By Nnamdi Eseme
Young people in Nigeria continue to be faced with the issue of female genital mutilation and its harmful effects. Despite calls by several activists that the practice should be abandoned, deeply rooted cultural practices still force young girls in Nigeria to undergo the practice.
According to the World Health Organization, female genital mutilation is defined as all procedures which involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia and/or injury to the female genital organs, whether for cultural or any other non-therapeutic reasons. The procedure can lead to harmful side effects such as severe pain, excessive bleeding, genital tissue swelling, fever, infections, urinary problems, and even death
It is for this reason that The Girl Generation, a social change communications initiative providing a global platform for amplifying the Africa-led movement to end female genital mutilation (FGM), launched a youth anti-FGM network in Nigeria. This network is aimed at getting more young people in Nigeria involved in advocacy using social communications to end the practice of FGM.
Although, the practice of FGM is not limited to Nigeria, a report by UNICEF stated that in the pas, Nigeria had the highest absolute number of FGM in the world. Speaking at the launch, programme officer of the Girl Generation in Nigeria, revealed that no fewer than 19 million girls undergo female genital mutilation in Nigeria yearly, amounting principally from deeply rooted cultural practices across the states of the federation.
“It is not in the news. It is a deeply rooted cultural practice. So we now feel that there is power in the young people to end FGM. We feel that they hold the key. If the circle is broken once, it is broken forever. They will say no, my daughter will not undergo such practice and it will end. In November last year, we gathered these youths and formed a network to help end FGM in Nigeria”, he informed.
In his speech, Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole who was represented by Dr. Christopher Ugboko, the head of gender, adolescent and elderly division of the federal ministry of health, pointed out that the vision of the ministry is to see that FGM would be eroded wherever it is practiced.
Ugboko maintained that the effort which cut across across his ministry, youth organisations, civil society organisations as well as other critical stakeholders have been galvanised to ensure that the collaboration reverses the trend. He also said the country strategy will help to address the issue.
Highlighting the FGM prevalence rate in Nigeria, director of family health of the federal ministry of health, Dr. Adebimpe Adebiyi, said the National prevalence rate for FGM is 30% according to the 2013 national demographic and health survey.
“This launch of the Youth anti-FGM network in Nigeria is an important step towards the elimination of FGM given the fact that the youths are valuable agents of change and their involvement will go a long way in achieving the great target. It is our hope that the launch of the network will significantly count in bringing the prevalence of FGM to zero”, she said.
Also speaking at the launch, Grand Patron of the Circumcisers Descendants Association of Nigeria, Chief Abiola Ogundokun said: “As gatekeepers of a tradition passed down to us from generation to generation, we are willing to partner with the youth against against FGM to abandon the practice. And this can be achieved by working with young people who share the same vision. Young people are critical stakeholders and together we can galvanise our strengths to reverse the trend”.
Sharing the same thoughts as Chief Abiola, president of the African Youth Initiative on Population, Health and Development (AfrYPoD), Dr. Las Ude said that the time is now for young people to take the lead in advancing their sexual and reproductive health and rights. He opined that if young people are included in decision making affecting their health and rights, better policies would be formulated to drive improved health systems and uptake of sexual and reproductive services.
As part of the launch, youth ambassadors were selected for the project and they include Abimbola Aladejare, Chiamaka Uzomba and Raymond Ukwa. They were charged to use their skills and in-house training to eliminate the practice where it is found in the country.
Goodwill messages were received from the circumcisers association of Nigeria, United Nations Population Fund Agency ( UNFPA) and Population Council who are providing technical and evidenced based assistance to the project.
Nnamdi Eseme is a Women Deliver Young Leader, key correspondent for the International HIV/AIDS Alliance and communications Lead for the Youth Network against Female Genital Mutilation in Nigeria, working to improve the sexual and reproductive health of girls and women in his community by reporting stories that matter to them. He tweets @Eseme01