Health

How fathers’ ignorance encourage female genital mutilation in Nigeria

By Taiwo Oluwadare

I allowed my daughter to be circumcised in 2014 after I noticed she was feeling hitches on her private part and all efforts to stop her from not scratching it were not fruitful. After consultation on possible solutions, my wife was advised to do circumcision for her and once I was convinced this would be of benefit to her coupled with the fact that she will not allow her to be promiscuous in future, I allowed her mother to do the circumcision.

Two years later, I attended a summit on why female genital mutilation (FGM) or circumcision of girls must be stopped. At the event held in Mapo Hall,Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, circumcision practitioners gathered and promised to stop the age-long practice after former President Goodluck Jonathan signed into law, a bill criminalizing female circumcision in the country in 2015. At the summit where anti-FGM campaigners spoke on evils of FGM, I learnt about the dangers of the practice and feared the possible harm I could have done to my daughter but I cannot undo the crime I ignorantly committed on my little angel.

That is the lot of many fathers. In Nigeria as in other African cultures, decisions on children are not solely made by mothers, there must be fathers’ consent. Another example was a father of a 10-year-old girl who defended the FGM practice after his daughter’s death from its complication in Somalia.
Dahir Nur’s daughter died of blood loss on July 17, two days after being taken to a traditional circumciser. Nur did not press charges, and held no one to blame for his daughter’s death.

Meanwhile, efforts to criminalise FGM in Somalia have been stalled by politicians, who fear it will alienate voters who see the practice as a religious requirement, while girls who have not undergone it are reportedly taunted for not being cut.

FGM has been described as a societal malaise militating against female folks in Nigeria most especially children between 0 and 5.

The practice is documented in 28 countries in Africa, Asia and Middle East. Among these countries, the prevalent rate in Nigeria, according to the National Demographic Health Survey in 2013, is 24%.

The FGM practice is based on myths and religion passed down to many generations. Some communities believe that the clitoris contains powers strong enough to cause harm to a man’s reproductive organ or to damage or kill a baby during childbirth.

But the practice have grave health implications which range from complications at birth, infections, excessive bleeding, and delayed or incomplete healing. And once many traditional circumcisers do not use anesthetics on their patients, there is possibility of damage to adjacent organs like the urinary tract, infections, cysts and even death. Anti-FGM activists also believe that the practice has no clinical medical benefits but rather causes irreparable dangers to female folks.

In Africa, fathers are seen as the head of the family who has sole control of the affair of the family. Even, the civilization can’t alter the cultural belief. According to a qualitative study on parents and health workers to end FGM in Nigeria conducted by UKaid and Population Council in January, 2018, with respect to decision-making, parents made FGM/C decisions, with the male as household head having the final say and in some instances men deferred to their wives’ opinions as they were deemed most knowledgeable about girls’ and women’s issues, and in some study communities grandmothers were highly influential in parents’ decision-making.

Preliminary research shows that most fathers know little or nothing about FGM and once they think it is a female issue, men allow their wives to do female circumcision for their female wards believing that it is in the best interest of their daughters.

During an investigation I conducted in Emure in Ekiti State, I met a man who shared his story with me. The father who is simply identified as Idowu told me of a female circumciser in the community, an old woman popularly called Iyamola. By his consent, the woman circumcised his one month old baby girl.

To confirm the man’s story, I disguised as a student doing his final year project research on how circumcision is carried out, in order to talk with Iyamola.

I met her and she told me that “there are types of cuttings, we can just cut the tip and leave it but cutting of just tip without pilling it can cause the wound not to heal fast. So, the best option is to finger dress the flesh down the clitoris and pill the flesh before cutting the tip of the clitoris. And after cutting it, tomato leaf is used to stop the bleeding and make it heal fast. When asked how they sterilized their cutting tools, she said there were herbal liquid used to sterilize the tools to avoid infections.

Findings show that fathers still give consent to circumcise their daughters despite its criminalization. This is probably as one of the factors responsible for the continual practice of FGM in the country.

My wife even told me recentlythat the people who circumcised my daughter were still practicing the act secretly in an area called Ode-Aje in Ibadan North Local Government of Oyo state..

