Society for the Improvement of Rural People (SIRP) is an NGO based in Enugu State of Nigeria. The organization was founded in the year 1988 and was officially registered in 1999. Dr Chris N. Ugwu, the founder is also the Executive-Director at SIRP. The organization aims to support vulnerable people in rural areas of Nigeria, through poverty alleviation and rights advocacy.
This organization was set up in response to the urgent need for philanthropic support to address the various issues confronting vulnerable persons i.e. (women, children, disabled persons and youth) especially in rural areas of the country.
The organization envisions to be a civil society organization role model, in providing voice and services to the less privileged and vulnerable segment of the society, with a key focus on issues concerning health, education, agriculture, poverty alleviation, gender equality, human rights and of course democracy.
FGM prevalence in Enugu State
According to a United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) report in the State, FGM prevalence rate in Enugu State was put at between 50-60%. In Enugu State, although FGM is widespread, it is most prevalent in 5 communities. These communities are Akwuke, Awgu, Odume, Okpanku and Mpu. In a random FGM prevalence assessment rate carried out in the 173 communities in Enugu State, these 5 communities scored an average of 81 – 85% each in the prevalence rate of FGM practice.
Reasons for the practice
In most communities in Enugu State, FGM is usually carried out on the eight day after birth, to coincide with the child’s naming ceremony, which is a festive event with gifts and refreshments. The naming and cutting are linked. SIRP has also found out that poor mothers could not openly resist their girls undergoing FGM because it would also mean that there is no naming ceremony. All this has helped this practice to thrive in Enugu State. Another reason is that FGM is often considered a religious/cultural obligation e.g. rite of passage into adulthood, FGM as part of Naming ceremony.
Why SIRP is committed to ending FGM in Nigeria
- FGM is a violation of human rights: FGM is a tortuous, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and as such a violation of a person’s fundamental rights. Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides that everyone has a right to life, liberty and security of persons while Article 5 provides that no one shall be subjected to torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. So from these 2 provisions you will see and believe with me that FGM directly takes away this right from women and girls, since it is done to torture and harm them. FGM is therefore defined as something that causes mental or physical suffering to women and girls. Indeed it is a very painful and unpleasant experience.
- The health risks and implications involved in the practice: FGM poses serious physical and mental health risks for women and young girls. According to a World Health Organization (WHO) study, FGM can be linked to increased complications in childbirth and maternal death. Other side effects include severe pain, hemorrhage, tetanus, infections, infertility, cysts, urinary incontinence, psychological and sexual problems.
What SIRP is doing in #FightingTheCut
Society for the Improvement of Rural People (SIRP) has done and continues to do a tremendous job in this regard. In the past, SIRP has worked with RAINBO an organization based in the United Kingdom, in its work in Ebonyi State, a State also in the South-Eastern part of Nigeria (Igbo land) to end this practice. SIRP through this project, conducted sensitization programs in about 5 endemic communities in Ebonyi State, where this practice is so much prevalent about the harmful effects of this practice. They were taught that this practice has no cultural and religious backing and as such there is no justification for its continued practice. They were also told that FGM is illegal in Nigeria and as such punishable under the law. SIRP through this project also alluded their minds to the physical and health risks involved in this practice. In addition to this, SIRP was also able to organize training workshops for some important stakeholders in the fight against FGM. This included the men folks, midwives and also the religious and traditional heads from these 5 communities. They were taught on the harmful effects of FGM.
SIRP in conjunction with RAINBO (UK) was also able to produce and distribute IEC materials (posters and flyers) in these 5 communities. These IEC materials bore the message of the harms associated with the practice. SIRP also managed to produce and air Igbo and English jingles on the radio and also organized audience-participation programs on the radio. This now gave the general public, the opportunity to call-in and ask questions about FGM and by so doing issues concerning FGM were popularized. At the end of SIRP programs in these 5 communities, SIRP was able to form peer groups to end FGM in these 5 communities. These peer advocacy groups then served as change agents in the fight against FGM in these 5 communities.
Finally, from the research that was conducted after SIRP’s activities in these 5 communities, it was discovered that the practice reduced by 50% in these communities. This was aided by the media exposure that was given to the practice as a criminal offence. At the end of this program, SIRP gave out their contact address to the members of these communities, so that we could be reached if there was any need for further intervention.
Last year, SIRP partnered with The Girl Generation (TGG), an organization based in Kenya on another FGM program in Enugu State. This particular project was funded by Options Consultancy (UK). It was titled Using Social Change Communication Techniques to end FGM in 5 endemic communities in Enugu State. The communities focused on included Awgu, Akwuke, Odume, Mpu and Okpanku. SIRP in this particular project adopted new and innovative approaches to ending FGM in the aforementioned communities. This included the use of incentives, drama and video clips. SIRP decided to offer an incentive to 15 women drawn across these 5 communities, who decided not to circumcise their girls by organizing free naming ceremonies for them.
Challenges faced in #FightingTheCut
The lack of political will to end this practice in Nigeria: Currently in Nigeria, it must be stated that the Government is not really taking this fight against FGM too seriously. There is little or no Government commitment to ending this practice in Nigeria. Currently in Nigeria, unlike in Kenya there is no Anti-FGM Board and also there is no awareness or sensitization campaigns being funded by the Government in Nigeria. Most of the interventions in Nigeria have been sponsored by various Donor Agencies and multi-national organizations like UNFPA, UNICEF etc
Lack of funding: Several grass root NGOs in Nigeria like are facing a huge challenge in joint commitment to ending this practice in Nigeria and this huge challenge is lack of funding. It is trite law that NGOs rely on grants before they can carry out their activities and when these grants are not available, they find it difficult to act or carry out their programs. So this is indeed a huge challenge.
SIRP’s approach to #EndFGM include the implementation of Support a Naming Ceremony without Circumcision for children in various communities in the country as an alternative ceremony. IEC materials with information about the effects of FGM are also used in driving the conversation about the need to end the practice. The organization also organizes training and awareness campaigns for all the stakeholders . This also takes the form of human rights approaches where the communities are educated on their rights and the need to abandon the practice. Behaviour change dialogue is also done both at family and community levels to ensure that all members of the community are part of the dialogue to end FGM. In an effort to reach more people, SIRP also uses the media. Through interactive programs and infomercials on radio and television, people are sensitized about FGM in Nigeria.
SIRP is just one of the many organizations that are working to ensure that FGM is abandoned in Nigeria. There are many such organizations in Nigeria as well as other countries in the other countries in Africa and the world. All these efforts are geared towards #FightingTheCut, one step at a time.