Nigeria Criminalises Female Genital Mutilation

In an enormously positive step for women’s rights, Nigeria has outlawed Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

The outgoing President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, has signed a bill officially outlawing the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). The law forms part of The Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015, and has been passed by the Nigerian senate.

19.9 million Nigerian women living today have reportedly undergone the brutal procedure, which will now result in a maximum prison sentence of four years, and a £650 fine.

FGM has been defined by the United Nations as: ‘all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.’ Most FGM is carried out on girls from infancy to aged 15 years.

The process is typically carried out by a woman with no medical training. Girls are restrained during the procedure, which is conducted without the use of anesthetics or antiseptic. As a result, the side effects include HIV, organ damage and urine infections. The women will also lack pleasure during sex in later life.

140 million women and girls are estimated to have undergone FGM, worldwide, with the majority of these being in the Middle East and Africa.

Those who conduct the procedure have defended it as a long-standing tradition, but organizations such as Unicef and Amnesty International, cite it as violence against women.

The new legislation could help thousands of Nigerian women avoid the procedure.

Women’s rights advocates, although positive at this progress, are concerned that the change of law will not be enough to end such a long-held religious tradition.

Tarah Demant from Amnesty International has told Quartz: ‘we welcome this ban as we welcome any ban on FGM in any country, but it’s unclear whether other countries will do the same.’

Other positive news surrounding FGM has occurred this week, as the UK Department of Health has ruled that doctors must warn parents of girls at high risk of FGM that the practice is illegal.

The ruling hopes to deter parents from inflicting FGM and provide them with a document they can take abroad and use to avoid pressure from others who want to conduct the procedure.

‘We know GPs are often the first point of contact for survivors and those at risk of FGM,’ said Jane Ellison, the Minister for Public Health. ‘This pack has been developed to give doctors the knowledge and resources they need to help us protect girls and care for women who have undergone FGM.’

The procedure has been illegal in the UK since 1985, and abroad on British women since 2003.

Although there have yet to be any convictions, these new rulings in Nigeria and Britain, mark important steps for women’s rights and wellbeing, at home and abroad.

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