[Content note: female genital mutilation (obviously)]
A new ban, passed in May and signed into law by outgoing president Goodluck Jonathan, outlaws female genital mutilation in Nigeria. The practice was banned worldwide by the U.N. in 2012 and already outlawed in several states within Nigeria, but the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015 represents a nationwide commitment to the ban. The new law also outlaws abandonment of spouse and/or dependents without financial support.
“This is fantastic news and a landmark moment. We are now one step closer to ending this harmful practice,” said UK international development secretary Justine Greening.
As the most populous country in Africa, Nigeria’s decision carries significant weight, but it would need to be implemented effectively, said Mary Wandia, FGM programme manager of Equality Now. “With such a huge population, Nigeria’s vote in favour of women and girls is hugely important,” she said. “We hope, too, that the other African countries which have yet to ban FGM — including Liberia, Sudan and Mali, among others — do so immediately to give all girls a basic level of protection.”
Others stressed that the battle to end FGM in a generation was far from over, saying it was crucial that attitudes, as well as laws, were changed.
“It is crucial that we scale up efforts to change traditional cultural views that underpin violence against women. Only then will this harmful practice be eliminated,” said Stella Mukasa, director of gender, violence and rights at the International Center for Research on Women, writing in the Guardian.
While passing the law at all is significant and makes a clear statement about the government’s official position on FGM, the biggest steps remain enforcing the law and changing societal attitudes that lead to the procedure in the first place. While a 2013 study by UNICEF set Nigeria’s overall prevalence of FGM at 27 percent — moderately low among African nations that still practice it — a 2012 study showed a prevalence as high as 76 percent in some regions of the country, largely for reasons of traditional practice, superstition, and controlling a girl’s/woman’s sexuality — all attitudes that can be hard to change through health education or application of law in areas where law enforcement is inconsistent. According to the study, community-led efforts tended to be the most successful in reducing or eliminating FGM in an area — particularly efforts led by women who have been victims of FGM themselves and refuse to subject their daughters to such a terrible practice. According to UNICEF, 62 percent of Nigerian girls and women say that FGM should end, and now they have their government’s support in making it happen. Officially, at least.
Note: Discussion of male circumcision is welcome in the spillover thread.
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