linked
to a certain religion, along with studying the relationship between education
and the rate of FGM. Also, I will shed light on the male’s attitude towards FGM
and how that affects the prevalence of FGM.

 

2.         Literature
Review

The
literature review is focusing on two different aspects: Defining clearly what
FGM is and introducing its four kinds, which will be the entry point to my
project. According to statistical studies, the struggle appears in determining
the exact number of females that have undergone FGM. This is because some
studies do not include FGM type IV (angurya and gishri), which is performed
only in some parts of Nigeria (Okeke TC et al., 2012). In general, the type of
FGM practiced differs depending on the religion, region, and ethnicity. The
second aspect that I will be focusing on are the main factors that influence
this practice, discussing how it began as a cultural and ritual practice by the
elder generation and how it was later on defined by people that practice it as
a religious practice or for hygiene and medical reasons (UNFPA, 2017).

The origin of female circumcision is lost in history. There isn’t one certain answer to when
FGM originated, but anthropological and historical researchers on this topic
have traced FGM back to Egypt in the fifth-century BC, and suggested that
according to the geographical distribution of FGM, FGM must have originated on
the west coast of the Red Sea when Egyptians traded slaves across the Red Sea
to the Persian Gulf (Wilson. A, 2013). Other researchers argue that FGM began
in 1609 when people living in Somalia started sewing up females in order to prevent
pregnancy and make them sell for higher prices. While some may argue that the
tradition developed among certain ethnic groups in sub-Saharan Africa to
prevent girls from being raped (Wilson. A, 2013).

The simple
reason why this practice continues today is due to the widespread of inherited
traditions by families that assume: “Our
society expects us to do so” (Costello, S. 2015). Abandoning this practice would give their elders the
impression that they are abandoning their cultures and traditions that have
been practiced by their ancestors and embedded in them for ages. Therefore,
they consider FGM a mean to receive the blessings of their ancestors. Some tribes in Nigeria claim that if
a newborn baby’s head touches the mother’s clitoris, the baby will die. There’s
also a belief among Nigerians that the clitoris is a male characteristic and
that by excising the female she will have a higher fertility chance (Moen, E,
N.A.). According
to studies performed by WHO and UNICEF in 2016 and 2017 respectively, some
people consider FGM an ancient heritage of the past, which people continue to
practice without questioning the reasons behind it (WHO, 2017; UNICEF, 2016).

a.         Types
of FGM

There are four
different types of mutilations. In consonance with a Demographic and Health
Survey in Nigeria (DHS), the most commonly practiced type of FGM is type II,
commonly known as excision, which involves cutting the clitoris and some flesh
of the outer part of the vagina. Type I, which is referred to as clitoridectomy
is when the clitoris is nicked and no flesh is removed. This type of FGM is
experienced by 5.8% of women who undergo FGM. Type III, which is referred to as
infibulation is when the woman’s vagina is completely sewn closed, and this is
experienced by 5.3% of women who undergo FGM. Among
girls aged 0 to 14 who undergo FGM, 2.7% are sewn closed. Type IV,
angurya and gishiri cuts are what is called the unclassified type, which is
performed on 24.9% and 5.1% of females respectively, and includes female
genitalia scraping, pricking cauterization and piercing (WHO, 1997).

            Most
cases of FGM are performed by local practitioners or someone close to the girl
who has little or no knowledge of the female anatomy to perform the cut. This
is because FGM is illegal in most countries and therefore doctors aren’t
allowed to perform it. The cut is performed using unsterilized sharp instruments
such as razors, knives or blades. Most of the cutting is performed during the
cutting season, which is in December, as that is when the cutting ceremonies
begin. A ceremony is usually planned for all the undergoing FGM, which makes it
cheaper for their parents. The practice is performed under poor hygiene
conditions using the same tools for all the girls and without any anesthesia
given (PMC, 2014). Due to that, the girl may encounter serious health risks
some such as urine retention, genital tissue swelling, menstrual complications,
infections, trauma and excessive bleeding that might lead to death (Okwudili O
et al, 2012).

 

b.         FGM
in Nigeria

To
tackle this aspect in a comprehensive way, I will narrow down my discussion to
a country located on the West Coast of Africa, where 27% of the females
practice FGM and that is Nigeria (Appendix,
Figure 1). According to the US Department of State, the percentage of
traditional practitioners performing FGM has decreased in the last few years
(US Department of State, 2001). This is due to the banning of this practice in
some states in Africa and establishing strict laws to stop it. Nigeria,
however, doesn’t have a national law that bans FGM, but it has several state
laws against it (US Department of State, 2001). 
According to a 2013 UNICEF report, “worldwide trends and prevalence of
FGM in Nigeria have varied over the years”. A survey conducted by the US
Agency for International Development (USAID) and UNICEF show that 25% of women
have undergone FGM in 1999, 19% in 2003, 26% in 2007, 30% in 2008, and 27% in
2011 (UNICEF, 2013). This is to show that rules to ban FGM hasn’t had any
direct effect on the continuity of this practice.

