TWEET CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT: MUSIC: A Powerful Tool for mobilizing Communities to end FGM – 17.10.2019

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) includes all procedures that involve the partial or total removal of external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified FGM into four types, all of which are practiced in Nigeria.

FGM Type I: partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce (Clitoridectomy).

FGM Type II: partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (excision).

FGM Type III: This type is called infibulation and involves narrowing of the vaginal orifice with creation of a covering seal by cutting and appositioning the labia minora and/or the labia majora, with or without excision of the clitoris (infibulation).

Type IV: unclassified – all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for nonmedical purposes, for example, pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterization.

Type IV also includes the practice of “massaging” or applying petroleum jelly, herbal concoctions or hot water to the clitoris to desensitize it or pushing it back into the body, which is common in many parts of Nigeria, especially Imo State.

It is estimated that over 200 million girls and women worldwide are living with the effects of FGM, and every year some 3 million girls and women are at risk of FGM and are therefore exposed to its potential negative health consequences (UNICEF 2016).

FGM is mostly carried out by traditional circumcisers, who play other central roles in communities, such as Traditional Birth Attendants.  

FGM has no known health benefit, and it harms girls and women in many ways. It involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, and interferes with the natural functions of a woman’s body.

The practice of FGM continue to prevail for reasons including; Respect for Tradition, Rite Of Passage, Social Convention, Marriageability, Virginity, Fertility, Chastity and Faithfulness, Cleanliness, Femininity, and Religion.

For more information about FGM you can visit http://new.endcuttinggirls.org/ or https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/female-genital-mutilation.

The “UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on Eliminating FGM: Accelerating Change” is being implemented to end FGM in 16 countries including Nigeria.  It commenced in 2008, and Nigeria joined in 2014. Phase III began in Jan. 2018 and will end by Dec. 2021.

 The UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on FGM is playing a mammoth role in achieving Target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goal, which calls for the elimination of all harmful practices by 2030, under Goal 5 of the SDGs.

FGM reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes. This aspect, and the fact that FGM is an embedded sociocultural practice, has made its complete elimination extremely challenging.

In Nigeria, “UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on Eliminating FGM: Accelerating Change” has adopted ARTs and Entertainment (Theatre, Music, Nollywood, Creative competitions, etc) as tools for the elimination of FGM.

Today, I will be leading us through a conversation on how music is a powerful tool to

Joan Baez, a folk singer and activist, once said that “Music is probably the only medium that really does cross all boundaries, and all languages, and all countries”.

Music is limitless in its power and in its reach. It has the power to ignite the flame of change in the minds of hundreds of thousands of people at once.

In his paper on music, gender and globalization, Luis Lemos said music is known to be one of the most visible forms of artistic expression through which traditional patriarchal values in society can be contested and challenged.

Music is present among every people, across ages, gender and at all points in life. From the songs we played with as kids, lullabies, birthdays, ABC for beginners, funerals, national anthems; music is at the heart of almost everything people do.

Walter Freeman in his essay on Music’s neurobiological role in social bonding stated that “neither conventional neuroscience nor aesthetics can explain the deep emotional power of music to move humans to action”

Freeman explained the neurobiological reasons why music has the capacity to act as such a powerful force for social change and how this capacity can be utilized in a positive way. You can read more about this here.

Music has the power to infiltrate the consciousness of an entire generation of people and influence their action through time. Music can unite groups and help them stay strong together to achieve a common goal.

Music has the biocultural power to spread positive emotions, carry meaningful messages, and unite large groups of people under a common cause.

Music can help make a group of persons aim towards a common goal, giving them a shared vision, a unity of purpose.

Martin Luther King Jr. noted that music gave unity to movements and invigoriated them in a “most significant way”

Message and Protest songs have been used in Nigeria and globally to educate, evoke emotions, and spur social/behavioral changes. Names like Fela Kuti and Bob Marley come easily to mind here.

More recently, artists like Patoranking using songs like “No Kissing Baby” send messages around gender issues. This particular track encourages men to seek consent with a woman before anything else, thereby discouraging rape.

Imagine having him Patoranking or any other popular musical artist) include lines on FGM abandonment in his music, how instrumental it would be in bringing about the social norm change required to .

For music to be an effective tool of change among a people, it has to be tailored to them; the melody, words, and message of the song has to evoke feelings so that it is memorable and ‘stuck in the head’ of the audience.

Message songs composed by school children in an Ibo community will more likely be effective within that community and other Ibos than it would in a Yoruba or Efik community.

See this video where Students from Osun state bid farewell to FGM in a captivating song and another inspirational song composed by a students from Imo State.

  Music is so powerful that one song, one right song, about FGM can reach and compel millions of people in Nigeria and across the world, causing social actors to unite under a common cause to #endcuttinggirls. 

The capacity of music to entertain is what gives it the ability to unify and alter the brain states of humans.

The use of music in communities for rituals such as coronation, naming ceremonies, and rites of passage events including FGM predates literacy. Music therefore can also be used to promote positive changes in these communities.


Song writing competition for in and out of school youths within the “UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on Eliminating FGM: Accelerating Change” focal communities would help develop unique music for such communities.

Creating play songs for growing children with the message to end FGM will embed this message in the fabric of the DNA of the next generation. I know I still remember songs I played to as a child, the only definition I remember from my junior secondary school days are the ones I made into songs. ‘Social Studies’ was a bore for me so I added music to my notes.

Dance dramas with compelling wordless music can be created by community members. This kind of music has the power to make audience pay attention and get drawn into the message, owning the message as they have to put words to the drama and music themselves. Music has always been a powerful educational tool. We have established in previous topics on this conference that education is a vital key in ending FGM in this generation. Here is a link to the transcript on the conferences edition on education.

Music as a tool of change is an inexhaustible topic, but we will have to stop here to give room for questions.

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