Beliefs and Prevalence of Female Genital Circumcision among Pregnant Women Attending Ante-natal Clinic in a Mission Hospital in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria

Introduction: Every community the world over has specific lifestyle practices that reflect the values and   beliefs held by members of such communities for generations. Female genital cutting (FGC) or circumcision is one of the age-long cultural practices in many African countries including Nigeria. Female genital cutting is harmful to women’s physical and emotional health throughout their lives and has no known health benefits. Common beliefs among adherents in surveys for practicing FGC include social acceptance, religion, hygiene, preservation of virginity, marriageability and enhancement of male sexual pleasures.

Objective: The objective of this study was to assess the beliefs of pregnant women attending the ante-natal clinic of a mission hospital in Uyo, about female genital cutting.

Methods: This was a prospective descriptive cross-sectional study conducted between August and October 2015. Using systematic sampling techniques, 364 newly registered pregnant women who enlisted for care during the study period were recruited. Using strict aseptic technique, vaginal examination was done for each respondent to determine the types of female genital cutting based on World Health Organization (WHO) classification.

Results: The mean age of respondents in this study was 28.3±4.3 years. The prevalence of female genital cutting among respondents in this study was 22.5%. FGC was more prevalent among respondents who were older (p<0.001); Attained higher level of education (p<0.001); and among those in the low income group (p<0.001). Removal of the labia minora (Type 2a) was the dominant type of FGC among respondents accounting for 64.4%; This was followed by type 1a (removal of the clitoral hood or prepuce) 18.3%; Type 1b (removal of the clitoris with the prepuce) was present in 15.9% respondents while type 3a (removal and apposition of the labia minora) was present in 1.2% of the respondents.

Among the respondents, FGC was believed to reduce sexual desire of the victims (p = 0.009; prevents promiscuity (p = .003); While others belief that it improves hygiene (p = 0.018).

Conclusion: Findings from this study have shown that the practice of FGC is complex. The increasing prevalence among those who are older might mean that practice of FGC is reducing among the younger generation. Education and empowerment of women are most needed now along with enforcement of laws aimed at eradicating the practice. The commonly held beliefs for persistence of the practice are tradition, prevention of sexual promiscuity as well as improvement in hygiene of the victims. FGC is a clear violation of the fundamental rights of women. Efforts to eradicate it must be stepped up through health education by the mass media and at ante-natal, post natal and family planning clinics. Such education should include information that clearly stresses the harmful effects of the practice. Misconception, taboos as well as false beliefs associated with FGC must be unequivocally dispelled. Women must be adequately empowered through education and economically as well to defend their rights whenever attempts are made to violate them.

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