The next step to fighting FGM is targeting the women ‘surgeons’ – they need to understand the terrible consequences of being cut

Many of these women cutters may not have known or believed that their victims would suffer pain beyond the physical pain of the knife. The perpetrators meeting the victims would give the latter the opportunity to share how they have suffered since they were mutilated

Nonye Aghaji
Sunday 30 June 2019 09:56
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Across the world, 68 million girls are at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM). In Nigeria, almost 15 million are at risk of FGM according to surveys.

Although there has been progress in recent years in raising awareness about FGM, the next step is directly addressing the “surgeons” – the perpetrators – of this practice, and teach them why they should say “no” in future.

It is just over one year since the first pan-African #ENDFGM Youth Summit took place in Kenya. A total of 170 young people from 17 African countries where FGM is prevalent, from the Ivory Coast to Egypt, came together in Nairobi for the purpose of ending FGM and cutting (FGM/C). It was the first ever pan-African summit of its kind.

That was a great initiative, but the effort to stop FGM should go beyond encouraging women and girls to say “no” to it. The elderly women “surgeons” should be converted to becoming advocates of zero tolerance of FGM. Now, imagine a situation where about 200 women who carry out FGM are gathered under one roof for several days, focusing on how to stop the practice which has been handed down from one generation to another.

Many of these “surgeons” may have been doing the job for several years, but I bet you that a great number of them may not have known or believed that their victims would suffer pain beyond the physical pain of the knife. The perpetrators meeting the victims would give the latter the opportunity to share how they have suffered since they were mutilated. For example, there are cases of FGM-related depression and other mental and psychological issues, not to mention the potential fatal consequences, as organisations like the United Nations Population Fund and Unicef continuously make clear.

In the environment of the workshop, the victims can feel free to speak out, unlike when they approach the “surgeons” within the community setting. With perpetrators hearing combined voices of different victims from different communities and countries telling their post-FGM stories, it will be easier for them to know that the pain and abuse is true – it has nothing to do with certain people wanting to trample upon their tradition of the initiation into womanhood.

The first victim might describe their issues with anxiety, while the next tells a story about how she is battling with depression. A third woman may talk about facing issues of memory loss, yet another might discuss her sleep disorder. In this way, the older women may immediately start relating this with some cases in their immediate communities that they had never linked to their actions in the past.

In most cases, when the victims remember the severe pain, and in some cases shock, haemorrhage and infection connected to the mutilation, they cannot help but break down.

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The situation has to be laid bare as it is, not stage-managed, so the persons affected can express their emotions in the presence of the perpetrators to drive home the point and appeal to them that the act needs to be discontinued. It should not be handed to the next generation. If the “surgeons” knew about the consequences and were provided alternative ways to make a living, it would only take a heartless person to continue doing so.

After having made the perpetrators of FGM see the long-term consequences of their actions, they would be able to say “no” to anyone who approaches them to mutilate their child. A major commitment should also be made to turn these women into members of their communities who teach others why the act should not be continued. The advocacy duties will become their new source of livelihood.

St Thomas Aquinas said: “First, prevent those who teach errors, then prevent the people from paying attention to those who teach error.” We can learn a lesson from that as we continue to save 68 million girls from being mutilated.

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