October 1, 2015 by Amanda Froelich
Nigeria’s president has signed legislation banning Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), a practice commonly carried out to “initiate teenagers into womanhood according to Sebei traditional rites.”
As Nigeria APlus reports, women’s rights activists and public health groups have been campaigning against FGM for years now and are no doubt celebrating the monumental victory. The inhumane practice removes parts or all of a girl’s genitalia – often at a very young age and without the female’s consent – and often leads to severe health problems for the mutilated individual.
According to UNICEF, “More than 130 million girls and women have experienced FGM/C in 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where the practice is most common.” Thankfully, because activists have been campaigning against the practice for a few decades now, teenage girls in countries that still practice FGM are one-third less likely to undergo the procedure than thirty years ago.
With the new law criminalizing this procedure, it is hoped the ban will fully eliminate the practice and be strongly enforced to combat any existing societal pressures.
As the World Health Organization (WHO) shares, there are many immediate harmful effects caused by the FGM procedure, not limited to hemorrhage (bleeding), bacterial infection, open sores, and long-term consequences such as infertility, childbirth complications and recurring bladder infections.
Why does the FGM procedure exist at all?
As stated in another UNICEF report, communities who practice FGM often do so to reduce sexual desire in women and to initiate girls to womanhood, among other purposes. Because of such beliefs, nearly 1/4 (25%) of women in Nigeria have undergone the painful procedure, reports The Guardian.
Activist Stella Mukasa, the director of Gender, Violence and Rights at the International Center for Research on Women, explains the complexity of the implementation of the new law banning FGM/C.
“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.”
The legislation passed by Nigeria’s president has for the most part been received positively by women’s rights advocates. However, it has been cautioned that legislation alone will likely not be enough to eradicate the practice so deeply-rooted in familial and ethnic customs.
As BeyondBlindfold summarizes, real change must be cultural, not merely political.
Still, the progressive legislation is a step in the right direction and deserves to be celebrated.
Sarah Demant, the Senior Director for Amnesty International USA’s identity and discrimination unit, told Quartz:
“We welcome this ban as we welcome any ban on FGM, in any country, but it’s unclear whether other countries will do the same.”
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