Three out of ten Nigerian women aged 15 to 49 and living in urban areas have undergone female genital mutilation, according to a latest report by 28 Too Many, an anti-FGM charity.
The figure, 32.3 per cent, contrasts sharply with 19.3 per cent of women living in rural areas who have experienced the practice.
The report, largely based on the 2013 Demographic Health Survey, DHS, also noted that the South East (49 per cent) and South West (47.5 per cent) have the highest FGM prevalence, with Osun State recording the highest at 76.6 per cent.
In contrast, the North East has the lowest prevalence (2.9 per cent) while Katsina State, in the North West, recorded the lowest prevalence (0.1 per cent).
“Prevalence by current place of residence may not be a telling factor, however, as a woman may have moved since undergoing FGM, particularly if she was cut at a young age,” the report stated.
“For this reason it is more helpful to look at prevalence among young girls according to their place of residence. In Nigeria, the prevalence of FGM among girls under 14 is almost equal between those living in urban areas (16.8 per cent) and those in rural areas (17 per cent).
“Although for older women, the possibility of migration between rural and urban areas must be taken into account, the above figures do suggest that there has been a significant decline in FGM being carried out on girls and women living in urban areas, while the situation has remained almost unchanged for those living in rural areas.”
The WHO defined female genital mutilation as comprising of all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
According to the DHS 2008, 11.2 per cent of women and 17.3 per cent of men who have heard of FGM claim that it’s benefit – the most common benefit cited – lies in the preserving of virginity and prevention of pre-marital sex.
The second most common benefit cited by men is ‘more sexual pleasure for the man’ (7.2 per cent), and by women is ‘social acceptance’ (7.9 per cent).
Social acceptance and better marriage prospects are closely linked in relation to FGM: to be a part of the community, women must marry and have children to perpetuate the community, and in some ethnic groups it is traditionally required that they undergo FGM in order to marry.
“While the FGM prevalence in Nigeria is by no means the highest in the region, at 24.8 per cent among women aged 15 to 49, it is globally significant in representing some 20 million women and girls who have been cut or at risk of being cut,” said Ann-Marie Wilson, Executive Director, 28 Too Many.
“As we publish our 11th Country Profile on FGM, there are, however, many reasons to be hopeful for the future of Nigeria. The new Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act which was introduced in 2015 bans practices such as FGM and is therefore a significant step in the right direction.
“We welcome its introduction. It is now essential that this federal law be adopted and enforced across all states in Nigeria, to achieve its full impact.”
The report noted that determining the incidence rates of FGM is problematic because DHS used different methods of measurement in its surveys of 2003, 2008, and 2013.
In 2003, the types of cutting distinct to Nigeria – angurya (scraping of tissue surrounding the opening of the vagina) and gishiri (cutting of the vagina), both forms followed by the introduction of herbs or corrosive substances to narrow the vagina – were not taken into account.
In 2008, some but not all of the research teams did include these forms of FGM under Type IV; it had the effect of significantly increasing the prevalence recorded from 19 per cent in 2003 to 29.6 per cent in 2008. In 2013, all teams classified these distinct forms of FGM as Type IV.
The most common type of FGM in Nigeria is Type II (some flesh removed), with 62.6 per cent of women who undergo FGM experiencing this type, according to the report.
Type I (clitoris nicked, no flesh removed) is experienced by 5.8 per cent of women who undergo FGM, and Type III (sewn closed, infibulation) is experienced by 5.3 per cent of women who undergo FGM. Angurya cuts are performed on 24.9 per cent and gishiri cuts on 5.1 per cent of women who experience ‘other’ or ‘unclassified’ types of FGM.
Among girls aged 0 to 14 who undergo FGM, 2.7 per cent are ‘sewn closed’ (that is, infibulated).
In May 2015, the federal government passed the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act, which outlawed FGM and other harmful traditional practices, but it only applies mostly in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
At least 200 million girls and women across 30 countries (28 in Africa, Yemen, Indonesia) have experienced FGM, according to UNICEF.
The report proposed, among others, a “strong national message” against FGM, to be reinforced at state and district levels to ensure changes in behaviour and attitude towards FGM.
It also seeks the engagement of men and boys when conveying the anti-FGM message.
“Facilitating education and supporting girls through secondary and further education is vital, as current figures indicate that better educated mothers are less likely to have their daughters cut.”