Compared to the beginning of targeted advocacy against female genital mutilation/cutting in Nigeria, there has been a decline in the prevalence of this practice. However, a decline does not translate to an end or total eradication of the practice.
Female Genital Mutilation/ Cutting (FGM/C) according to UNICEF, includes procedures that involve the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injuries to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. The implications of FGM/C on women and girls range from childbirth complications to hemorrhage and even transmission of HIV/AIDS.
In previous years, Youth Network for Community and Sustainable Development (YNCSD) has engaged communities where FGM/C is prevalent through dialogues and other forms of advocacy. We have had indigenes and leaders of these communities pledging to abandon FGM/C and other harmful social practices within their community.
In a bid to strengthen this work we have been doing, we recently launched a new project, Supporting Community-Led Action to Sustainably End Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (Project SCALE) with support from Irish Aid. The project is aimed at sustaining network building and community reactivation to end FGM/C in target states, evidence generation on the link between FGM/C and social norms underpinning the practice, and provision of support to state and local government to protect women and girls from all forms of violence including FGM/C and other harmful cultural practices through the development and implementation of policy frameworks.
We kicked off the project with visits to the Ward 4 community in Ibadan North LGA, Oyo State, and the Wanikin Community in Ife East, Osun State. Both communities are located in the South-Western part of Nigeria and have similar cultural practices and beliefs. The project team carried out community entry and advocacy meetings with community leaders/stakeholders and local government authorities. Dialogues were held with them to fully grasp the state of FGM/C in their community and ways the project through support from Ireland can support them to sustainably abandon these cultural practices.
The indigenes of these communities acknowledged interventions from organizations like UN joint programs, YNCSD, and other like-minded organizations. These interventions led to the set-up of local prohibition laws, and key players like traditional birth attendants, community leaders, and indigenes are aware of the implications of these practices. Though they have amongst them, community leaders and youth champions who have pledged abandonment of FGM and other harmful social practices, they still experience setbacks in sustaining this progress.
Apart from the lack of infrastructure that hinders development, there are other issues that may affect social norm reforms and the total abandonment of FGM/C in these communities. We gathered that the aging people in these communities might refuse to give up the practice due to strong cultural ties. This was observed during the lockdown period as young women and girls had to stay with older women who influenced them to undergo FGM/C on cultural grounds. Also, most career cutters who do not have other sources of livelihood still advocate for the practice to continue for them to be able to fend for themselves. These two issues are prevalently hindering ideological reforms and the total abandonment of the practice in these communities.
Project SCALE allows YNCSD to identify and engage other community-based organizations in these communities who are willing to support in putting an end to FGM/C in various ways. In the next phase of the project, we would inaugurate a surveillance committee that will work in Ward-4 community of Ibadan, Oyo state and Wanikin community, Osun State. The surveillance committee would identify the prevalence FGM/C in their respective communities and work with the support of the Irish government through YNCSD to identify ways to influence social norm reforms in their communities. From the just concluded community entry exercise, we identified stakeholders consisting of community and local government leaders, the ministry of Health and ministry of women affairs and other focal organizations from these states and communities whose representatives would constitute the surveillance committee.
YNCSD is preparing a work strategy and a Terms of Reference that we will equip the surveillance committee with in the coming month when we officially inaugurate the committees in both Oyo and Osun States. More updates on the progress of this project would be coming your way as we work with the support of the Irish government to sustainably end FGM/C and other harmful cultural practices, one community at a time!