Outgoing Nigerian President Bans Female Genital Mutilation in One of His Last Acts in Office June 1, 2015

Outgoing Nigerian President Bans Female Genital Mutilation in One of His Last Acts in Office

In March, Nigeria decided not to re-elect Goodluck Jonathan to another term as President. But he’s making the most of his final days in office, getting the government to pass a ban on female genital mutilation in the country:

The news of Nigeria’s ban was welcomed by campaigners who hope it will have a knock-on effect in other African nations where FGM is still legal and widely practised.

“This is fantastic news and a landmark moment. We are now one step closer to ending this harmful practice,” said UK international development secretary Justine Greening.

Nearly 20 million women are believed to be victims of the brutal procedure in the country of 175 million people. There is no health benefit to the act, and the World Health Organization explains why it’s done at all:

FGM is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. It is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children. The practice also violates a person’s rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.

There was some strategy involved in Goodluck Jonathan’s timing:

“There’s a price to be paid by bucking norms that are widely observed,” said [Africa Center at the Atlantic Council director J. Peter] Pham. “It took a lame duck president and lame duck legislators who don’t have to face voters to undertake something that goes that much against the cultural norms or practices.”

Indeed, Pham argued that Jonathan has even done a favor for his successor, President-elect Muhammadu Buhari, who will now not have to face future voter backlash by legislating the controversial issue. “It’s already signed and Buhari can say he’s simply enforcing the laws,” he said.

While the signed bill isn’t available online, a slightly older version of it said that those who committed FGM would go to jail for up to four years and pay a $1,000 fine.

The big question now is whether Nigerian officials will be able to enforce a law that has sadly become a part of the culture. Still, this is an excellent step in the right direction.

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