The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) has engaged both in and out-of-school girls in life-building skills to eliminate female genital mutilation (FGM) practice in Ebonyi State, southeast Nigeria.
The adolescent girls (in- and- out of schoolgirls) selected from 18 communities in Ebonyi and Abakaliki local government areas were also taken on other forms of gender-based violence (gbv) including early marriage and its consequences.
The three days program held in Abakaliki was organized by the National orientation agency with support from UNICEF as part of the 2021 16th days activism.
Ebonyi state according to the National demographic health survey 2018 is the 3rd leading state in FGM practice in the country.
As a result, UNICEF has decided to engage the young girls as the practice is a Phenomenal one that requires upcoming generations to campaign against.
UNICEF child specialist Enugu field office, Victor Atuchukwu during the training noted that the young girls are been impacted with the knowledge to enable them to step down the message to their peers in the school, church, clubs, and other places including their communities as GBV drivers.
Victor Atuchukwu noted that to stop GBV, survivors need to speak up and become change agents. He advised them not to be disrespectful to the elders while taking down the message to the grassroots.
He said, “We are in a three-day engagement with young school and out-of-school children on the issue of ending all forms of violence against women and girls in Ebonyi and other states in the country.
“FGM is prevalent in the state, Ebonyi state being the 3rd ranking, highest in the country in the prevalence of FGM at 53.2% according to the National demographic health survey of 2018 among other issues of gender-based violence, rape, intimate partner violence, and all that. So it was time to engage the young girls as part of the 16th day of activism to end all forms of violence against women and girls.
“The training is to build their capacity to become change agents as peer educators. We want them to know what they need to tell their peers in the school, in the village, in church, and in their club. We are building their capacity on GBV, life skills, assertiveness, communication, negotiation, refusal, and all that they require to stand up, speak up about violence, and report it as change agents in their community.
It is not a message far-fetched from what they see every day in society.
The child protection specialist, further explained that the participants were drawn from Abakaliki and Ebonyi local government.
Adding ” In Abakaliki we have 7 communities in Ebonyi we have 11, 2 girls each representing a community we expect them to reach out to other girls. It will not end here we will continue to engage them to bring them as part of the technical working group on ending GBV.
He commended Ebonyi people for making law on ending GBV but expressed concern that the GBV is deeply rooted in the culture and norms of the people and behavioural change is a difficult thing regardless of the law, therefore requires stiffer measure.
“The laws are there we won’t stop, UNICEF will continue to talk about it with the law enforcement agencies, with the judiciary, and the lawmakers we are not there yet but we are making progress. We have seen instances where cases were not settled out of court. We are empowering households to speak up, the religious leaders to use the pulpit to stop GBV because sometimes what we preach promotes GBV. The religious leaders should de-link all forms of GBV from the scriptures because we don’t see it anywhere in the Bible or whatever we have. Then traditionally, who are the perpetrators be it massaging or circumcision are the women so we are also talking with the women groups everybody must get involved.
“On enforcement and implementation of the law, we need the community, the people themselves to speak up first to accept this is violence. Think about the situation where GBV like FGM is perpetrated and the people decide to conceal it we would not get anywhere the law will remain in paper so we are trying to get everybody involved to understand, agree that there is no benefit health, emotional, economically from violence especially female genital mutilation. Law enforcement officers should know that there is no crime against the state such as FGM that should be left to settle out of court. He said.
Contributing, UNICEF FGM consultant for Imo and Ebonyi State Benjamin Mbakwem urged the adolescent girls to note that the decision they make now will help them in the future therefore should keep off from anything that will ruin their future especially gender-based violence-related issues.
The schoolgirls commended UNICEF for exposing them to the dangers of FGM and early marriage but appealed that while they move into their communities to sensitize their peers, more enlightenment programs on GBV should be carried out for young school girls.
They noted that a lot of young girls are been violated in different ways but cannot speak out, therefore, needs the knowledge.
Miracle Anale Okwuoma from EBSU staff secondary school said “the rate of GBV is increasing and it has been going on in a way that even our parents don’t know that their children are been violated in the house and the school.
“To eliminate it we have been called it is now left for us to go out there and tell other girls about it so that they will have the information at hand and let our girls be careful of what they do.
“Government should ensure that this type of program is implemented and this type of program should be extended to girls in rural communities. if all Ebonyi state girls should get involved even if they will not give us food they can buy snacks but increasing the number of participants will be helpful. So there should be larger sensitization and enlightenment on this type of training.
On her part, Ejiofor Francisca Chisome from Holy Ghost foundation secondary school, in her submission said, “having participated in this training, I will join the campaign to end GBV especially FGM it is a harmful practice against women and girls. I will take the message on the effects of FGM and child marriage to my fellow girls we must stop it”.