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THE INFLUENCE OF MEDIA CAMPAIGN IN THE ERADICATION OF FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION PRACTICE IN SELECTED COMMUNITIES OF SOUTH-SOUTH NIGERIA
- Background to the Study
Every media content obviously aims at influencing the attitude and behaviour of its target audience. To achieve this, therefore, media practitioners must understand the psychographic and demographic realities of the target audience. Ipso facto, they must appreciate the prevailing culture of the people and the most useful and persuasive approach to use in order to influence attitude.
It, therefore, suffices that a strong relationship exists between mass communication and culture. Hence, Baran (2002:6) definition of mass communication as “the process of creating shared learning between the mass media and their audiences”. In line with its informative, educative and socialization functions among others, the media socializes the people into accepted norms and values as well as necessitates a change in cultural pattern where necessary, since human behaviour as well as culture is dynamic.
Also, in line with the responsibility of the mass media, various campaigns are mounted to educate, inform, enlighten, warn, persuade and even dissuade the heterogeneous, critical and sophisticated audience. In this light, the mass media have been vocal and visible in recent times, as in time past, in the campaign against societal ills and harmful traditional practices. One of such harmful traditional practices, the mass media have repeatedly campaigned against is the issue of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). To this end, the mass media, arguably, have repeatedly given coverage to all efforts aimed at fighting against FGM.
What then is Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)? FGM involves the partial or total removal of genitalia which the United Nations (UN) and the World Health Organization (WHO), say is a flagrant violation of the girls and women’s rights. Experts say the practice has no medical benefits, but can lead to serious injury, infection and death. It can take away sexual pleasure for women and cause complications in child birth. “It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women” says the World Health Organization (WHO).
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a cultural practice that started in Africa approximately 2000 years ago. It is primarily a cultural practice not a religious practice. In order to eliminate the practice, one must eliminate the belief that a girl will not become a woman without this procedure.
According to Nigeria Demographic and Health survey 2008, 30% of females have suffered from one form or the other of FGM in almost all states of the federation. Interestingly, this practice has continued to attract local and global attention and criticism. Hence, the media has within the dictate of its social responsibilities, continued to air and publish contents critical to the obnoxious cultural practice.
However, there seems to be a dearth of empirical research evidence on whether these media campaigns have actually succeeded in yielding desired dividends that is influencing the attitude of women against FGM. This situation, obviously account for this study which seeks to measure the degree of influence of these anti FGM media campaign in the elimination of the practice.
There have been divergent opinions on whether the mass media campaign against FGM, is succeeding in influencing the attitude of Nigerians. On their part, Omenugha and Ekwugha (2008:12), argue that “despite the wide spread information against FGM, it is still waxing strong in some parts of the country”. This issue, therefore, is not on whether the media engage in persuasive campaign at sensitizing the society on the dangers of this cultural practice, but on the actual effect of such on behaviour.
This, therefore, brings to the fore, such issues as whether the language use of such media campaign is understandable to the target audience, or whether indeed the target audience do have genuine access to such media campaign. These variables would be studied in this research.
For the radio, the issue of FGM intermittently qualifies as the issue of discussion in Radio Nigeria Network programme titled “Health Watch”. This programme comes on air every Monday by 5:30pm. For instance, on September 20, 2010 and October 18, 2010, FGM was the topic of discussion in the said programme. One interesting part of this programme, is that it usually features professionals as resource persons. In the said programme, Dr Sa’ad Idris and Dr Amir Yola (both are fistula surgeon) were used as resource persons to provide detailed explanation on the realities of FGM as well as provide answers to questions raised by the audience.
More so, daily newspapers have continued to crusade against the practice of FGM through their news reportage, well researched features stories and thought provoking editorials. For instance, the Punch newspaper on March 14, 2013 carried a story titled “Niger constitutes panel on Female Genital Mutilation”. A similar story was carried in the news page of Daily Times of March 13, 2013 with the headline “Gov. Aliyu Sets up Committee on Gay marriage and Female Genital Mutilation.” In the same vein, Thisday of May 23, 2012 and Guardian of October 18, 2010, carried stories headlined “Experts Decry female Genital mutilation” and “Stakeholders Raise Alarm over FGM” respectively.
The Nation newspaper was not left out as it carried a story titled “NGO Sensitizes against Female Genital Mutilation” on its November 13, 2010 edition. Perhaps, to show how globalized the issue of FGM is, the Thisday newspaper again published a story in its February 11, 2013 edition titled “Health: UNFPA, UNICEF; Call for End to Female Genital Mutilation.”
The issue of FGM has obviously gone beyond the geographical frontiers of regions to gain the interest and alter concern of global development partners. In this regard, the sixth of February every year, has been designated as the International Day for Zero Tolerance of Female Genital Mutilation. In the same vein, USAID officially incorporated the elimination of FGM into its development agenda. It, therefore, suffices that the media have succeeded at galvanizing support and mobilizing development partners for the elimination of FGM practice.
