Nigeria Bans Female Genital Mutilation, But Advocates Say There's Still More Work To Do

06/08/2015 01:48 pm ET | Updated Jun 08, 2015
PIUS UTOMI EKPEI via Getty Images

Before stepping down, Nigeria’s former president made sure his legacy boasted fighting for women’s rights and protections.

Goodluck Jonathan signed into law last month a ban on female genital mutilation, a practice that involves partial or total removal of the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons, the Guardian reported.

However, activists say laws alone won’t put abolish the practice, and that a systemic cultural shift is required to make sure women and girls are no longer subjected to the harmful procedure.

"Global experience tells us that ultimately, it's through changing attitudes, not just laws, that we will end FGM," Tanya Barron, chief executive of children's charity Plan International, told Reuters.

Though the U.N. banned FGM worldwide in 2012, and the practice was already outlawed in a number of Nigerian states, this is the first time that the entire country has committed to stopping FGM.

Across the globe, 125 million women and girls have undergone FGM, according to the World Health Organization, and Nigeria has the highest number of FGM cases. The country accounts for about a quarter of circumcised females worldwide, according to UNICEF.

The health risks of the practice are numerous, and include heavy bleeding, developing sepsis, urinary tract infections, cysts and becoming infertile, according to WHO.

Traditional beliefs hold that FGM will force girls to remain virgins until marriage, and remain faithful once they wed.

Advocates hope the law, which also prohibits men from abandoning their wives or children without financial support, will inspire other countries, where FGM is still practiced, to take similar action.

“It is crucial that we scale up efforts to change traditional cultural views that underpin violence against women,” Stella Mukasa, director of gender, violence and rights at the International Center for Research on Women, wrote in the Guardian. “Doing so involves laws and policies, as well as community level engagement and programs that work to empower girls directly.”

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