UNFPA, UNICEF decry worsening cases of FGM, say 4.3m girls at risk



Uba Group

As the world marks this year’s International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, the United Nations Population Fund and the United Nations Children’s Fund have said that the prevalence of the illegal act was increasing in the world, saying that it might be difficult for the proposed elimination of FGM by 2030 to come to fruition if urgent steps were not taken.

In a joint statement by UNFPA-UNICEF on the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation in Nigeria on the annual event, a copy of which was obtained by The Point, disclosed that if boys and men could vigorously join campaigns and awareness creation against FGM, the hope of having the deadly act eliminated by 2030 would be possible.

The UNFPA–UNICEF Joint Programme on the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation has been delivering the Global Promise works to eliminate female genital mutilation through interventions in 17 countries where the practice is prevalent. The programme creates opportunities for girls and women to realize their rights in health, education, income and equality to help end the power imbalances that underpin this harmful practice.

In Nigeria, the agencies noted that 19.9 girls and women have survived FGM thus making Nigeria to account for the third highest number of women and girls who have undergone FGM worldwide.

“This year, 4.3 million girls are at risk of female genital mutilation, according to latest estimates. This number is projected to reach 4.6 million by 2030, as conflict, climate change, rising poverty and inequality continue to hinder efforts to transform gender and social norms that underpin this harmful practice and disrupt programmes that help protect girls.

“Female genital mutilation (FGM) remains widespread in Nigeria. With an estimated 19.9 million survivors, Nigeria accounts for the third highest number of women and girls who have undergone FGM worldwide, with the risk of cutting highest in the first 5 years (86% of girls circumcised before age 5 – National Demographic and Health Survey 2018).

“FGM prevalence in Nigeria is decreasing among women aged 15-49 according to data from the 2021 Multiple Indicator Survey (MICS) (18% to 15% 2016-17/2021). Similarly, the prevalence among girls aged 0-14 decreased from 25% to 8% during the same period (MICS 2021). This significant decrease in prevalence among girls aged 0-14 is a welcome development, given that an estimated 86% of females aged 15-49 were subjected to FGM before the age of 5 (NDHS 2018). At the same time, 12 states had a prevalence higher than the national prevalence, ranging from 9% in Edo to 35% in Kwara and Kano.

“FGM violates the rights of women and girls and limits their opportunities for the future in health, education and income. Rooted in gender inequality and power imbalances, it is an act of gender-based violence that harms girls’ bodies, dims their futures, and endangers their lives,” it read.

While stressing the need for men and boys to fully join efforts at ending the menace, the agencies said, “changing gender and social norms that encourage FGM is critical. Men and boys are powerful allies in the effort. Increasingly, they are challenging power dynamics within their families and communities and supporting women and girls as agents of change.”

Highlighting their efforts so far and their achievements, the international organisations said, “the UNFPA-UNICEF global Joint Programme on the Elimination of FGM has supported over 3,000 initiatives within the last five years where men and boys actively advocate to bring an end to the practice. In Nigeria, since implementation began in 2018, UNJP has supported the engagement of 807 men’s and boys’ networks to actively advocate to bring an end to the practice. It has done this by providing opportunities and safe spaces for critical reflection on gender discrimination, power dynamics, positive masculinities and comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education targeting men and boys, so they understand the consequences of FGM.

“Men and boys remain key partners in addressing gender inequalities and harmful practices as we all collaboratively join hands to deliver the global promise of eliminating FGM by 2030’, said Ulla E. Mueller, UNFPA Resident Representative

“As a result of our collective efforts, we are witnessing significant opposition from men and boys to FGM. Today, men and boys are more receptive to change than before, and in some communities, they are more likely to disapprove of female genital mutilation and domestic violence than women and girls’, said Cristian Munduate, UNICEF Nigeria Country Representative.”

They called on stakeholders partner with and engage men and boys to shift unequal power relations and challenge the attitudes and behaviours caused by gender inequality that leads to FGM.

The agencies further charged stakeholders to, “integrate gender-transformative approaches and changing social norms into anti-FGM programmes. Invest in national-level policies and legislation protecting the rights of girls and women, including the development of national action plans to end FGM.

“Today is a reminder of the urgent need for even more targeted and concerted efforts to turn our shared goal of ending FGM into a reality. We must work together with all stakeholders – including men and boys – to protect the millions of girls and women at risk and consign this practice to history,” it read.