‘People criticised me for being involved in the movement to end Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). They claimed I was involving myself with issues that were not “divine”. But what else has God placed us here for if not to ensure that people are aware and that they do the right things?’
Pastor Frank Nwachukwu Akuma is the leader of the Christian Centre for Community Development, Enugu. Although widely respected in his community, he has come under huge criticism for speaking against the practice of female genital mutilation in his community.
In this interview, Pastor Frank highlights the challenges he faced and what motivates him to keep supporting the movement to end the practice.
Tell us about yourself
I am Pastor Frank Nwachukwu Akuma, a servant of God and supporter of grassroots campaign to end the practice of female genital mutilation in Nigeria. I have been very passionate about women’s issues and continue to engage with local women in my community on how to stop practices that do not reflect the true essence of our spiritual existence.
How did you come to work with the FGM space?
Like I said, I have been working on some harmful cultural practices in my community and FGM is one of them. In my studies, I came across a data from the National Population Commission stating that in Nigeria, eighty-two percent of the female population had undergone FGM before they turned 5, with a higher number of cases occurring in the southern zones than in the northern zones. These statistics reflect the continued practice of FGM in Nigeria despite existing legislations. This triggered an interest in me to see how to address this and I started using my platform to speak to women in my community about the practice. Initially, people criticised me for being involved in the movement to end Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). They claimed I was involving myself with issues that were not “divine”. But what else has God placed us here for if not to ensure that people are aware and that they do the right things?
Earlier this year, I was one of over 20 religious leaders from Christian and Islamic backgrounds who attended YNCSD’s Key Influencers’ Forum in May 2019. The forum engaged religious leaders in an inter-religious dialogue with the aim of arriving at an understanding that FGM was not supported by any religious statement. Guided by YNCSD staff, participants made commitments to take the knowledge to their congregation.
Did you commit to intensify your efforts following the Forum?
Yes, I did. Acting on my commitment to preach the end FGM message during my sermons, I always talk about FGM and its consequences during religious fellowships and network meetings with Civil Society Organisations operating in my community.
Since the forum, more people have come to understand the disadvantages of practising Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), and that there is more willingness among community members towards ending FGM. Involving religious leaders in the campaign to end FGM and getting them started on advocating to end FGM has caused a lot of behavioural change in the community.
What are the challenges you are facing with your message?
The people are not willing to give up their practice they have held up for years. Although, we have seen some changes, it has not been instant but is still ongoing. There are also myths and misconceptions about the practice that is sustaining it.
‘There was a lot of resistance from community members. At first, they labelled the advocate as a harbinger of bad news because they [the community members] did not see what was wrong with practising FGM.’
I hope that more will be done to bring FGM to an end totally. I appreciate YNCSD’s efforts in bringing religious leaders from different religions together, to discuss the issue. To me, this highlighted similarities among religions in standing against the practice.
I am calling for intensified advocacy efforts targeted at religious leaders such that they are better empowered to debunk misconceptions related to FGM.
Nationally, we also need the government to implement policies and legislation that protect women and girls, and give them the right to live free from discrimination and gender-based violence.
YNCSD is proud to engage with religious leaders and community leaders to push for a world without FGM. In addition to this, we want a world where people are respected and allowed to make informed choices for their bodies.