TWEET CONFERENCE: PARTNERING WITH CUSTODIANS OF CULTURE AS AGENTS OF CHANGE TOWARDS FGM/C ABANDONMENT – @dareadaramoye, @CAPRITOLU, & @Charles_Claver

Good evening everyone, I welcome you to today’s tweet conference on behalf of my other collegues @dareadaramoye and @Charles_Claver.

Today we shall be dealing with the topic; PARTNERING WITH CUSTODIANS OF CULTURE AS AGENTS OF CHANGE TOWARDS FGM/C ABANDONMENT.

We shall answering your questions from 6:45Pm. So let’s go to the business of today.

Female Genital Mutilation/cutting refers to all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for cultural or other non-medical reasons.

According to WHO; An estimated 200 million girls and women alive today are believed to have been subjected to FGM; but rates of FGM are increasing, a reflection of global population growth.

A key challenge is not only protecting girls who are currently at risk but also ensuring that those to be born in the future will be free from the dangers of the practice.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified four types of FGM:

Type I, also called clitoridectomy: Partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce.

Type II, also called excision: Partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora. The amount of tissue that is removed varies widely from community to community.
Type III, also called infibulation: Narrowing of the vaginal orifice with a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and re-positioning the labia minora and/or the labia majora. This can take place with or without removal of the clitoris.  

Type IV: All other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, for example: pricking, piercing, incising, scraping or cauterization.

In every society there are bound to be people who lead and others to be led. It is a natural phenomenon and a need in every polity including the rural setting.

Every society  has their cultural norms and customs which are the standards upon which the inhabitants of the place are required to follow.

But every human society being unpredictable, there must be those who might out of ignorance or self-esteem want to do things the way they want or like but which does not harmonize with the norms of the society.

This forms the basic reason why there are leaders at all levels of the society so that the leaders or rulers will be showing the normal ways to others.

In Nigeria we have the president and his ministers at the federal level, the governors and commissioners at the state level, the chairman and councilors at the local government level.

The Traditional Rulers and Chiefs at the township level, Village heads and subjects at village level, likewise in the various communities.

The custodians of culture are our fathers traditionally, culturally and customarily.

Custodian of Culture includes; The Traditional Ruler, Chiefs, elders, community and spiritual leaders, formally elected leaders, youth, and warriors. In some communities they have a special group of lawmakers called “Ishiuke” or “Oha” in the Southeast. They are the equivalent of legislators in government.

The institution of traditional rulers is an enduring part of our heritage. It plays a critical role as the custodian of culture and traditions.

Expectedly, our Custodians of Culture are closely linked with the grassroots, and so understand the problems of our people intimately.

I will stop here for my colleague @dareadaramoye to continue. Thank you.

Thank you @CAPRITOLU for that educative section and welcome to the second segment of today’s conference.

The custodians of tradition and culture—not lawmakers—are the main decision makers in so many communities and the implementation of social norms related FGM/C depends on them.

These elders, community and spiritual leaders, formally elected leaders, youth, and warriors wield so much power, influence, and authority in their communities that their cooperation and participation in changing the status quo in their communities is essential.

Hence Custodians of Cultures are very key and important in the abandonment of FGM/C in so many communities because they are usually very influential and key decision makers in their communities. They serve as gate keepers and policy makers…

One of the main responsibility of Custodians of culture is to ensure the good customs and cultures are well preserved and protected.

As the stewards of traditional rites of passage, these gatekeepers pass these rites and cultural values and norms from one generation to the other.

Custodians of culture are great cultural influencers because of their depth of understanding of the culture and traditions.

They live with their people and care for them. They have much extended responsibilities in ensuring there is always peace and unity in the community where we all belong to.

Given their tremendous and unquestioned power within their communities, Custodians of Culture continue to uphold e and promote socio-cultural practices such as FGM/C and child marriage, because they believe that it is in the best interest of their people.

In our efforts towards the abandonment of FGM/C in our generation, the institution Custodians of Culture is a veritable instrument.

If the Custodians of Culture can be convinced to see FGM/C as a traditional harmful practice, it will help FastTrack the abandonment process.

