In May 2015 Goodluck Jonathan banned FGM but millions of girls are still at risk. Photograph: Sunday Alamba/AP
About 20 million women and girls in Nigeria have undergone female genital mutilation, 10% of the global total, according to a comprehensive report released on Tuesday.
Many Nigerian girls are cut as infants (16% before their first birthday), and 82% of women who have had FGM say that they were cut before the age of five, says charity 28 Too Many.
More than 200 million girls and women alive today have been subjected to FGM, which the World Health Organisation defines as procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
In May 2015 Nigeria’s outgoing president Goodluck Jonathan banned FGM, but there remains an inconsistency between the passing and enforcement of laws across the country.
The authors say that while a majority of Nigerians do not want the practice to continue, there is no one centrally funded body bringing anti-FGM organisations together to achieve the abandonment of the barbaric practice, which can cause infertility, maternal death, infection and the loss of sexual pleasure.
“The report is a wake-up call about the reality facing grassroots activists in Nigeria,” said the executive director and founder of the charity, Dr Ann-Marie Wilson.
Osun state records the highest prevalence at 76.6%, North-East Zone has the lowest prevalence (2.9%) and the state of Katsina in North-West Zone records the lowest prevalence at 0.1%, according to the report.
However, prevalence figures according to place of residence may not be an indicator of where FGM has actually taken place, the authors warn: “The Nigerian population is becoming increasingly mobile, both socially and economically, resulting in increased intermarriage and a blurring of traditional places of residence, ethnicity and religious distinctions in the practice of FGM.”
Grassroots organisations in Nigeria have told the Guardian of many cases where girls and women have been taken from urban to rural areas to undergo FGM.
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Although FGM is not required by any religious script, 15% of women and 23.6% of men believe it is required by their religion. Overall, 64.3% of women and 62.1% of men believe that FGM should be stopped in Nigeria, the report found.
However, increased mobile phone use among the younger generation has given rise to some degree of hope in spreading news of the dangers of this often taboo issue.
“There is now a large, young population with increased access to information through phones, and an increased use of social media offers new opportunities for transmitting information about the dangers of FGM,” the authors conclude.
Last week anti-FGM activists from across Africa attended a summit in Glencree peace and reconciliation centre in Ireland, hosted by the Guardian. Out of the talks emerged the formation of a global group against gender-based violence – “led by women of colour” – called the Big Sister Movement.
US activist Jaha Dukureh. Photograph: Troy Stains
“No one single person can end FGM and FGM is not an isolated issue from other violence that women continue to face on a daily basis,” said Jaha Dukureh, who brought about a ban on FGM in the Gambia.
“We are at a point in our lives when we are tired of others speaking on our behalf just to tell us what to do.”
Dukureh joined the US Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid last month when he announced that the Department of State would host a summit on 2 December in Washington involving various government departments and women’s rights groups to come up with an action plan to rid the US of FGM.