However, if the practice has continued or remained on the increase in the face of these media campaigns, it, therefore, underscores the fact that cultural attitudes are not easily changed. This, therefore, brings to the fore the need to explore the involvement of other forms of communication other than the mass media, for the purpose of achieving desired result. Herein lies the relevance of development communication approaches which “involves the use of all forms of communication in the reporting, publicizing and promotion of development at all levels of a society” (Edeani 1993:30).
Drawing the line between development communication and development journalism, Okunna (2002:293) notes thus: “Development journalism refers to the use of mass communication (the mass media) in the promotion of development. Development communication on the other hand, is broader in scope and is the use of all forms of communication in the development process”.
Hence, while development journalism is restricted to the use of the mass media, development communication combines mass media use and all local and traditional forms of communication like market place, town crier, visits, church, the family and village square. Ebeze (2002:29), Ukonu and Wogu (2006: 16) and Chukwu (2006:111).
It is therefore permissive to contend that the arguable elitist leaning of mass media messages may not result in change of attitude by the ruralites, since they would arguably prefer known credible traditional media to the mass media. It, therefore, suffices that rather than depend on the mass media, they depend on their traditional rulers, religions leaders and other opinion leaders in the village. Arguably, therefore, the ruralites do not depend on the media for “accurate information”.
This also underscores the complexity of changing an existing culture. Culture has been variously defined. According to Okunna and Omenugha (2012:274), culture is “a shared attribute of a human group. This may include their physical environment, tools, religion, customs, and practices and their whole way of life”. People usually hold on tenaciously to their cultural ideologies (no matter how irrelevant). This obviously stands as a barrier to their believability of media campaigns against such practices like FGM.
This stance perhaps lay credence to the Selective Influence Theories which permit the media audience to select what media content to expose himself/herself to and whether to perceive it as true or not and consequently retain it or do away with it. (Wogu: 2008:120-123). Hence, even though the media has succeeded in setting agenda for public debate, Leon Festinger’s Cognitive, Dissonance Theory (Ozo-Mekuri and Kasarachi, 2006:242-243) and Uses and Gratification Theory (Ozo-Mekuri and Kasarachi 2006:228-233), here position the target audience as active members who determine the degree of media influence, not otherwise. Simply put, it is the media audience member that determines the degree of influence a media message would have on him.
Therefore, the way rural women in the South-South region of Nigeria perceive media campaign on FGM determine the degree of input such media campaign would have on them. This assertion would only hold true if they are in the first place constantly exposed to such media messages. However, if they don’t either because of constant power failure to listen to radio or watch television or poor economic status to buy newspapers, they would only depend on social community interaction on FGM which would encourage rather than discourage the practice.
- Statement of the Problem
Observation reveals that despite increased mass media campaign against FGM, the practice still prevails in several communities of Nigeria. Corroborating this view, Omenugha and Ekwugha (2008:121) note thus “despite the wide spread information against FGM, it is still strong in some parts of the country”.
This research, therefore, seeks to measure empirically, the degree of influence of media campaign against FGM, in the eradication of the practice. The research, would however, focus on selected communities in the South-South geo-political zone of Nigeria. The study is important because if ignored, the desired aim of anti-FGM media campaign may not be achieved.
There seems to also be a wide gap in literature on anti-FGM media campaign. Despite, several studies that have been done on media campaigns and FGM, none specifically has been directed towards measuring the degree of influence of anti-FGM media campaign on the eradication of FGM practice. This research seeks to fill this vacuum.
1.3 Objectives of the Study
The general objective of this study is to examine the influence of media campaign against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) on the eradiation of FGM practice in selected communities of South-South Nigeria.
Specifically, the study is meant to:
- Find out the frequency at which rural women in the South-South geo- political zone of Nigeria expose themselves to the anti-FGM media campaigns.
- Find out if rural women in the South-South geo-political zone understand the language used and the content in such media campaigns.
- Find out if such rural women believe the substance of such media campaigns.
- Find out if exposure to such media campaigns has in any way influenced their attitudes against the practice of FGM.
- Research Questions
The following research questions would guide this study:
- What is the frequency of exposure of women in South-South Nigeria to anti-FGM media campaign?
- To what extent do such South-South rural women understand the language use and message content of such anti-FGM media campaigns?
- How do the women perceive (believe) the message of those anti-FGM media campaigns?
- What is the overall influence of such anti-FGM media campaign on the attitude of such South-South women as regards FGM practice?
- Significance of the Study
This study is significant in the following ways:
Firstly, to the mass communication student, it would help evoke interest in further research in this area. Only selected communities from the South-South geopolitical zone of Nigeria would be studied in this research. Mass Communication students can replicate this study in other geopolitical zones of Nigeria.
Secondly, it would encourage media professionals to double their effort in the campaign against harmful cultural practices including Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). This they can achieve, by creating more programs was aimed at combating the practice.
Also, to development partners, it presents the empirical data on achievement so far and what need to be done. This study would go a long way in helping them r