Ending Female Genital Mutilation in Nigeria: How Far Have We Come?

Understanding FGM/C

Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting (FGM/C) is a practice that is  still occurring in about 30 African countries, as well as across the Middle East and Asia. It is a violation of the human rights of girls and women and is a direct attack on their bodily autonomy. This act is mostly carried out on young girls between the ages of 0-15. FGM/C has various life threatening risks – including short- and long-term damage to the physical and mental health of girls and women. Why do countries like Nigeria have survivors in the millions? What steps has the government taken to end FGM/C? What resources and support systems are available survivors of FGM/C? In this blog, we will explore all of that.

FGM/C is widely referred to as the partial or complete cutting of the clitoris. This practice is patriarchal in nature and is deeply rooted in purity culture. It is believed to be a necessary rite of passage into womanhood in a lot of cultures as women and girls who undergo this practice are seen as pure and “marriageable.” It turns girls and women into commodities. It is an act of torture – there is no sugarcoating it anymore – not even in our own communities where we speak the local languages and dialect. While we must speak to survivors in languages and ways they understand – we cannot let FGM pass off as “tradition” and “culture” any longer if we truly want to end it by 2030.

More than 200 million women and girls have undergone FGM/C, and Nigerian women make up for 19.9 million of this population. This makes Nigeria the third highest country with FGM survivors. The Southwest, Southeast and South-South geopolitical zones in Nigeria are notorious for cutting women and girls.

What Roles do NGOs and Government Agencies Play in the Fight Against FGM?

The UNFPA began taking steps to eliminate FGM/C in 2019. The organization estimated that 68 million girls are at risk of being mutilated between 2015 and 2030. So the important question is: what is the Nigerian government doing in order to curb the growing number of FGM/C survivors?

While this number is daunting, the Nigerian government took a stand in 2015 against FGM/C by enacting the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act. Section 6 of this act details the sanctions against individuals still carrying out this illegal practice. 

The VAPP act has its own hindrances, as Nigerian states have the liberty of choosing whether or not to adopt it into a law.  As of 2021 – six years after the act was enacted, 17 out of 36 Nigerian states were still struggling to domesticate the VAPP Act. This news was disheartening, but in November of 2022, we were graced with good news that 34 out of the 36 states in Nigeria had domesticated this act to address the rising cases of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) across the country. This is important development because we cannot talk about ending FGM without ending GBV – both go hand-in-hand since FGM/C is the first step to violating a girl’s right to bodily autonomy. 

This year, the Nigerian government, through Dr. Boladele Alonge, inaugurated a ministerial ad hoc committee to eliminate FGM/C in Nigeria with representatives form various ministries in the government. The committees goal, according to Dr Alonge, is to ensure that men, women, boys and girls are fully invested in the fight against FGM/C.

NGOs in Nigeria also play an important role in the eradication of FGM in Nigeria. They spearhead campaigns in the grassroots, promote education, and provide support for survivors of FGM. They serve as systems that bridge the gaps the government may have left to ensure that no stone goes unturned in the fight against cutting.

What More Can be Done?

With many countries and organizations taking a stand against FGM/C, we can say that the fight to end FGM is progressing positively. A lot of work still needs to be done to achieve complete eradication. A lot of investments and funding is needed to help organizations like AWRA address ending FGM from a holistic approach. The goal isn’t just to save girls from the cut – it’s to make sure they remain safe from all GBV by empowering them through capacity-building, healing, training, and educational means. 

There isn’t current information/statistics on FGM/C in Nigeria. The latest national survey of FGM in Nigeria was carried out in 2018 by the NDHS, where a 5% decrease in FGM/C from its earlier 25% level that was reported in 2013. Without current statistics, the government cannot adequately eradicate this practice. Funds should be allocated to the appropriate organizations to ensure that current surveys on FGM are conducted and addressed instantaneously.

Religious leaders in Nigeria should leverage their influence by speaking up against this practice in their places of worship. Women spiritual leaders are also crucial to this role. Society needs to be united against FGM/C.

In order to completely eliminate FGM, our various societies need to prioritize the health and societal well-being of women and girls, and embody a holistic approach. Understanding that this practice has only lasted so long due to its patriarchal roots is the first step to eradicating it. Women and girls need to be seen as important citizens in their various countries, because they are integral parts of nation building.

Davida Egbung

The Author

Davida Egbung is a Nigerian-based feminist blogger, content creator, and hopeless romantic. Davida is a passionate youth activist who advocates for gender equality in Nigeria. She is also a recent college graduate with a Bachelor's Degree in International Relations and Diplomacy.