In
Nigeria, Muslim girls are more likely to be cut before the age of 5. However,
Christians are more likely to cut their daughters between the age of 10 and 14.
According to a survey conducted by DHS, 82% of girls that have been cut state
that they have been cut before the age of 5 (DHS, 2013). South West and South
East of Nigeria have the highest rates of FGM (UNHCR, 2016). Osun; an inland
state in Nigeria records the highest percentage of FGM at 76.6%. This practice
is less prevalent in the North with a percentage less than 0.1% in Katsina
(UNFPA, 2016). The North-East Zone has a low prevalence of 2.9%, however
despite the small scale, the type of FGM practiced there tends to be more
extreme. The variation in the percentages of FGM practiced in different regions
of Nigeria is linked to the difference in their ethnic groups. The main groups
are Hausa, Fulani, Yoruba, Igbo, Kanuri, Tiv, Edo, Nupe, Ibibio and Ijaw
(Heiken A, 1974). However, FGM is most prevalent among the Yoruba tribe (UNHCR,
2016).

 

c.         FGM
and religion

For
decades now there has been a misconception that FGM is related to Islam. In
fact, the practice of FGM precedes both Christianity and Islam. During a
conference held in Egypt in 2006, Muslim scholars from different parts of the
world sat together to discuss the origin of FGM, and they declared that no
evidence proves that Muslims initiated the practice of FGM (Selim. M, 2012). FGM
has been mentioned in some hadith describing FGM as noble but not required
(Ibrahim, A et al, 2008). However, in 2004
Egypt’s Grand Mufti Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi declared that all hadiths on FGM
are unreliable. There has been random fatwas
and opinions of Muslim religious men some of them opposing FGM and others
encouraging it (Mordechai.
K, 2002). Some religious men believe that this is an issue that has to do with
the family; therefore they choose to leave
the choice to the parents (Human Rights, 2010). Despite all the fatwas and
hadith that are being communicated by people, however, neither female genital
mutilation nor male circumcision is ever mentioned in the Holy Qur’an (Selim.
M, 2012).

A study conducted by UNICEF across all
African religions reveals that 23.6% of men, 15% of women who have heard of FGM said it is
required by their religion (UNICEF, 2016). Even though Muslims are the majority
in Nigeria with 50%, compared to Christians that are 40% of the population,
only 20.1% of Muslim women in North West and North East zones practice FGM,
where most Muslims reside (Okeke TC et al., 2012). In Niger, for example, only 2% of Muslim females have
experienced FGM as compared to 55% of Christian women (UNICEF, 2013).
However, more than half of
the Muslim women who have been cut have undergone the unclassified type of FGM,
which are the Angurya and Gishri type. On the other hand, a study by UNICEF in
2016 reveals that in the south and central parts of Nigeria 31.4% and 29.3% of
females practice FGM respectively (UNICEF, 2016). This proves that FGM is not
linked to one religion. Since in countries like Tanzania, Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt
and Niger the prevalence is much more greater in the Christian religion than in
Islam. As a matter of fact, it is simply a cultural practice that has been
performed by the older generation for thousands of years and is migrating to
countries outside Africa, for example, the United States, Canada, and the
United Kingdom. In 2012, Public Health Reports published that 513 thousand
girls in the United States are at risk of undergoing FGM (PMC, 2016).

 

d.         Male’s
attitudes towards FGM

The
main reason behind the FGM practice is social acceptance, which happens through
preserving the female’s virginity and diminishing sexual sensation. It is
believed that this avoids bringing any “disgrace” to the girl’s family. However,
there haven’t been many systematic surveys done on the male’s attitudes towards
the practice of FGM. But available research shows that in some countries more
men are willing to express their desires to end FGM than women. For example, In
Guinea; the country with the second highest prevalence of FGM in the world 38%
of men are against FGM and wish to end it, as compared to only 21% of women.
46% of the men in Guinea expressed that FGM does not have any benefits and that
it is purely related to culture and traditions compared to 10% of women that
believe that FGM is beneficial to the female health. Men are showing evidence
of the increasing desire and push to end FGM (UNICEF, 2016).

