It has been some months since the bill outlawing Female Genital Mutilation was assented to by the immediate past president of Nigeria. It has also been one year since the first ever Girl Summit and #YouthforChange event in London 2014.
What can we say we have achieved and specifically, what can we say the new law against FGM can possibly achieve now and in the future?
Female Genital Mutilation involves the partial or total removal of the female genitalia for non-medical purposes. Across the globe over 125 million women and girls have undergone FGM, and with 9.8 million women and girls affected by FGM, Nigeria has the third highest number of cases of any country (after Egypt and Ethiopia).
During the dying days of the immediate past government of Nigeria, while Nigerians were basking in the euphoria of peaceful elections and hoping for smooth transition to the then opposition party, a phenomenal bill was assented to by the immediate past President, it made FGM a crime and punishable offence. Though FGM has been outlawed in some states of the Federation, the new law became binding on all states of the Federation.
As a youth advocate against FGM, this law will prevent further friction on the girls, their families, and communities who are abandoning the practice or planning to abandon the practice. It will give campaigners a collective voice to ask for quicker implementation and it will help spread the word against FGM across the board. The new law gives men and boys a window of participation, and to say the least, a more convincing reason they should come on board in the fight against FGM. It is worthy of note that the passage of the law makes FGM not only poignant and due for abandonment, but it is a wakeup call to fathers, men, boys and politicians on the need to speak up and take the bull by the horn. Over the years there has been a long and silent yet loud cry to bring FGM to the public domain and fight it in Nigeria. Very few people used to speak about it, and while Nigerians were asleep millions of girls were awake going through an experience that will echo throughout their lifetime.
While we relish in the very many good sides of the law, it will be unfair if we say laws alone can end FGM in Nigeria and indeed across the world.
‘The law will help in sensitization mostly, and seeking protection for those threatened or at risk of FGM’ said Blessing Digha, a leading youth advocate against FGM and a Women Deliver Young Leader. Valentina Mmaka, the author of The Cut (Global Voices for change to break silence on Female Genital Mutilation), says FGM is a deep rooted cultural practice and can only change through social change advocacy and approaches. She also opines that there is acute need for more men and boys to be engaged in the campaign against FGM.
In other words, for us to win the fight against FGM in Nigeria, we have to look beyond enacted laws and adopt strategic social and behaviour change approaches and innovative advocacy which imbibes the do no harm objective.
Valentina Mmaka also suggests that the media can do a lot of work on this issue by providing correct and non-discriminatory information on the subject thereby inspiring dialogue.
FGM is, we have often heard, a deep rooted cultural practice affecting the health of women and girls. Many have argued that the fight should be left for women and girls alone, but one begins to wonder what the roles of men and boys are in this fight especially in Nigeria. Does it mean fathers, uncles, brothers etc. are not key players in this fight against FGM in Nigeria and indeed the world? The answer is no. As a young man and a leading youth advocate, I urge men and boys and all young people to come on board and join hands to end this practice. We cannot continue seeing FGM as a ‘woman’ issue, it is indeed a call to action for all concerned and we are all concerned. We cannot continue playing politics with the future, health and wellbeing of several millions of girls who are at risk of FGM.
As we mark the International Day of the Youth, I hope that more activism, work and passion will come from young people around the world and particularly Nigeria to grind FGM to a complete halt in our generation. We can begin the change we want to see.