Challenging social norms and behaviours to end female genital mutilation in Nigeria


A woman faith leader is standing up and talking to a group of women in a yard, outside
Strengthening/empowering the women’s group in the four local government areas. Credit: CWSI

Female genital mutilation (FGM) remains widely practiced in Nigeria. The country has an estimated 19.9 million survivors, the third highest national total in the world.[1]  

With the support of the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women (UN Trust Fund) under the EU/UN Spotlight Initiative, the Centre for Women Studies and Intervention (CWSI), a women-led organization, is running a project in Cross River State, in the south of Nigeria, to change harmful cultural norms and behaviours linked to various forms of discrimination and violence against women and girls, including FGM.  

Gender-transformative approach 

As part of its prevention activities, the project has ensured the active participation of both men and women to achieve a shift from patriarchy to gender equality in norms and behaviours through explicitly communicating about the root causes of such norms; these are key components in the gender-transformative approach that CWSI implemented. The approach has informed CWSI to mobilize a wide range of stakeholders (police, human rights defenders, community leaders, youth and others) - through capacity building and human rights training, community-led intergenerational dialogues and sensitization programmes - to take ownership of the project and feel committed to its success. 

Throughout 2022, CWSI carried out multiple awareness-raising activities at the community level to challenge gender stereotypes and address the root causes of violence, reaching over 660 individuals. 

“The use of a gender-transformative approach had a tremendous impact on … the project’s results,” explains Chinyere Obinna, CWSI Project Officer. 

Working with faith-based and traditional leaders 

As FGM is a practice associated with deeply rooted harmful stereotypes, norms and customs, widespread in places where customary laws are legitimate sources of law, putting an end to it requires engaging with specific leaders who can influence changes on these fronts. CWSI mobilized traditional and faith-based leaders to help promulgate customary laws that better protect women and girls and end the impunity enjoyed by perpetrators of gender-based violence.  

In 2022, thanks to CWSI’s advocacy efforts, a customary law to end FGM in the Ekajuk Kingdom of Ogoja was enacted, with traditional leaders ensuring its compliance on the ground. In Boki local government area, new customary laws were adopted by 30 communities, promoting the rights of women and girls, prohibiting other forms of harmful practices such as forced and early marriage, and allowing the appointment, for the first time, of a female chief to the traditional decision-making council in Boki local government area, Bekwarra. 

Traditional leaders, along with law enforcement agents and representatives of civil society organizations, are also receiving training on women’s rights to equip them with the skills and knowledge to monitor and report human rights violations.  

Resilience to crises 

During the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, with the UN Trust Fund’s support and additional EU/UN Spotlight Initiative COVID-19 funding, CWSI adapted swiftly and developed a long-term community-led response strategy to meet the specific, emerging needs of women and girls, including those experiencing intersecting forms of discrimination.  

For instance, they established trained community frontliners to provide counselling to women and girl survivors in each community, reaching over 230 women and girls. Similarly, the organization introduced community volunteer groups, including paralegals and human rights advocates, to provide immediate intervention in case of violence against women and girls. These volunteers are trained to become advocates and immediate first responders in times of crisis, even beyond the project’s life. 

According to Chinyere Obinna, the organization is now equipped to “adapt and deploy quick and flexible responses to meet the challenges of project implementation on violence against women and girls during emergencies”.  

“Organizational resilience is key to ensure the success and sustainability of initiatives to end violence against women and girls” explains Ines Finchelstein, Portfolio Manager at the UN Trust Fund. She adds: “Long-term and flexible funding, as the UN Trust Fund provides, are critical elements to building such resilience, as they allow organizations like CWSI to keep delivering results efficiently even in fast changing and crisis environments.” 

[1] UNICEF (2022).  

To learn more about global efforts to end female genital mutilation, please consult the Report of the Secretary General (2022) to which the UN Trust Fund contributed.