Mrs. Mary Morenike, 35, is not happy in her marriage. Although she has given birth to two children, her marriage is being threatened because she is not satisfying her husband enough. Her face was initially bright when she saw our reporter but her face became pale when the the issue of female circumcision was raised as the subject of discussion.
Though she has been married for six years, her husband has never had a great time with her as a couple. She said her marriage would have crashed but for the fact that her husband is a Christian, the grace of God is keeping the marriage going. She said she does not enjoy sex with her husband because the experience is painful. Due to the pain she experiences, she is not always interested when her husband approaches. But she just has to oblige to please her husband.
She said she hears women talking of great time with their husbands in bed, she feels ashamed to make comments because she has never had any real sex with her husband, let alone it being great. For that, she is worried that her husband may one day leave her and find solace somewhere else.
Morenike said: “My experience is always painful as I have never had a pleasurable sexual drive. I feel unhappy anytime I’m in the midst of other women. I’m worried because I cannot satisfy my husband. Because of the pain I experience, I delivered my two children through caesarian section. It was later I discovered that it was because I was circumcised as a girl. My mother told me that I was circumcised at age 4.”
The experience of Mrs. Morenike is one among many others in Nigeria and in most African countries. Besides African countries, it is still an issue in the Middle East and some parts of the Asian world. Women who are circumcised have never found it pleasurable living with their husbands as nature and society demand.
Medical experts have reasoned that female circumcision has adverse effect on the wellbeing of women. The United Nations and UNICEF have continuously campaigned against female circumcision. It has been seen as a global challenge and it’s being tackled from all fronts but with minimal success as some cultures have refused to accept the decision of the UN.
In Nigeria, there are facts to prove that female circumcision is in high practice, especially among the Yorubas of the western part of the country. This is undermining their recognition of being highly educated among the major tribes in Nigeria. This is a result of the survey conducted by the United Nations and the UNICEF on the prevalence of female circumcision in the region.
In addition to the severe pain girls experience during the cutting by the rural and untrained community women, gynecologists have identified short and long term implications of female circumcision. It has both physical, sexual, emotional and psychological impact on the girls who pass through the experience in their formative years.
People who practice such are obsessed with female virginity and they argue that women’s sexuality is a taboo and must be discouraged by all means, hence circumcision is a handy way to bring the ladies to order. This cutting is believed to reduce a girl’s sexual drive and make them remain with their husbands when eventually they get married.
The health effects, it is learnt, depend on the procedure. Medical research reveals that the effects include recurrent infections, difficulty urinating and passing menstrual flow, chronic pain, the development of cysts, inability to get pregnant, complications during childbirth, and fatal bleeding and at the severest moments it could lead to death. There is no medical evidence that there are health benefits besides the local mentality of controlling the woman’s sex drive.
Further research has shown that the act harms women’s physical and emotional health throughout their lives. The short-term and late complications depend on the type of FGM, whether the practitioner had medical training, and whether she used antibiotics and unsterilized or surgical single-use instruments.
Common short-term complications as further revealed include swelling, excessive bleeding, pain, urine retention and healing problems. A 2015 systematic review of 56 studies that recorded immediate complications suggested that each of these occurred in more than one in ten girls and women undergoing any form of FGM.
Other short-term complications include fatal bleeding, anaemia, urinary infection, tetanus, gangrene, necrotizing fasciitis (flesh-eating disease) and endometritis. It is not known how many girls and women die as a result of the practice, because complications may not be recognized or reported.
The challenges that follow during child birth are also enormous. There will be the need to cut the vagina to allow delivery. Research findings also reveal that women in such cases get depressed, feel not useful to society and themselves, get isolated and there is the thought of loss of roles in a fast growing technology driven society.
The practice is rooted in gender inequality, attempts to control women’s sexuality and ideas about purity, modesty and beauty. It is usually initiated and carried out by women who see it as a source of honour, and who fear that failing to have their daughters and granddaughters cut will expose the girls to social exclusion in their communities.
Many international organisations have seen female circumcision as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. The United Nations has announced a global campaign to end it within a generation. But most cultures in Africa still practice the act and are unwilling to drop it even as civilization and technology is cutting across the globe.
The practice is found in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, and within communities from countries in which FGM is common. UNICEF estimated in 2016 that 200 million women alive today in 30 countries (27 African countries, Indonesia, Iraqi Kurdistan and Yemen) had undergone the procedures.
Typically carried out by a traditional circumciser using a blade, FGM is conducted from days after birth to puberty and beyond. In half the countries for which national figures are available, most girls are cut before the age of five. Procedures differ according to the country or ethnic group.
The process includes removal of the clitoral hood and clitoral glans; removal of the inner labia; and removal of the inner and outer labia and closure of the vulva.
Research has shown that as at 2013, 27.2million women had undergone FGM in Egypt, 23.8million in Ethiopia and 19.9 million in Nigeria. There is also a high concentration in Indonesia. These are countries where, despite the campaign against the practice, the rural women have remained defiant to the directive of the United Nations.
Surveys have found FGM to be more common in rural areas, less common in most countries among girls from the wealthiest homes, and less common in girls whose mothers had access to education. It is a practice essentially embedded in rural communities with less civilization and knowledge of science.
Despite the evident suffering, it is women who organize all forms of female circumcision. It was gathered that some men in Sudan who do not want their children circumcised, may not know when the girls are taken by their grandmothers and relatives and circumcised. It is usually rural and uneducated women who are the architects of the FGM. They tie it to honour, chastity and appropriate marriage.
There have been international efforts since the 1970s to persuade practitioners to abandon the practice. As a result it has been outlawed or restricted in most of the countries in which it occurs, although the laws are poorly enforced. The opposition to the practice is not without its critics, particularly among anthropologists, who have raised difficult questions about cultural relativism and the universality of human rights.