A Historic Step: Nigeria Outlaws Female Genital Mutilation

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As one of his final acts as President, Goodluck Jonathan bans female genital mutilation (FGM) in Nigeria. As the most populous state in Africa, this historic decision carries significant weight. Supporters of the new federal law are hopeful that Nigeria’s example will help influence other African nations where FGM is still legalized and widely practiced.

FGM, which involves removing part or all of a girl’s outer sexual organs, is largely practiced in Africa and the Middle East. It is estimated that 125 million girls and women worldwide are living with the effects of FGM which include infertility, maternal death, infection, and psychological damage. In Nigeria alone, approximately 19.9 million women have undergone the procedure.

Outlawing FGM is an enormous step in protecting girls and women; however, much work still needs to be done to change cultural attitudes.  Many international organizations have condemned the procedure as a violation of the human rights of girls and women; however, the practice is socially accepted and deeply ingrained in many cultures. According to the World Health Organization, FGM is mostly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and the age of fifteen. The procedure is seen as a rite of passage, a gateway to marriage, and a way of preserving a girl’s purity.  In countries such as Somalia, Guinea, Djibouti, and Egypt, FGM has a prevalence rate as high as 95%.

The ban on FGM in Nigeria provides the legal framework to protect victims, but enforcement of the law will be a massive obstacle to overcome. It is a step in the right direction, but the fight for gender equality is far from over.

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