Female Genital Mutilation Thrives in Secrecy – Part Three: The Business

The Business of Female Genital Mutilation

By Olutosin Oladasu Abedowale

TRIGGER WARNING: Graphic descriptions of FGM included.

Ibadan – Western Nigeria

At the appointed date for another opportunity to practically ‘prove’ to the world that female genitals need to be cut, I arrived very early in the morning to witness the cutting of some female children in Ibadan, in the Western part of Nigeria.

As we waited for Baba Oloola’s customers, I initiated further discussion into the subject; we began another hot argument on the needless point/importance of cutting the female child. It was still his same reasons:

the uncut female child will become promiscuous, she will not be able to exist with daily sexual intercourse, her clitoris will grow long like a male-penis, an uncut girl will become a symbol of defiance unto the instruction, injunction and guidelines of God, etc.

As earlier agreed, I was ready for the recording of the female genital cutting. He had already given his assurance that mothers will definitely cut their female children on that day, just like on every other day. According to him, his female genital cutting gives peace of mind to mothers and it is cheap for those who can afford the money; it is just $10, (1,5000) with incision for convulsion; it is $20 (N3,000) and according to him, FGM secures the future of the girl child.

A few minutes before my video recording of FGM began, Baba Oloola’s younger brother came in; he was very furious to see the equipment. Immediately, he invited Baba Oloola into their inner room and began to chastise the aged man for exposing the family’s trade to a stranger.

The “Best Gift for the Future of the Girl Child”

After some hot exchanges of abuse, the young man burst out of the room screaming at us, to cancel the recording – he wanted us to just watch female genital cutting in order to convince us that it was the best gift for the future of a girl child and in addition, we might learn that the difference between Oloola and the others.

That was not the initial agreement and I was ready to record it at all costs.

According to these men, the difference between mutilation and cutting is the removal of the female genital ‘hood’ and not removal of the clitoris as practiced by some inexperienced medical personnel, traditional birth attendants, and missionary midwives in Nigeria.

Cutting the ‘Devil that Deranges’

As we were arguing as regards the cancellation of the recording, mothers who want to cut their female child’s genitals began to arrive with these innocent-looking female children.

These women were over-excited to cut the ‘devil that deranged a female child’; they believed that it takes few days to heal, unlike that of the male children that needs a fan to soothe the pain and seven days of continuous medication.

Naked, Weeping & Struggling

Within a few minutes, there were six naked and weeping girls being dragged into the compound by their mothers, one after the other. It was either these girls were scared to see lots of people or they were afraid of a strange environment – and may be, they knew the work of the Oloola’s as cutters of genitals; all the girls were naked, weeping and struggling.

Emaciated Baby

The youngest was a sickly six months old or thereabouts baby. She was practically emaciated, and her very young mother insisted that she should also be cut for convulsion, too. She was the first in the row.

The little baby girl was screaming at the top of her very tiny voice; her tiny lips were dry with a whitish-chipped substance covering the lips. Baba Oloola placed her on a small table, that looks like a butcher’s table in the open Nigerian market. She was facing the sky.

Like all the other girls, she was naked but with strings of beads; may be 8 different strings of beads were set on her buttocks. The traditional herb man, Baba Oloola cut a long thin rag of about 5 inches in breadth and 36 inches long, then folded it into a nice pleat and tied it on her tiny waist, covering the beads. He left a longer one at the centre and placed the remaining long rag on her chest. Just like the Japanese traditional wrestlers in the ring.

The baby raised a deafening tiny pitiful scream as the old man pressed the ‘soft hood’ that covered the genital with his thumb and second finger. This is possibly to allow for some extra flesh into his hand. Immediately that was achieved, his knife cut straight into the girl child’s genital. Like a lightning flash, it was cut. Phew.

Incisions to ‘Prevent Convulsions’

After the genital cutting, the mother of the tiny girl insisted that the girl must be cut for convulsion; that is incision on her daughter’s body because she is sickly. That attracts a new fee.

Now, it means that that incision will be made on some specific parts of her body. This was swiftly done, six very long incisions on her back; two at the upper shoulders area. two long incisions at her mid area and the last two at the upper part of her tiny hips. She was also cut at the ankles, and the back of her palms were not spared.

The same spade-shaped cutter was used for the genital cutting and body-incision.

The Wailing of the Girls Increases

The wailing by the female children, who were like sheep before the shearer, was accelerated when they saw what was being done to their counterpart who was lying helplessly on the butcher’s table. The girls were now in a queue with their mothers standing beside them and holding each of the girls tightly. The girls fought with their feet and hands, but their stronger mothers held them tighter.

It was swift like the knife of a butcher on a piece of meat and in a twinkling of an eye, it was done.

Blood gushed out and was rushing inside the vagina and he quickly lifted the girl-child, splashed some water on her vagina and used the left over rag to cover the vagina. He turned the child upside down and used the rest of the rag to cover her buttock, lastly he dipped the remaining portion of the rag into her beads at her back. It looked like using a small rag to cover the loins as earlier practiced in the days of old.

The Great Pride of the Oloola

With great pride, he showed me the flesh that was cut and asked “How did I mutilate her? And is this mutilations?”

He continued to explain that, it is those quack doctors and not traditional oloola’s like himself that should be accused of mutilation. He said that those who should be accused of genital mutilation are the quack doctors, untrained nurses, auxiliary nurses and missionary midwives who remove all the clitoris, instead of the hood that covers the clitoris.

He advised further that circumcision and female genital cutting should be left in the hands of surgeons and the traditional oloola’s who have ample experiences and have been trained.

His explanation would be perfectly convincing to a moron.

I was over-curious to ask, what is the usefulness of removing this hood, isn’t it highly unnecessary? And his quick response was…

it’s God’s injunction and God has the best answer.

I Was in Tears

In less than 10 minutes, he had cut three girls and I was in tears when I begged him to stop.

In the queue were six more girls, age range 3-7 years. He stopped, smiled and said, “You won’t be here forever; women living here will cut every one of their female children.”

He ordered the women to leave with their children; they were begging him to cut their daughters. He insisted and reluctantly, they left one after the other. 

The Cutter

The same spade-shaped-cutter was used for all the girls and this is the same knife that will continue to be used from generation to generation; for incisions, tribal marks, female genital mutilation, and male circumcision.

Usually wrapped with pieces of rag and kept in the Oloola’s pocket until there is a customer who is in desperate need of his expertise. 

Lucrative Business

When the customers left, I asked Baba Oloola, if there is no other work that could generate revenue for his lineage aside genital cutting, he responded: Traditional Birth Attendants.

He said that if he has a small clinic, he would concentrate on delivery of children and I wish that is possible, but other oloolas, which number more than 200 in Oyo state, will not diversify.

Definitely, the end of female genital mutilation is not in sight, but if the lead figure diversifies, it might encourage other oloola’s to find another means of livelihood.

In actuality, female genital mutilation is a lucrative job that has discouraged many young men in the lineage of oloolas from pursuing formal education and as asked by Baba Oloola in Ibadan, what stops the government of Nigeria from starting homeopathic schools for the traditionalists?

In such schools, the curriculum on ending female genital mutilation could be developed and implemented. Female genital mutilation is a huge business to some uneducated traditionalists in Nigeria.

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