Iware is a sleepy community in Afijio Local Government Area of Oyo State. The local government is made up of seven major communities, including Aawe, Ilora and Fiditi. Others are rural communities with scanty modern social facilities in spite of their proximity to Oyo.
Just as in Oyo, the only major city in that axis of Oyo State, the communities are traditional. People still uphold core cultural values and beliefs even as they try hard to blend with modernity in most aspects of living.
Female circumcision is a cultural practice that is still in existence in some of the communities though practitioners have gone underground offering their service in secrecy, it is believed.
The practice is buoyed by poor medical facilities and poor sensitisation on the dangers of female circumcision otherwise known as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
Anti-FGM campaigners described it as a cultural malaise, an act that impedes the attainment of a good standard of reproductive health for women and girls. The procedure is considered as mutilating female genitalia because of its harmful effects to the reproductive organs of female children.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), FGM refers to 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.
Many civil society organisations (CSO) have risen against the act and described it as “evil”.
According to an anti-FGM campaigner, Dare Olagoke-Adaramoye, girls and women who have been mutilated have either died from the complications afterwards or lost huge appetite for sex among other negative consequences.
Effects of FGM, according to him, range from complications during childbirth, infections to excessive bleeding, delayed or incomplete healing. The situation can be complicated when traditional circumcisers do not use anaesthetics on their patients. Such situations open patients to the possibility of damage to adjacent organs such as urinary tract, cysts and may even lead to death.
Anti-FGM activists also believe that the practice has no clinical and medical benefit. Rather, they hold that it causes irreparable dangers to female folks.
To prevent the aforementioned dangers, the Federal Government has enacted a law that criminalises female circumcision in Nigeria. The law was signed by former President Goodluck Jonathan.
According to the 2013 National Demographic Health Survey (NDHS) on national prevalence rate of FGM in Nigeria, Oyo State was suggested as the 5th with 66 per cent prevalence rate. Others are Osun 77 per cent, Ebonyi 74 per cent, Ekiti 72 per cent, Imo 68 per cent, and Lagos State 35 per cent.
But according to 2016/2017 Multiple Indicators Cluster Survey (MICS) Report, Osun State recorded 67 per cent as highest prevalence rate following Ekiti with 62.6 per cent, Oyo with 55.0 per cent; Imo with 51.6 per cent and Ebonyi with 43.2 per cent.
Practice buoyed by culture
Despite laudable improvement in prevalence rate in Oyo, however, some communities in the state are still believed to be low in compliance to the law. This is largely due to the strength of the cultural belief in the practice, poor medical facilities and sensitisation.
In Iware, some members of the community who spoke to our reporter in confidence, posited that the clitoris contains powers strong enough to cause harm to a man’s reproductive organ during sexual intercourse or damage or kill a baby during childbirth. They stressed that it accounts for the reason locals believe so much in the practice.
When our reporter visited Aawe, residents were afraid to speak on the malaise for fear of being arrested or stigmatisation of families still practising it. But a senior nurse of Aawe Primary Health Centre, Mrs. Oladeji, revealed that though people in the community are afraid of the law which criminalised female circumcision, poor sensitisation on its dangers would have driven the practice to the lowest level.
She noted that one cannot easily determine the people’s compliance to the law because many of them do not show that they are convinced that female circumcision is wrong. She said that members of staff of the facility sometimes go out for sensitisation but that it is grossly inadequate as the community is too large for only a few medical workers to cover.
Her words: “Since female circumcision has been criminalised, we have not seen anyone coming here to circumcise their female children, and because of this, complications arising from this harmful procedure have reduced.
“Since we have not seen any CSO in this community, only the hospital members of staff, who are few in number, go out to sensitise members of the community. But due to limited effort to convince them, they may be going to local circumcisers to cut their girls’ clitoris secretly.”
In his own words, an Aawe community chief, Alhaji Shakiru said circumcision is a tradition and that a family lineage called Oloola in Yoruba land usually produces the practitioners.
He said: “With modernity, all these have faded away. I spent my life in the United Kingdom (UK) and since I came back home and installed as Odofin, I haven’t heard of such. Families that do it have even opted for more lucrative jobs.
“Those days, the children were brought early in the morning for circumcision in an open place but now there is no such thing. Female circumcision was borne out of cultural belief but with the advent of civilisation, it is fading away.”
On non-availability of CSOs in the community, Shakiru said this may be due to lack of medical facilities as he bemoaned the poor health system in the community and its environs.
One of the CSOs said on phone that he agreed that they have not taken sensitisation to the three communities. The anti-FGM campaigner, who is working for United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and United Nations Children’s Education Fund (UNICEF) said fund to cover the area has not been approved, noting that another set of CSOs may win grant to cover the area.
UNFPA and UNICEF have employed CSO partners, media professionals and health care providers from different communities in Oyo and other states in Nigeria in the efforts to share their understanding, perception and the rational supporting their position on FGM/C.
UNFPA and UNICEF are working together on accelerating the abandonment of FGM/C, a consortium project initiated in 2007 with focus to drive change towards the abandonment of FGM/C in 17 countries of the world where the priorities of the programme is being implemented.
It is strategically designed to deploy a human rights, gender-equality and culturally sensitive approach. Its holistic approach also focuses on the responsiveness of health and child protection systems to care for women and girls survivors of FGM/C.
In Ilora, community leaders didn’t avail themselves but one of the chiefs talked to the reporter on phone. According to him, such practice has reduced in the community. He said residents now comply with government’s anti-FGM law.
A senior doctor at the General Hospital, Ilora, Dr Oluwale Omiesan, said the true motive of female circumcision in Africa is to prevent girl children from promiscuity.
He said: “The way God created men is similar to women in the sense that man’s penis is represented as clitoris of women while scrotum of men represent females’ labia minora and majora. Imagine cutting man’s penis and scrotum away, that’s what we are doing to our female folks. It needs to be stopped because this is a major reason many homes have broken.
“Imagine a woman going to meet her husband; she will be afraid of having sex with him because sex that is supposed to be a thing of enjoyment becomes a torture. Currently, there’s no case of bringing female children for circumcision in hospital but parents still visit local circumcisers and when things get out of hand, they come to hospital. I have a case of a girl whose labia has been glued. In Yoruba land, such people are called lakiriboto, meaning penis can’t penetrate.
“Immediately I asked them that they did circumcision for her. The mother replied saying it was her grandmother that took her to the local circumcisers. I needed to do minor surgery on the girl to create opening in the vagina.”
The WHO revealed in 2016 that 200 million girls and women worldwide have undergone forms of FGM/C while three million girls are at risk every year.
The Oyo State Government and other relevant organisations need to turn their attention to the rural communities in Oyo State to stem the tide.