The Nigerian government has taken the historic step of outlawing the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM), in a move campaigners describe as “hugely important”
According to 2014 U.N. data, about a quarter of Nigerian women have undergone FGM, which can cause infertility, maternal death, infections and the loss of sexual pleasure. The practice was already banned in some states, but now it will be outlawed throughout the country. As one of Africa’s cultural and political powerhouses, campaigners are hoping Nigeria will influence other African nations, where FGM is still legal and widely practiced. An estimated 125 million women and girls worldwide — mostly in Africa and the Middle East — are living with the consequences of FGM. While stressing the importance of this new law, campaigners also urged caution, saying it was crucial that not just laws, but also attitudes, had to change in order to bring an end to the practice.
As the most populous country in Africa, Nigeria’s decision carries significant weight, but it would need to be implemented effectively, said Mary Wandia, FGM programme manager of Equality Now. “With such a huge population, Nigeria’s vote in favour of women and girls is hugely important,” she said. “We hope, too, that the other African countries which have yet to ban FGM – including Liberia, Sudan and Mali, among others – do so immediately to give all girls a basic level of protection.”
Others stressed that the battle to end FGM in a generation was far from over, saying it was crucial that attitudes, as well as laws, were changed.
Tanya Barron, chief executive of the global children’s charity Plan UK, said prosecution must be just one strand of international efforts to end FGM. “This must be centred on working with girls and their communities to ensure that they know the risks of this human rights violation,” she said.