Findings show that until recently, rural, illiterate and unenlightened old men and women have remained in the cultural habit of mutilating the virginal part of female babies, and they have their reasons. Chief among those reasons is to prevent young women from becoming promiscuous as they assume teenage age. The cultural belief is that a female tends to become promiscuous if her vagina is not “tamed” through the severance of that virginal part believed to make her want men so much.

Unbelievably, the practice has gradually crept into the medical profession as you now have a situation whereby nurses, mostly auxiliary nurses who work with certified medical doctors in both public and private hospitals surreptitiously help parents “tame” the private part of both male and female children days after their birth. In Ise Ekiti, this reporter met with a lady named Tosin at a palm wine joint. She revealed how female circumcision is done in her hospital. She however refused to divulge the name of the hospital.

In some communities in the four Southwestern states, female genitals of uncircumcised women are considered ugly, unclean and unattractive.

According to the qualitative report by UKaid and Population Council, ‘Contrary to widely held views that medicalization occurs because parents are knowledgeable about the health risks of FGM/C and are thus attempting to mitigate them through the use of health professionals, the report found that parents reported being unaware of FGM/C’s possible physical and psychological complications but chose to use health workers because they perceived them as more careful, knowledgeable, skilled, and hygienic when dealing with any health related matter.

Health workers were also viewed as providing more options in cases of emergency and complications. Due to the early age at cutting, typically during infancy, the choice of FGM/C provider was often tied to the type of birth attendant (health worker or traditional birth attendant) who delivered the child.

The dynamics of convenience, trust, and cost saving drove the choice of birth attendants. For some parents, FGM/C was offered to them as part of routine neonatal care services. The transition to medicalization in these communities may be an unintended consequence of improved health seeking behaviours and safe birthing messages.

Recently speaking on behalf of the Oyo State government through Ministry of Health, the state Reproductive Health Officer, Mrs Bilikisu Olawoyin noted nobody has been arrested, arraigned nor convicted in Oyo State as there has not been no report yet due to low awareness by the police and other law enforcement agents.

She hinted that the psychological problem or consequences to FGM victims includes: Reduced or no sexual satisfaction, no desire for sex, fear and suppression of feelings, feeling of low esteem, Mental and Psychosomatic disorder, Constant feeling of betrayal, bitterness and anger, Poor interpersonal relationship, Depression, Puerperial, Psychosis/ maternity blues due to trauma during delivery.

Olawoyin added: “Because of scar formation in all the types which vary according to the type, the following can occur during child birth – prolonged / Obstructed labour, Perineal tear, primary and secondary paturm haemorhhage, Caesarian Sections, prolonged hospitalization.”

National Demographic Health survey (NDHS) on National prevalence of FGM in Nigeria suggests that Osun was rated 77℅, Ebonyi 74℅, Ekiti 72℅, Imo 68℅, Oyo 66℅ and Lagos State 35℅. But according to 2016/2017 Multiple Indicators Cluster Survey (MICS) report, Osun State recorded 67℅ as highest prevalence rate following Ekiti with 62.6℅, Oyo with 55.0℅, Imo with 51.6℅ and Ebonyi with 43.2℅.
The report further suggests that children between age 0 and 4 years old who are cut in Ekiti are 41.7℅ followed by Osun with 34.6℅, Oyo with 29.6℅, Imo with 22.2℅ and Ebonyi with 5.2℅.

Personal study carried out in Ibarapa area of Oyo State suggests that the prevalence in the area is 66.7℅ compared to survey carried out by UNICEF-UNFPA Joint programme on FGM abandonment in 2013 which rated Ibarapa at 84.2 which was ranked 5th above Ibadan North, Akinyele, Ogbomoso and below Oyo West and Kajola local governments in the state.

The report revealed that 66.7% of the parents have circumcised their children which is interpreted as prevalent rate of FGM in the area. 88.9% of the mothers said the children were circumcised in the hospital while other 11.1% of the mothers said the circumcision was carried out by the traditionalists. 33% of the mothers believe in promiscuity as reason for circumcising their daughters while other 33.3% of the mothers had cultural belief.

The survey suggests that Ibarapa North which consist of Ayete and Tapa communities has highest prevalence rate of FGM with 90% followed by Ibarapa Central with 30℅ and Ibarapa East with 20℅ prevalent rate.

 

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