By Wisdom Olobayo
“Omolola, omo mi
Ìràwo e ò ní kú
Orí e ò ní gbà bòdè
Owó re a mú olá wa
Ésè re á mú e dé ibi àseyorí
Ayé e a rorùn…”
The prayers went on and on as Bolatito watched her baby coo gently in the cradle of her mother’s arms. Her mother seemed to have softened from the unbending traditionalist and verbally aggressive authoritarian parent she grew up knowing. Bolatito smiled wryly, as she remembered one particular day when she was fifteen. The biology teacher had taught them about their reproduction organs in class, but Bolatito couldn’t relate to more than just her vulva. Where was her labia? Where was her clitoris? When she insisted on knowing why she was mutilated, her mother who hated nothing more than to be challenged raised her hands on her that night.
But because it is instilled in us in Africa to never be wronged by our parents, Bolatito, who was now a women’s rights advocate asked her mother to come over from town to see her granddaughter.
“Bola, I forgot some of my tools in town. Can you get me a new razor blade and plenty of cotton wool?”
Bolatito’s entire being revolted.
“At least 200 million girls and women alive today living in 30 countries have undergone FGM” – UNICEF, 2022
Female Genital Mutilation is basically the cutting or circumcision of any part of the female genitalia for non-medical reasons. Why do people practice FGM?
Bolatito shouted loudly, “what for?” Her mother was speechless for a brief moment, trying to get over the ‘little’ shock of her daughter yelling at her. ‘Little’ because she wasn’t exactly expecting a warm smile and a hug. But she was of the opinion that tradition—this tradition in particular, must not die.
“1.8% of the (342) respondents viewed FGM as a means of aiding future childbirth.” – The Annals of Medical and Health Sciences Research, 2011
“FGM is often considered a necessary part of raising a girl, and a way to prepare her for adulthood and marriage.” – WHO
“In many of the countries where FGM is performed, it is a deeply entrenched social norm rooted in gender inequality where violence against girls and women is socially acceptable” – UNICEF
When Bolatito’s mother was 16 and about to be given to her ‘husband’, she was taken to a room and underwent surgery to loosen the part of her vulva that had been stitched up for 16 years. The local anaesthetic concoction was poor. The pain she experienced was excruciating but all she could remember was the smile her groom shot her, finally calling her a “woman”.
“A study of fathers in Egypt showed that they believed uncut women to be promiscuous. FGM was deemed important for good marriage opportunities and to ensure fidelity in marriage. In this respect, FGM helped men maintain polygamy in some communities” – BMC Public Health journal, 2015
Bolatito was therefore “lucky” to not have experienced the kind of vagina sealing procedure her mother had passed through. When she found her way into the university, she joined a human rights group and discovered that there are millions of women world over who have experienced some form of mutilation or the other to their genitals, even in developed countries.
“Girls and women who have undergone FGM live predominately in sub-Saharan Africa and the Arab States, but FGM is also practiced in select countries in Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America. It is also practiced among migrant populations throughout Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand.” – United Nations Sexual and Reproductive Health Agency (UNFPA)
Bolatito’s mother tried to pacify the situation by suggesting that they perform the tradition rites of mutation on Omolola in a hospital. That was the last thing Bola needed to hear before she made up her mind to send her mother back to town the following day. And all through the night, she clung to her baby ever so tightly.
“Medicalizing the practice (of FGM) does not make it safer, as it still removes and damages healthy and normal tissue and interferes with the natural functions of girls and women’s bodies” – UNICEF
Statistics tell us that 4.6 million girls each year are at risk of FGM by 2030, if the practice continues at current levels. That’s why this article is out here. 4.6 million girls a year going through needless pain and carrying physical and psychological scars for a lifetime is horrifying! We have to keep talking about it online, retweet, repost, sensitise our communities on the dangers of FGM, support social workers and organisations that sensitise and assist communities, sensitise the members of our religious edifices, create a safe environment for the girls and women in our societies to speak up on their experiences and stand up against FGM and lastly, create a learning environment for the boys and men in our societies to learn about the dangers of FGM and how they are very much responsible in the campaign to end FGM.
The fight against FGM is a fight to the uttermost, in order to completely obliterate a gruesome practice that should never have existed in the first place.