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New Film Discourages Female Circumcision - 2002-05-03

The film -- called “UNCUT: PLAYING WITH LIFE" – was produced by two local NGOs – Communicating for Change and the Women’s Health and Action Research Centre. It recently premiered at an anti-Female Genital Mutilation (or "FGM") workshop in Benin City. The Chief Executive of the center is physician Friday Okonofua -- a Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Benin. He says the film "mirrors the life of a woman who was a circumciser but because of the intensive campaign against Female Genital Mutilation and the effect of the law that was enacted by the Edo State Legislature, she stopped practicing FGM and instead began to do another job”.

FGM is a criminal offence in Edo State. Those convicted can be sentenced to two years in prison without parole. The law is part of a concerted effort to reduce the rate of circumcision in a state where 90 percent of all women undergo the procedure. That’s about 60 percent more than the national average. Professor Okonofua says he is confident that the film will go a long way toward eradicating it.

The star of the film is Stella Omoregie, 52, a traditional birth attendant who once specialized in circumcision. She says she inherited the role in real life from her late grandmother. Ms. Omoregie had been circumcizing women since she was a teen-ager. She says she gave up the career when she saw a film about a pregnant women who died during the procedure: "I felt it is bad and from that day in 1995, I decided I will not perform circumcision again.”

Mrs. Omoregie says it’s a hard job to give up. She says practitioners charge $5 - $20 depending on the age of the person being circumcised -- and are also given yams, meat, and palm oil and palm wine. But today, instead of circumcising, Mrs. Omoregie deliveries babies, and makes sweets. Mrs. Omoregie has suggestions for some other practical ways traditional practitioners can make money – and FGM can be curbed. One is with the provision of loans so women can set up their own businesses. She also saays campaigns against FGM must involve the family – who help perpetuate some of the beliefs linked with circumcision among both men and women.

Forty-seven-year-old Rose Odion has 15 years of experience circumcising women and girls in Benin City. She explains some of the social pressures that still lead many women to undergo the procedure: “If a woman is not circumcised, nobody will like to marry her - it is a taboo for her to even get pregnant. If she does, she faces complications when being delivered of the baby. If the head of a male child touches the clitoris, the child will die.”

Mrs. Odion says most women in Edo State were circumcised as infants or teenagers. She says she has never had a complicated case because she observes all relevant taboos. One taboo maintains that on the day of the circumcision, the girls parents must not quarrel; If they do, their daughter could bleed to death.

But today even the traditional rulers of Benin City question the wisdom of FGM. One of them is the High Priest of the Oba --Nosakhare Isekhure: “Well the society is dynamic. What we have seen from medical reports has appealed to the sensibilities of both men and women – who are now saying that many women are victims with the mutilation of their genitals”.

An official of the Women’s Education Center in Benin -- Comfort Umeh – thinks there’s a place for traditional leaders in future campaigns against FGM. She says she’d like the producers of the film to use leaders like the High Priest of Oba to get the message out – that women can take control over their own bodies if they let go of the past. (SIGNED)