A Non Governmental Organisation, Future Shakers Initiative (FSI) has organised a global virtual conference on awareness and eradication of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
FSI, according to its founder, Tobi Olanipekun, saw the need to create and raise the bar of global conversation around the menace of FGM owing to its severity during the Corona virus pandemic.
Discussants ranging from FMG experts, survivors, medical experts, NGO founders and FGM media experts expressed worry over increase in the number of girls that had undergone FGM since the pandemic broke out in Nigeria.
They called for holistic efforts to stem the tide.
The conference, held in July, was designed to raise awareness and conversations around FGM with the theme “FGM & COVID-19: How The New Normal Will Affect The Global Aim to End FGM by 2030”. The event is the first of its kind in the advocacy against FGM which held between 10th – 13th June, 2020 across social/online media platforms like Whatsapp, Facebook, Instagram and Zoom.
The conference featured 13 local and international speakers from around the world. The speakers included: Giselle Portenier (Canada), Dayo Nigeria (Nigeria), Aduke Obelawo (Nigeria), Katya Berger (Spain), Hon. Tunde Olatunji (Nigeria), Laura Templeton (Canada), Bukola Idowu (Nigeria), Munachi Okoli (Nigeria).
Others are Tosin Olarewaju (Nigeria), Deji Adefila (Nigeria), Yommy Ayilara (Nigeria), Dr. Costly Aderibigbe (Nigeria) and The Joseph Adeosun (Nigeria). These speakers dissected the issues surrounding FGM and proffered possible means of tackling it at the conference.
The event featured Whatsapp Sessions, Instagram Live with Giselle Portenier & Katya Berger and a panel discussion with all speakers was well attended with almost 1000 participants across all platforms.
On the first day of the conference, Yommy Ayilara spoke on the genesis and revelations of FGM, Tosin Olarewaju who is a survivor took it further by saying that the elimination of FGM by 2030 will be disrupted and an estimate of 2 million additional cases of FGM will need to be averted. She stressed firmly that ending FGM requires a multic-sectoral approach. Munachi Okoli of The Girdle Network talked about how ‘Dialogue’ is the only effective way for FGM to be abandoned. She divided the Dialogue into Bottom Upper Approach and Top Down Approach.
On the 2nd & 3rd day of the conference, Tobi Olanipekun, Founder of FSI hosted Katya Berger and Giselle Portenier respectively via Instagram Live Sessions. Katya who joined the conference from Spain reiterated that the need for global partnerships like this is to change the majority so that the communities can come together to effect a change. She further said this will work when after coming together like we have done with this conference, we are able to raise advocates from areas where FGM is prevalent and that an individual can then go back to his/her community to spread the news and amplify the campaign against the act.
Giselle Portenier, the Canadian Journalist and Film Producer produced the award winning FGM documentary “In The Name of Your Daughter”. She joined Tobi Olanipekun on the 3rd day for the IG Live Session.
During the session, she disclosed that she learnt about the damaging act of FGM 25 years ago in Ethiopia. She then thought it was an act that was peculiar to only a small population in the country until she got to know it happens all over the globe. She confirmed that FGM is practiced in 92 countries and still counting. She reiterated that there is a major silence around FGM that journalism needs to work on to break and keep the conversations going.
Portenier commended Future Shakers Initiative for organizing such a virtual conference in a time like this. She went further by saying that documentaries gets one closer to the survivors and offer one the opportunity to share the impact of what they have gone through with the world.
The Canadian Journalist encouraged Nigerian filmmakers to dive into the idea of making documentaries about FGM as this will increase the chances of raising awareness and advocates against FGM in the country.
She affirmed that local NGOs like FSI need grants and funding the note to be able to reach grassroots effectively in other to make desirable impact. Finally, she expressed her desire to visiting Nigeria one day after Tobi extended a visitation gesture.
The last day of the conference was a panel discussion session with all the 13 speakers which held via zoom. It was well attended from all over the globe.
Dr. Costly Aderibigbe of Value Female Network (VFN) said at the panel discussion session that, “On a normal day, a girl is cut every 10 seconds but with the pandemic at hand, this is projected to have reduced to 5 seconds or thereabout.” She also disclosed that the Toll Free Line for FGM that her NGO operates has not received any direct complaints or reported cases of FGM. But they have received calls about enquiries.”
Also, Mrs Aduke Obelawo who is the UNFPA Consultant of Osun, Ekiti and Oyo states rolled out current FGM prevalence rate in Nigeria at the conference. “The current prevalence rare according to NDHS 2018 for the first five (5) states are: Imo (61.7%), Ekiti (57.9%), Ebonyi (53.2%), Osun (45.9%) and Oyo (31.1%)”, she said. She went further by stating that the roles of communities in on stepping the tide of FGM during this pandemic is very important.
Hon Tunde Olatunji, a legislator and Chief Whip of the Osun State House of Assembly dissected the ways and manner the laws is helping to fight FGM and talked about the Anti-FGM Law in Osun State. He further stated that “the family and community need to come together and help the law take its course because the secrecy behind FGM and our culture makes it difficult for survivors to report cases to the law enforcement agencies.”
Bukola Idowu of Kimpact Development Initiative who was represented by his aide, Kemi, pointed out that strategic partnerships are germane to ensuring the end of FGM is a reality by 2030. The Joseph Adeosun of TJAN also talked about the need to maximize the pandemic in other to raising an army of advocates against FGM is important.
Dayo Nigeria of Matadors Leadership Institute charged the youth to lead the #endFGM fight and energize the advocacy aspect of it while Laura Templeton who is the Director of Communications & International Affairs at FSI and also a mental health advocate explained how survivors can successfully cope with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder due to FGM.
Deji Adefila is a media expert who has been using the media to fight FGM for years disclosed at the conference that although the media has made impressive impact, a lot still needs to be done. He noted that the media is not merely looking away during the pandemic but activists and advocates against FGM need more grants or funds to help them use the media more. He explained that as far as media is concerned in Osun State, the media is not so strengthened and that one of the way it can be eradicated is through the use of media. Also, contact with relevant stakeholders needs to be adopted.
Discussions and submissions at the Virtual End FGM Global Conference revealed that circumcisers now have more girls to cut due to the lockdown, restrictions and ban on interstate travels imposed by the government as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The hardest hit areas in Nigeria during this pandemic are the rural areas because cutters resumed business fully. The cutters are not busy with other things and the children are not going to school too. Also, the parents are at home too almost all the time. It is believed that at least 90% of girls born during this period are at risk of being cut.
All the works that have been done (prior to the advent of coronavirus) towards the eradication of FGM in Nigeria have suffered great setbacks due to the effects of the pandemic. Offline projects are on hold for now, girls are not in school, parents have more time and the cutters resumed businesses fully. I
According to speakers, girls are now more at risk than ever. Speakers at the conference expressed their worries as to if the global aim to end FGM by 2030 is still realistic now as a result of the pandemic. While optimism was expressed by majority, all agreed that a lot of work needs to be done post COVID-19.