Jerica Deck | Campus Co-Editor
In a final historic act before ending his term, Nigeria’s outgoing president Goodluck Jonathan signed a bill banning female genital mutilation. The bill was passed by Nigeria’s senate in the beginning of May. However, on May 25 2015, Jonathan put that law into action by signing off on the ban. While the practice has previously been outlawed in a several Nigerian states, it is now criminalized on a federal level. Worldwide, activists have fought against female genital mutilation because of its damaging physical and emotional effects. According to UNICEF’s data, a quarter of Nigerian women aged 15-49 have experienced this harmful ritual.
Female genital mutilation, also referred to as female circumcision, is a cultural procedure in which parts or all of a woman’s external genitalia are removed. This can range anywhere between removing the clitoris, pieces of the labia, or even sewing parts of vaginal opening together. This ritual is often linked to tradition and geographic location. Although it often performed in countries with a high Muslim population, female genital mutilation is not mentioned in the Quran and has been publicly frowned upon by many religious leaders.
Female circumcision is controversial because it is often performed on younger girls, sometimes without her consent. Girls typically endure this between infancy and the age of fifteen. Female cutting is performed to curb a woman’s libido and make her more sexually desirable to men. In certain societies a woman’s external genitals are believed to be unclean, disgusting, or simply unattractive. It is also believed to help in maintaining one’s virginity before marriage and to prevent future infidelity. “It is crucial that we scale up efforts to change traditional cultural views that underpin violence against women. Only then will this harmful practice be eliminated,” said Stella Mukasa, director of gender, violence and rights at the International Center for Research on Women. Female genital mutilation is also performed for social reasons such as introducing one to womanhood or enhancing her appeal to potential husbands and suitors.
This tradition also can cause traumatic and sometimes irreversible health effects. Female circumcision is sometimes performed in unsanitary conditions possibly involving unsterilized tools, a lack of anesthesia, and even broken glass or stones to substitute for medical instruments. According to a 2003 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey, only about 27% of female circumcisions are performed by a doctor, nurse, or health professional. Female genital mutilation also has many health risks including failure to heal, pelvic inflammatory disease, hepatitis, painful menstruation, and an increased susceptibility to HIV.
Female genital mutilation is still a popular practice both in Africa and worldwide. However many countries have banned this ritual including Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, France, the United States, and many more. As Nigeria joins the bandwagon, people hope that other countries will soon follow suit. “This is fantastic news and a landmark moment,” says international development secretary Justine Greening “We are now one step closer to ending this harmful practice”. With time, some day human rights may extend to women all over the world.