May 5th 2015 marks an important day for women’s rights in Nigeria. In what is seen as a historic and significant decision, the then outgoing president Goodluck Jonathan passed the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) bill into law.
What Does ‘Violence Against Persons Prohibition’ 2015 State?
The new law prohibits female circumcision or genital mutilation, forceful ejection from home and harmful widowhood practices like abandonment of spouse, children and other dependents without sustenance, and other harmful sexist practices.
What is Female Genital Mutilation?
Female Genital Mutilation or FGM, a tradition practiced across 27 African countries, pockets of Asia and the Middle East, affects 130 million women and girls. It involves either partially or totally removing the external female genitalia or causing injury to the female genital organs of women and girls.
The procedure is often carried out without any medical supervision under dangerously unhygienic conditions. Some of the physiological and psychological effects of FGM cited by The World Heath Organisation are chronic pain, chronic pelvic infections, development of cysts, abscesses and genital ulcers, excessive scar tissue formation, infection of the reproductive system, decreased sexual enjoyment and psychological consequences, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. Additional risks for complications from infibulations (an extreme form of FGM which involves stitching together the vulva with a small opening left for the passage of menstrual blood and urine) include urinary and menstrual problems, infertility, later surgery (defibulation and reinfibulation) and painful sexual intercourse.
Why Does Female Genital Mutilation Happen?
The practice attempts to control women’s sexuality, and is rooted in ideas of purity, modesty and aesthetics. The highly patriarchal atmosphere of these societies creates a rigid hierarchical power structure based on superiority of men over women. A woman’s virginity is accorded great importance and the honour of the entire family, specifically the patriarch, often depends on their ability to ‘guard’ the virginity of the women. Extreme cases of FGM like infibulation that prevent sexual intercourse until marriage take root in this excessive importance given to a woman’s virginity. It is usually initiated and carried out by women, who see it as a source of honour, and who fear that failing to have their daughters and granddaughters cut will expose the girls to social exclusion.
What Effect is The Law Going to Have?
According to “The Guardian‘s” analysis of 2014 UN data, a quarter of the women in Nigeria have undergone FGM which makes this law all the more relevant and important. Nigeria, being the largest country in Africa, will hopefully set an example for the rest of the countries like Liberia, Sudan and Mali where Female Genital Mutilation is yet to be criminalized.
The law shows that Nigerian people have recognized the exploitation and pain a traditional practice can cause which in itself is a hopeful sign. The African sub-continent, so often dismissed and looked down upon for its ‘barbaric’ practices is displaying the readiness to accept and correct its social issues which is huge step toward eradicating gender based exploitation and creating a safe world based on the principles of equality.