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Former traditional practitioner helps moving towards the abandonment of female genital cutting in Niger

© UNICEF/Niger/2008/Bisin
Through UNICEF and the Nigerien Government’s combined efforts for social change, former barber Issa Adamou became aware of the harmful consequences of FGM/C and engaged in sensitising other barbers in the region of Maradi, Niger.

MARADI, Niger, 6 February 2009 – "I was 17 when I got married. I was young and I wouldn’t accept sexual intercourse with my husband. His family was convinced that I was possessed. They decided to take me to the village barber’s to save me from evil spirits", Hinda Atou  recalls.

Today, aged 25, the young woman remembers the intervention she underwent eight years ago: dangouria."I was so terrified that I did not feel the pain during that very moment. But it hurt a lot during the following weeks. And after a while, the pain stopped."   

A traditional practice with harmful consequences

"Dangouria" is a customary practice in Niger whose origin, similarly to other female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) practices, cannot be easily established. "Dangouria" in Haussa language, or "Habizé" in Zarma language, means « cotton seed ».

In many communities, especially in the South-East of the country, dangouria is perceived as a seed which obstructs the new–born’s vagina. In others, it is a membrane which prevents young girls that have married early to have sexual intercourse. In the latter case, the intervention, conducted by traditional barbers, or "wanzams", consists in widening the girl’s vagina. Niger has one of the world’s highest incidence of early marriage: nearly 60 per cent of girls aged 15-19 years are married.

"Very often, « dangouria » is linked with early marriage. The body of a young girl that has married too early is still immature. She therefore often refuses sexual intercourse. For her husband and his family, if the girl refuses, it is because she is frigid, or because she is possessed by evil spirits, and a membrane blocks the access to her vagina. The belief is that by cutting this membrane (the hymen membrane), she can be saved", explains Aïcha Ichié, a mid-wife and a member of the Nigerien Committee on Traditional Practices (CONIPRAT), a partner of UNICEF.

"This intervention is essentially conducted by a traditional barber and often leads to hemorrhage. I have seen many women arrive at the hospital suffering from severe hemorrhage following this type of intervention."

Female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) is used to define several practices that consist in removing totally or partially a girl’s external genital organs.  Among other consequences, new-borns, girls and women that have been victims of a mutilation or excision are exposed to significant risks for their health. The practice also increases maternal and child mortality risks.

The forms that are practiced in Niger, in particular in the regions of Tillabery, Niamey, and Diffa, are the clitoridectomy (partial or total removal of the clitoris), excision (removal of the clitoris, with partial or total removal of the small vaginal lips), which are conducted by female traditional practiioner, and dangouria – by traditional barbers. FGM/C is a competitive and well-paid service in some communities; the status of the practitioner in the community and his/her income directly result from the interventions that have been carried out. 
A violation of women’s fundamental rights

"Today, I have two children. One of them is a girl. I do not want her to undergo this intervention", says Hinda Atou.
 "Female genital mutilation/cutting is a violation of women’s fundamental rights», says Akhil Iyer, UNICEF Niger Representative. "It is a discriminatory practice that is contrary to the right to equal chances, to health, to the right not to be exposed to traditional practices that are harmful to one’s healths, and to the right to a choice when it comes to reproductive health."

Thanks to joint efforts by the Government, UNICEF Niger, and their partners, the rate of FGM/C among women aged 15 to 49 has decreased by more than half, from 5 per cent in 1998 to 2.2 per cent in 2006. In 2003, the Government passed a law, with UNICEF’s support, to penalize the practice of FGM/C in Niger.

Since 2000, several sensitisation campaigns were conducted within communities, promoting dialogue, in collaboration with traditional and religious chiefs; female traditional practitioners and barbers were identified, sensitised and provided with new knowledge and skills.

To date, 122 female traditional practitioners in more than 40 villages, and hamlets in the regions of Tillabery, Diffa and Niamey have been trained and given new skills.

Issa Adamou, chief of the traditional barbers of the twon of Maradi, is one of the 40 barbers that have been sensitised and have themselves become trainer in the region of Maradi, since 2004.

"I learnt all about the barber trade when I was 20. It was a tradition in my family", Issa Adamou explains. "I do not remember how many dangouria I performed in my whole life, because they even brought me young girls from Nigeria . I never experienced any incident, but I heard of women developing problems many times. I was making a good living with that trade: between 20,000 and 30,000 Francs CFA (about US$ 60) by intervention. But todaythere is a low that forbids this practice, people are aware of it."

"The world has changed. Future generations will no longer be trained in my trade. This is very good."

by Sandra Bisin







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