My head is spinning as I look at Mira (not real name). She has just told me she is still a virgin and she was circumcised as a baby.
We had been talking generally about sexual relationships in Nigeria and I had asked her what her favorite position is and she replied she had never had sex.
Me: Wait, Sorry , what ?
Mira: I've never had sex. I have no sexual urges. I don't know what an orgasm is.
Me: WHY ? you're 37 !
Mira: I was circumcised as a baby and I think that is the reason
Me: (Standing still speechless with mouth wide open)
She gives me a sad smile and my heart breaks into a thousand pieces. The words are dancing around in my head and come out in incoherent jabber.
Me: why ? How did you find out ? Who did it ?
I'm beyond stunned.
Female Genital Mutilation or circumcision as they like to call it is not news to me. I did a piece on it for classwork during my masters. I know organizations that have been seeking to end FGC/M in Nigeria like the World Health Organization, UNICEF, International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics, African Union, Devatop Centre for Africa Development, the Economic Commission for Africa, and the Population Council.
I knew about the health and psychological complications. I just didn't know anyone who had had it done personally.
The mood of what was supposed to be a fun outing changed for me.
Me: How can you be so calm about this ? How did you find out ?
Mira: A male friend of mine told me something was wrong with me. Every time he tried to touch me I would brush him away. He kept asking me why I never felt anything. When I turned 30 and I still had no sexual urges I went to ask me mum if I was circumcised. She was shocked I would ask such a question. She confirmed I was circumcised as a baby saying she is from Lagos where it is not practiced but my Dad is from Ilorin where it is practiced even up until today.
Me: Wow. How could she stand by and let them do that ? That is unconscionable. I would sue my parents.
Mira: She didn't know any better. She stopped school at primary 6. She loved my dad and would do anything for him. She claims it is the culture and she couldn't go against the culture.
FGM has being used to control women's sexuality for ages. You only need to go to google to discover the health complications surrounding botched procedures. Females bleed to death and the culture claims the gods took them away because they would grow up to be promiscuous. This act is carried out in such a way that a tip of the clitoris or the entire clitoris is cut off from the female genitalia. My friend Mira is a perfect example of why this act should be abolished. Imagine going through life knowing you have a problem but not knowing/understanding why you have a problem.
She doesn't even know if it is partial or full. She told me she and her three sisters had the procedure done but none of them have ever had that discussion with each other.
It's hours later after our discussion but my head is still spinning. I just discovered that in spite of the ban in 2015 by then president GoodLuck Jonathan, this abominable act is still widely practiced all over Nigeria by Muslims, Christians and traditionalists.
I want to interview women who are still practicing this act. I want to interview women who have been circumcised. I want to share their stories. I want this practice stopped. These people need education. I want to do something. I am completely heartbroken.
Facts to Note:
After nearly 13 years of trying to make a law against FGM in Nigeria, the government of Goodluck Jonathan finally outlawed FGM in 2015.
This was a milestone in the talk and walk against FGM as it signified a governmental backing against a practice that held sway in Nigeria.
Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPP) 2015, the anti-FGM law, was endorsed by the Nigerian senate on May 2015.
According to the law, “a person who performs female circumcision or genital mutilation or engages another to carry out such circumcision or mutilation commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 4 years or to a fine not exceeding N200,000 or both.”
But till date, no one has been convicted despite the prevalence in Nigeria.
According to Rachel Arowolo, whose parents are firm believers in FGM, it is simply hard to condemn or report family members who are usually the culprits of female genital mutilations.
For FGM, as with many other gender based crimes, it stays in the family.
“It will be difficult for one to take anyone to court because of how closely knitted our society is. We must do more in terms of bringing about behaviour change”
Why FGM should stop
FGM has no known medical benefits to women and girls. In fact, according to the UNFPA, the attendant consequence of FGM are dire.
“Complications include severe pain, shock, haemorrhage, tetanus or infection, urine retention, ulceration of the genital region and injury to adjacent tissue, wound infection, urinary infection, fever, and septicemia. Haemorrhage and infection can be severe enough to cause death,”
“Long-term consequences include complications during childbirth, anaemia, the formation of cysts and abscesses, keloid scar formation, damage to the urethra resulting in urinary incontinence, dyspareunia (painful sexual intercourse), sexual dysfunction, hypersensitivity of the genital area and increased risk of HIV transmission, as well as psychological effects,” the organisation continued.
Some key FGM facts
Female genital mutilation (FGM) includes procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.The procedure has no health benefits for girls and women.Procedures can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, infections, as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths.More than 200 million girls and women alive today have been cut in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia where FGM is concentrated1.FGM is mostly carried out on young girls between infancy and age 15.FGM is a violation of the human rights of girls and women.There are four types of FGM
Type 1: Often referred to as clitoridectomy, this is the partial or total removal of the clitoris (a small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals), and in very rare cases, only the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris).
Type 2: Often referred to as excision, this is the partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora (the inner folds of the vulva), with or without excision of the labia majora (the outer folds of skin of the vulva ).
Type 3: Often referred to as infibulation, this is the narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the labia minora, or labia majora, sometimes through stitching, with or without removal of the clitoris (clitoridectomy).
Type 4: This includes all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.