It is certainly news of the most disturbing kind that the United Nations Children Fund, UNICEF, recently said that with an estimated 19.9 million survivors, Nigeria accounts for the third highest number of women and girls who have undergone Female Genital Mutilation, FGM, globally.
This much was revealed in a statement made available to newsmen in Makurdi in commemoration of the International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM. The data is certainly chilling and betrays in one fell swoop the terrible danger posed especially to girls aged between 0-14 years by FGM.
Accordingly, while the national prevalence of FGM among women in Nigeria aged 15-49 dropped from 25 percent in 2013 to 20 percent in 2018, prevalence among girls aged 0-14 increased from 16.9 percent to 19.2 percent in the same period according to Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey, NDHS, figures.
Most chillingly, an estimated 86 percent females were cut before the age of 5, while 8 per cent were cut between ages 5 and 14. The physical and psychological toll is simply staggering and immediately betrays the mindless vulnerabilities women and girls continue to face in Nigeria.
Nigeria`s southeast region must be particularly alarmed because as per data, it ranks highest (35 percent) among the regions for the prevalence of FGM, with Imo State betraying a mammoth 62 percent prevalence. The Southwest has 30 per cent while the Northeast surprisingly scores lowest with 6 percent.
Ebonyi, Ekiti, Imo, Osun and Oyo have seen nearly three million girls and women undergo FGM in the last five years. Whither Nigeria`s Child Rights Act and the Violence Against Persons Act?
Because FGM is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women, it reflects deep-rooted inequality between sexes and is an extreme form of discrimination against women and girls, it simply cannot be allowed to continue to happen.
History has always shown that equality is often a necessary stop along the path of advancement for any country. This is because, it goes without saying that a country lacking equality and equity cannot truly and truthfully describe itself as advanced or even advancing. Many Nigerian women and girls continue to suffer abuse of the most extreme kind in the Giant of Africa. A plethora of reasons and attitudes is to blame.
Superstitions, poverty and illiteracy as just a few of them which are often strong enough to continue to force the cuts which scythe into the dignity of women and girls but especially of girls with reckless abandon.
These reasons expand to embrace all that continues to hold Nigeria back from fully opening up the civic space to women and girls so as to put itself in the best stead to maximise the full potentials of an invaluable group.
There is no doubt that if given a voice, many of the women who are cut will decline the ritual humiliation. However, the question of voice is a deeply uncomfortable one for many Nigerians, one which quickly becomes distressing for many.
If wild and often unsubstantiated and outlandish superstitions are bent even if only a little, if poverty was reduced to its barest minimum and access to education given to everyone regardless of gender or circumstances of birth, the cuts will reduce and with that reduction will come an upsurge not just in the dignity of women and girls but in the wellbeing of the Nigeria.
Every state where Female Genital Mutilation is a big challenge must put in the work necessary to stamp out a practice that is as humiliating as it is heinous.
It is urgent that this practice ceases immediately all over the country because as long as it continues it will continue to pay lamentable lip service to everything the Giant of Africa has ever pledged regarding gender equality.
Nigeria is getting better but it will get best with its women.