The Circuit Pointe team share how they engaged community structures to transform social norms and practices of FGM/C in two states in Nigeria.
FGM/C is widely practiced in Nigeria, with 19.2% of girls 0-14 having undergone the procedure in 2018 – an increase from 16.9% in 2013. (UNICEF) Nigeria has the third highest number of women and girls who have undergone female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) in the world. Patriarchal norms drive much of the community acceptance of FGM/C in Nigeria. 86% of all FGM/C cases in Nigeria happen before the age of 5; in many communities, this is due to its presumed moral value of preserving girls’ virginity and fidelity as wives. Addressing the community and cultural drivers of FGM/C is crucial to stopping the practice.
Circuit Pointe is a non-profit organization that operates in the southeastern region of Nigeria where FGM/C is deeply rooted. Since our inception, we have carried out a wide range of activities and projects contributing to three aims – advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), ending FGM/C, promoting economic empowerment, and campaigning against harmful practices. Our project, ‘#AbolishFGM in 12 Communities of Imo and Ebonyi States of Nigeria’ scales up a previous AmplifyChange project implemented in Imo and Ebonyi States. Circuit Pointe selected Imo and Ebonyi States because they have a relatively high prevalence of FGM/C, with rates of 68% and 73% respectively.
This project extends our work to new project areas: 7 communities in Ngor Okpala LGA and Mbaitoli LGA located in Imo State, and 5 communities in Afikpo North and Ivo LGA located in Ebonyi State. 70% of communities selected are neighbours to our previous project communities, which served as the control group for our 2019 survey and ranked high on infantile FGM/C practice. The remaining 30% are communities identified during the implementation of our campaign against FGM/C. Members of our proposed communities self-reported as practicing FGM/C and confirmed recently witnessing several cases of FGM/C Type I and IV in practice.
The project relies on strengthening existing community structures to enable social change from within. This approach raises awareness of the dangers of FGM/C and develops local capacity to take action, in turn accelerating FGM/C abandonment. Considering the multiple forms of FGM/C in the 12 project communities, our intervention was designed to utilise the five-prong tactic which we call the 5As (Alliance, Awareness, Accountability, Advocacy, Adoption). This building block model begins with establishing partnerships with existing community structures to raise awareness of rights-holders and duty-bearers to address knowledge gaps and inspire accountability so that people own the social norm change process. This stage is followed by building local capacity to act and establishing support systems to drive adoption and sustain change. At the end of the project, we recorded an improved supportive and inclusive environment for women and girls.
Despite facing a number of challenges, including high rates of inflation affecting project budgets; poor road networks affecting mobility around the project sites; interruption of community activities due to local elections; and ongoing conflict by the separatist Eastern Security Network group and the Nigerian military; Circuit Pointe identified the following key successes throughout the project:
- Community Engagement: By leveraging various community events and platforms, such as village sensitisation, peoples’ assemblies, SMS blasts, radio broadcasts, and FGM/C documentary shows, the project successfully engaged a large audience and positively influenced people’s attitudes towards FGM/C abandonment. This led to increased awareness, improved perceptions, and a greater willingness to speak up and fight for women’s rights. The project reached 1,061 community members through inter-generational dialogues, and as a result, 789 babies born within the project period were saved from undergoing FGM/C.
Community tracking and whistle-blowing conducted by the StopFGM Monitoring Network showed that a total of 86 FGM/C cases were reported across the 12 communities within the 2 states. 14 FGM/C cases were reported in November and December 2021 while the monitoring network was established. In all of 2022, 70 cases were reported, and 2 cases were reported between January and April 2023. The impact of the existence of community-based monitoring showed an overall reduction in the incidence rate of FGM/C across the project communities.
- Behaviour Change: Through the adoption of the ADKAR (Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement) change model and the implementation of follow-up sessions and campaign initiatives, the project effectively facilitated behaviour change among key influencers and StopFGM Monitoring Agents. These individuals transformed from being practitioners of FGM/C to becoming change agents and advocates against the practice.
Over 2 years, FGM/C is reported to have decreased in 12 communities. 8 of the 12 have enacted and signed new rules and sanctions against FGM/C into law and have taken collective action towards abandonment of the practice. Community members who viewed FGM/C as tradition and culture have moved away from practicing it. FGM abandonment declarations were made across the 12 project communities during peoples’ assemblies, an intergenerational dialogue that brings together, men, women, boys, girls, grandmothers and grandfathers.
- Partnerships and Alliances: The project successfully built strong alliances with traditional authorities and engaged influential community members. These partnerships were crucial in gaining community trust, identifying potential project risks, and achieving project goals. By collaborating with community leaders and key stakeholders, the project created a supportive environment for ending FGM/C, fostering a safer and more inclusive space for women and girls in Imo and Ebonyi States of Nigeria.
90% of the 117 key influencers engaged by the project have issued public statements and demonstrated increased support and leadership to end FGM/C over 2 years. The key influencers have effectively integrated #endFGM initiatives into existing community activities such as women’s meetings, men’s kindred meetings, religious and other community gatherings. Over a six months period, these Church events and community meetings served as the two primary delivery platforms for the campaign, successfully inspiring actions and infusing energy behind a local #endFGM movement. This success underscores the importance of equipping key influencers with the necessary skills to drive change and underscores the need for continued efforts to end FGM/C. Their knowledge, desire, and ability to campaign against FGM/C resulted in sustained outcomes and significant contributions to the abandonment of FGM/C in the project communities.
- Building Capacity: The project successfully built the capacity of multiple stakeholders within the communities, including traditional rulers, cabinet members, community leaders, religious leaders, community-based organizations (CBOs), health workers, and traditional birth attendants (TBAs). This broadened the base of the movement to end FGM/C and enabled the integration of multiple strategies to accelerate the break in the cycle of the practice of FGM/C.
Over 2 years, TBAs are relying less on FGM/C as an income stream, resulting in a 50% reduction of cases. TBAs engaged in the project are now showing opposition to FGM/C and are actively advocating for an end to the practice of FGM/C through peer-to-peer education and awareness-raising sessions and change conversations. 89% of the engaged TBAs no longer practice FGM/C and at-home child delivery service and have transitioned fully to alternative sources of livelihood. The remaining 11% still provide delivery services to pregnant women and nursing mothers, but do not perform FGM/C and have actively transitioned to new business streams.
Overall, these key successes demonstrate the effectiveness of the project’s strategies and approaches in driving positive change. The project has made significant strides in raising awareness, changing attitudes and behaviours, and establishing sustainable partnerships, all of which are essential for achieving long-term success in the fight against FGM/C.
Circuit Pointe will continue to enhance our anti-FGM/C efforts in Nigeria, with a primary focus on rural areas in the southeastern region. Our strategy for ensuring long term sustainability in the region involves providing support to communities that have abandoned the practice through services like counselling, assistance hotlines, and referrals. We will also expand our initiatives to new areas. The introduction of toll-free helplines will facilitate help-seeking without incurring charges, further reinforcing our mission against FGM/C.