A GNA Feature by Samuel Adadi Akapule
Bolgatanga, June 27, GNA – Female Genital Mutilation (FGM ) is the practice that involves the complete removal or partial removal or alteration of the genital for non-medical reasons.
FGM is one the major negative cultural practices that affect the dignity and violates the fundamental human rights of women as the practice does not only affect the dignity and pride of women but it also has serious health implications for them.
Recent research findings undertaken by Action Aid Ghana, an NGO, made available at this year's AU Day of the Child revealed that 50 per cent of Girls below 15 years in Bawku Municipality had undergone FGM.
If this is what pertains in Bawku, then what about the remaining districts in the Region and other parts of the country? The situation could be worse and why should we continue to subject our innocent young ones to such inhuman and barbaric treatment?
The study also revealed that the perpetrators of the act, knowing it was against the law, have been dodging and sending the young girls to neigbouring communities in Burkina Faso and Togo to carry out the inhuman act.
Indeed there are four types of FGM. The first one is termed as Clitorisdectomy, which involve the partial or total removal of the clitoris; Excision, the second,involves the removal of the clitoris and the labia minora where labia majora are left intact and the vagina left unclosed and the amount of tissues removed depends on the individual communities in which the person is carrying out the mutilation.
The third termed as infibulations involve the complete removal of the clitoris and labia as well as the inner surface of the labia majora. The two sides of the vulva are then stitched together with thorns or by silk of catgut sutures so that when the remaining skin of the labia majora heals, it forms a bridge of gaps of scar tissues over the vagina. A small opening is preserved to allow for the passage of urine and menstrual flow.
Unclassified FGM, which is the fourth type, involves pricking, piecing or incision of the clitoris and or labia, burning of the clitoris and surrounding tissues, scrapping or cutting of the vagina or surrounding tissues and with the introduction of corrosive substances or herbs into the vagina. It also includes the pulling of the labia minora or smaller lips to make them long.
It has also been noted that practitioners of this inhuman act are usually the elderly women or men in the Village, the traditional birth attendant or sometimes a village barber.
Such practitioners, it is said, use tools such as special knives, scissors, razors, pieces of broken glasses or a sharp and burning stones in the process.
It is also known that the age at which FGM is performed differs and depends on the ethnic groups or geographical location as in some ethnic groups it is performed at the age of four and 10 years.
In other areas it is performed during puberty, pregnancy or during childbirth. In some parts of the Kusasis traditional areas and some Muslim communities in Bawku, the exercise is performed as soon as a baby is born.
In the process which usually lasts from 10 to 15 minutes, the victim for the exercise is held down tightly by a number of women including relatives. The legs are pulled apart and part of the genital is cut. The wounds are then dubbed with alcohol or lemon juice, or sheabutter or cocoa nut oil or ash or herbal mixtures, porridge or cow dung. Then the victim's legs are bound together until the wounds heal.
Male circumcision is performed to remove the foreskin covering of the penis by way of preventing it from trapping filth and germs and to help in the passage of urine. However, in contrast to the FGM the parts of the genital that are cut off are very important to the woman as sexual and reproductive activities are concerned.
Traditionally, it is believed that the male circumcision it makes them enjoy sex but that of women it inhibits their ability to enjoy sex.
FGM is a tradition that is being practiced in many other African countries. An estimated 100 million to 140 million girls and women in the world today have undergone some forms of FGM and two million are at risk of the practice each year.
In Ghana, besides some ethnic groups in the Brong Ahafo and Volta Region, the practice of FGM is still quite widespread in the three Northern Regions. Some ethnic groups including the Kusasis, Frafras, Kassenas, Busangas, Wallas, Dagarbas, Builsas and Sisalas practise it.
A research conducted by the Navrongo Research Institute in 1998 for instance revealed that there is a FGM prevalence rate of 77 per cent in the Kassena-Nankana East District alone. Another research conducted by Dr K. Odoi Agyekum of Rural Help Integrated in the Bawku District in 2003 indicated a prevalence rate of 85 per cent.
There are also many general community enforcement mechanisms that allow the practice to continue as in the Upper East Region for instance it is performed as part of puberty rites. And over here, it is considered as a sacrilegious for a young girl to marry without going through the FGM act.
In some areas too it serves as a test for virginity. Where females were expected to be virgins before marriage and to ensure that, FGM was carried out immediately before marriage to discover those who could not observe sexual purity. A non-virgin woman was considered as disgrace to the family and circumcisers charge extra fees.
