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Monday, July 27, 2009

Gender Sensitivity Among Nigerian Ethnic Group: Female Circumcision

July 27, 2009


Female genital cutting (FGC), also known as female circumcision in Nigeria, is a common practice in many societies in the northern half of sub-Saharan Africa. Nearly universal in a few countries, it is practiced by various groups in at least 25 African countries, in Yemen, and in immigrant African populations in Europe and North America. In a few societies, the procedure is routinely carried out when a girl is a few weeks or a few months old (e. g. Eritrea, Yemen), while in most others, it occurs later in childhood or adolescence. In the case of the latter, FGC is typically part of a ritual initiation into womanhood that includes a period of seclusion and education about the rights and duties of a wife. The 2003 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey (2003 NDHS) collected data on the practice of female circumcision in Nigeria from all women age 15-49. The 1999 NDHS collected data on female circumcision only from currently married women. In this chapter, topics discussed include knowledge, prevalence, and type; age at circumcision; person who performed the circumcision; and attitudes towards the practice.


About half (53 percent) of Nigerian women age 15-49 have heard of the practice. There are marked variations in knowledge of female circumcision by residence, region, education, and ethnicity. About two-thirds of urban respondents have heard of female circumcision, compared with less than half of women in rural areas (69 versus 45 percent). In general, women in the south are more than twice as likely as women in the north to haven heard of the practice. These variations by region and residence are a reflection of ethnic differentials. The Igbo and Yoruba, who are primarily resident in the South East and South West, respectively, have greater knowledge of female circumcision than the ethnic groups primarily resident in the north.

Table 13. 1 also shows the prevalence of female circumcision by background characteristics, which follows the same patterns as knowledge of circumcision. The proportion of women who were circumcised at the time of the survey was greatest in the southern regions, among the Yoruba and Igbo, and among urban residents. The high prevalence of female circumcision among the Yoruba (61 percent) and Igbo (45 percent) helps to explain regional and urban-rural differentials, since the Yoruba and Igbo traditionally reside in the South West and South East, which are more urban than the north. More than twice as many of the oldest women as the youngest women are circumcised (28 versus 13 percent), suggesting that there has been a decline in the practice. Caldwell et al. (2000) have reported a decline in the prevalence of female circumcision among the Yoruba.


The percent distribution of women by age at circumcision is presented in Table 13. 2. Female circumcision in Nigeria occurs mostly in infancy (i. e. , before the first birthday). Three-quarters of the women who underwent circumcision were circumcised by age one. Twenty-one percent, however, were circumcised at age five or older. There are marked variations in the proportions of women circumcised in infancy by residence and ethnicity. For instance, almost nine in ten Igbo and Yoruba were circumcised during infancy compared with less than half of those in other ethnic groups (45 percent). Infibulation, the most severe form of circumcision, is more likely to be carried out on women circumcised at a later age than on the very young. The table shows that 37 percent of those cut before the age of one had been infibulated, while 49 percent of those circumcised after the age of four were infibulated. It should be noted that the total number of respondents infibulated was 57.

Nigeria is a male dominated society and women are seen as inferior to men. Women’s traditional role is to have children and be responsible for the home. Their low status and lack of access to education increases their vulnerability to HIV infection. Certain social and cultural practices also make them vulnerable to HIV.


Marriage practices

Harmful marriage practices violate women’s human rights and contribute to increasing HIV rates in women and girls. In Nigeria there is no legal minimum age for marriage and early marriage is still the norm in some areas. Parents see it as a way of protecting young girls from the outside world and maintaining their chastity.

Many girls get married between the ages of 12 and 13 and there is usually a large age gap between husband and wife. Young married girls are at risk of contracting HIV from their husbands as it is acceptable for men to have sexual partners outside marriage and some men have more than one wife (polygamy). Because of their age, lack of education and low status, young married girls are not able to negotiate condom use to protect themselves against HIV and STIs.

Female circumcision

Female circumcision/female genital mutilation (FGM) is a cultural practice whereby all or part of the external female genitalia is removed by cutting. Around 60% of all Nigerian women experience FGM and it is most common in the south, where up to 85% of women undergo it at some point in their lives. FGM puts women and girls at risk of contracting HIV from unsterilized instruments, such as knives and broken glass that are used during the procedure.