Other importance of these Custodians of Culture are;

  1. They broker in-coming projects and deals for local economic development of their immediate community.
  2. Custodians of Culture can boost the authority of state leaders by ennobling them on regular occasions with sundry traditional titles.
  3. They can help to police the hinterland, overseeing ow-level conflict resolution.
  4. Custodians of Culture can rouse community solidarity and provide administrative services.
  5. Custodians of Culture are the drivers of FGM/C and other traditional practises.

The most successful approaches to FGM/C abandonment begins with advocacy and community dialogue.  The next hthing is education using facts and human rights principles to empower communities to decide for themselves to abandon the practice.

This instils a sense of autonomy and avoids the perception that they are being coerced—or judged. “There is a limit to what you can impose on communities”.

Shifts in social norms occur when communities collectively realign around new ways of thinking about traditional practices and behaviour.

The good thing is that these Custodians of Culture can also act as the driving force behind FGM/C abandonment because they are enormously influential in decision-making of all kinds, reaching down to the community and even family level.

I will stop here for my colleague @Charles_Clever to conclude. Please don’t forget to keep you questions coming in from 6:45pm.

Thank you @dareadaramoye. Good evening all and welcome to the final laps of this conference.

In various communities the largest driving force behind FGM/C abandonment has been its Custodians of culture.

The custodians are enormously influential in decision-making of all kinds and reaching down to the community and even family level.

The custodians of culture decision will help to stimulate a shift in the social norms of a community as a whole, and in networks of intra-marrying communities.

Working through custodians of culture and through existing cultural practices, and through any available communication channel can facilitate the process of change.

Until there is a greater understanding of the minds and worldviews of these gatekeepers of traditions, not much can be done.

When they are approached with respect, and understand the numerous consequences of FGM/C on the individual, family and community, they will support abandonment of the harmful practice of FGM/C.

Firstly, we must understand and admit that Custodians of Culture hold the key to ending female genital mutilation/Cutting and there should be innovative ways of engaging them.  This includes having respectful conversations with elders; getting to understand their fears about ending female genital mutilation/cutting.

The custodians should be asked to suggest solutions from their own perspectives for the negative implications of FGM/C.

Secondly, we must understand that displaying high level of insensitivity for the entire culture of a people can also be counterproductive.

We should engage in process of dialogue with the Custodians of Culture that avoids a blanket condemnation of their social norms.

Rather, the reasons behind the practice, along with its pros and cons, are dissected and debated in light of traditional values and universal principles of human rights.

An example of that is the Izzi clan of Ebonyi state where public declaration of the abandonment of FGM/C was recently achieved.

It all began with three young secondary school girls that  refused to be circumcised.

They  ran away from home to an Anglican  Church; where she was previously educated on the consequences of FGM/C. One of the girls, Njideka, also admitted that she was told in school that FGM/C was harmful. The matter got to Stakeholders on the UNICEF-UNFPA joint program on FGM/C abandonment, especially Child Protection Network (CPN), Ebonyi State.

These stakeholders swung into action immediately to meet with the leaders of this community who are custodians of their Culture. They met the Traditional Rulers and the main custidians called the “Ishiukes’. The leaders were politely approached and they were educated on the consequences of FGM/C a process called community dialogue.

Through a series of consensus building meetings supported by the Joint Programme, elders and other local leaders, including those associated with the Anglican Church, strategized on ways to accelerate FGM/C abandonment, and the Public Declaration took place on 19th June 2017.

While consulting with the Custodians of Culture, , please polite enough not to condemn their culture and tradition even though if if you though you know that it is harful. Be sure you provide an empowering education that fosters in-depth dialogue with these custodians.

After this, there should be an organized diffusion of information by these custodians to their social networks. Then, a collective public declarations organized by theses custodians can be achieved.

Once agreement has been reached on the abandonment of FGM/C a public declaration should be made. A public declaration by the custodians signals that the social norm surrounding FGM/C has shifted.

After a public declaration by the custodians, change tends to become rapid and universal. It is also important to work with the custodians to monitor the abandonment, so that people do not revert to the practice.

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