To the Frafras, Kassenas, Nankanas and Builsas, an uncircumcised woman was not entitled to traditional funeral rites and without these rites their souls would not join their ancestors.
Other reasons assigned to the practice is that it promoted social cohesion in the sense that it was obligatory for one to go through the exercise before being accepted to become a full member of the group that practised it. It is also argued that FGM signified the bravery of womanhood and if a woman was able to stand it then it implied that she would be able to bear the pains during childbirth.
Some group of people also believed that the clitoris had the power to kill a baby if it came into contact with the clitoris during childbirth. The secretion from the clitoris they believed could also kill the sperms of a man.
It is also stated that the secretion produced by the glands in the clitoris is unhygienic and could even contaminate food. Others have the belief that an uncircumcised girl is believed to have an overactive and uncontrollable sex drive and that the uncut clitoris could arouse intense sexual desire.
The supporters of this theory also believe that FGM enhances male sexual pleasure where the vaginal opening is made very small by suturing. They argue that satisfying was very important as the woman was expected to provide that service to the man.
Speaking to health experts including the Medical Director of the Bolgatanga Hospital, Dr Peter Baffoe, it became clearer the many dangers associated with FGM as many victims of FGM become barren and could not deliver. Some also died as a result of the intensive bleeding after undergoing the painful practice.
Victims of FGM are also likely to be affected with tetanus, HIV and hepatitis B due to the use un-sterilised tools and the application of local dressing such as herbal concoctions, ashes, cow dung among other odious practices. And these strange foreign materials could ascend through the short urethra into the bladder and then to the kidneys to cause kidney problems.
Difficulty in passing urine may arise as a result of damage caused to the urethra. Other victims also experience difficulties in menstrual flows and pains during sexual intercourse. Pelvic infection leading to infertility, prolonged and obstructed labour due to tough unyielding scar may also occur.
Other obstetrical consequences such as difficulty in performing virginal examination and brain damaged and mentally handicapped babies may be delivered as a result of prolong labour.
From the above analysis it is quite clear that the practice of FGM is a very cruel, inhuman and degrading act. It must noted that apart from being an abuse of the physical and psychological state of the victims it is also against the fundamental human right of the victims which is punishable by law.
It is also a form of discrimination against girls and women and also promotes gender inequalities that all must condemn and the necessary mechanism put in place to deal with the practice.
The Law provides that anybody found practising FGM or collaborating with it is liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term of not less than five years and not more than 10 years.
There are also a lot of international conventions against FGM including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights; the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of 1966, the Convention of the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women of 1979, the Convention of the Rights of the Child of 1990, the Declaration on Violence Against Women of 1993 and the Platform for Action of the Fourth World Conference on Women of 1995 among other conventions.
This notwithstanding, the practice still goes on in hideouts in some parts of the communities in Ghana and this calls for extra measures to combat the menace.
There is the need for FGM activist to identify influential and key individual leaders and groups in the communities and collaborate with them in the effort to uproot the practice from the society. There is also the need to assist people to think and reflect on the dangers and health implication associated with FGM. This could be done through community sensitization programmes, formation of watchdog committees to oversee and report those involved in the practice to the appropriate authorities is also important.
There is the need to involve school children in the exercise by forming clubs in schools to speak against the practice. Education and counselling on FGM should be integrated into the day-to-day work of Nurses and Midwives and behavioural communication materials developed to facilitate the campaign against FGM.
The Traditional Authority, Religious Leaders, Law Enforcement Agencies, Media, Social Workers, Health Workers, Women Activists and all stakeholders need to collaborate to fight to nip this social canker in the bud.
Whilst commending bodies like the Ghanaian Association for Women Welfare (GAWW) and Action Aid Ghana for leading the crusade against FGM, there is still the need for them to do more. Other stakeholders should also support the fight by contributing more resources and logistics to undertake intensive educational programmes to fight the menace. GAWW is the National Committee of the Inter-African Committee which has carried out a number of researches and activities aimed at sensitizing the general public, disseminating information and helping in the training of traditional birth attendants and others on the harmful effects of certain traditional practices.
But it appears of late it has relaxed. So let us us all rise up to the challenge in fighting this canker which is ruining our society. The perpetrators of this heinous crime should be dealt drastically by the law to serve as deterrent to others. It is only when this is done that we can reduce the menace.