In
Egypt however, where 91% of women have undergone FGM, WHO conducted a research
to see whether female and male Egyptians supported or opposed FGM. The findings
have shown that Egyptians strongly supported FGM and wanted the practice to
continue. Men that supported FGM imposed it on their daughters to keep them
pure until marriage and to keep their women loyal to them. FGM in Egypt is
considered a prerequisite for marriage and is believed to increase the girls’
marriage prospects. Despite being aware of the health risks and being worried
about the negative effects that FGM would have on their sexual life, they had
greater concerns and that was ensuring their daughters and women’s virtue,
which would be fulfilled by undergoing FGM (WHO, 2010).

On
the contrary, another study conducted by UNICEF shows 67% of females and 63% of
male in countries with available FGM data said they wanted the practice to end
in their communities. Most of the people that disapprove of FGM are afraid of
expressing their thoughts because they believe that despite all the health
risks of FGM it is still very much needed in order to be accepted by the
community, and this is one of the main reasons why FGM is still being practiced
today despite all the NGOs trying to combat it (UNICEF, 2016).

In
2015, both Gambia and Nigeria adopted national legislation criminalizing
FGM.  More than 1,900 communities,
covering an estimated population of 5 million people, in the 16 countries where
data exist, made public declarations to abandon FGM.  The Sustainable Development Goals adopted by
the UN General Assembly in September 2015 include a target calling for the
elimination of all harmful practices such as female genital mutilation and
child marriage by 2030. 

The
above examples show that the men’s perception towards FGM differs largely from
one part of Africa to the other. Despite being located in Africa, Egypt,
however, shares different cultures from that of Guinea, Sierra Leone, Gambia
and Nigeria in the West.

 

d.         The
effect of literacy on FGM rate

A
research by UNHCR in 2016 reveals that FGM is more prevalent in South East and
South West of Nigeria, which surprisingly has the highest rates of literacy
varying from 60% to 90% (Appendix,
Figure 2) (UNHCR, 2016). The irony of this practice is that women in urban
cities practice FGM more than those in the rural areas. A significant number of
those that practice FGM in rural areas migrate from urban areas to rural areas
for the sake of performing FGM. According to Population Reference Bureau, a
survey conducted in 2008 shows that 37% of women living in urban zones have
undergone FGM in comparison to 26% in rural areas (Appendix, Figure 4) (Population Reference Bureau, 2008). In
another survey conducted by UNICEF two years later, 32% of women in urban zones
practiced FGM as compared to 19% of women in rural zones. Both surveys suggest
that FGM is more prevalent among the educated and wealthy Nigerians (UN, 2012).
The graph shows the significant difference in the values, which would suggest
that education does not have a profound effect on reducing FGM when people
would assume that educated, wealthy parents are more likely not to cut their
daughters (Appendix, Figure 4). In
fact, that is the opposite of what is actually happening.

According
to a study conducted by the campaign “28 too many” and demographic health
surveys (DHS), which studies the factors that affect the increase and decrease
in FGM, only 17.2% of uneducated Nigerian mothers between the age of 15 and 49
have imposed the practice on their daughters as compared to 30% of women with
primary and secondary level of education. Similarly, for women ages 15-29, 31%
who come from wealthy families have undergone FGM, as compared to 16.5% of
women from low-income families. On the contrary, 12.6% of girls between the
ages of 0-14 that are born to wealthy parents have undergone FGM as compared to
19.4% that come from low-income families. This suggests that educated women
with high incomes between the age of 15-49 are more likely to have undergone
FGM, that women from the same age that are uneducated and have low incomes.
However, for girls between the 0-14, the situation is different, which is to
say that the factors of age, wealth and income all affect the prevalence of
FGM. This raises the importance of education for girls in secondary and primary
levels of education, which could help decrease the rates of FGM in Nigeria (28
too many, 2013). The level of FGM urban areas is decreasing more than that in
rural areas due to all the NGOs are trying to shed awareness on FGM. People in
urban areas who have a primary or secondary level of education are more likely
to be persuaded by these campaigns and stop performing FGM than people in rural
areas where the situation remains unchanged.

 

Conclusion

The
practice of female genital mutilation is an issue that needs a lot more
attention and thorough research conducted because it is affecting hundreds and
thousands of girls not just in Nigeria, but in different parts of the world
where Africans have migrated and transferred there cultures and traditions with
them. There has been extensive research done on the issue of female genital
mutilation, but none of which have found an answer to why FGM is more prevalent
in urban areas than in rural areas, which is the opposite of what we would
expect. Despite the significant amount of research that has been done on the
health risks of FGM, we have absolutely no data on the number of fatalities which
are caused by FGM. There has been a lot of opinions of women and girls on the
issue of FGM, however there is little to no information and systematic surveys
done on the male’s attitudes towards the practice of FGM, keeping in mind that
in African countries the man is usually the decision maker and is considered the
integral member of the family. My research will attempt to fill the missing
gaps by answering the questions below.