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FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION (FGM): PIONEERING WOMEN’S NIGHTMARES…

“THE CLITORIS IS A GIFT FROM GOD, WHY CUT IT”, says a statement on a poster hanging by the door of Safehaven International, one of the non-governmental organizations in Nigeria working on creating awareness of the dangers of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and the passage of a bill to stop the barbaric practice.

Margaret Onah, 48 and the founder of Safehaven International, has been through this traumatic action and has vowed to keep fighting for women’s right and health. Her organization is committed both to going into various communities to enlighten women on the dangers associated with FGM as well as organizing advocacy visits with lawmakers to ensure the eradication of this traditional yet harmful practice. One of the approaches they are using to fight FGM is the Alternative rite of passage, which is a critically sensitive approach, one that respects the value of tradition but rejects the violation associated with it.

She recounts her ordeal: “I am from Cross River State, Nigeria. I’m the first child in a family of nine children, seven girls and two boys. All of us girls were subjected to this inhumane treatment. I remembered as a young girl of twelve crying my eyes out when no one seemed to be listening, and I also remembered hearing the women say, “we all went through it, now you need to go through it too”. After the procedure, I was depressed, had psychological trauma and I encountered difficulty with urination. Most times, I would be uncomfortable but refused going to ease myself because of the severe pain and agony urination caused. Each time, the question I kept asking myself was, must I, my sisters and every other girl go through this depression?”

MY EXPERIENCE
My story is not unlike Margaret’s and countless other Nigerian women. Recently, I went to the hospital and I was shocked to my bones when the doctor examined me and asked questions like, “Were you circumcised?” I answered, “No, why do you ask doctor”, and he said, “Your clitoris isn’t there”. I was dumbfounded because I never knew I had been a victim all this time, perhaps, mine was done when I was a child. The incident got me thinking because I had had reproductive health issues and I wondered if it contributed to such health problems. I’m still wondering why I should go through things that have a potentially devastating impact on the girl child and womanhood. These are the sort of things that give women psychological and emotional trauma. God has been helping me get over that shock.

About fifty-five percent of women I interviewed have had one of the FGM procedures, and they all recounted their experience as being an inhumane barbaric violation of women’s rights and saw it as a practice that must be stopped.
FGM comprises all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. It has no health benefits and harms girls and women in many ways.
It involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue and hence interferes with the natural function of girls' and women's bodies. The practice causes severe pain and has several immediate and long-term health consequences, including difficulties in childbirth that may cause dangers to the child. Usually performed by an elder woman under unsanitary conditions, the procedure is done with scissors, razor, blade, or knives without anesthetic. Once completed, the incision is usually held closed by thorns, and the girl’s legs are tied closed for three weeks.
Such debilitating practices are as brutal as they sound and lead me to believe that this is affecting me and thousands of other women in Nigeria emotionally and psychologically and calls for an immediate action.

ATTITUDES AND BELIEFS:
The Women's Centre for Peace and Development (WOPED) has concluded that Nigerians continue this practice out of adherence to a cultural dictate that uncircumcised women are promiscuous, unclean, unmarriageable, physically undesirable, and/or at risk to themselves and their children, especially during childbirth. One traditional belief is that if a male child’s head touches the clitoris during childbirth, the child will die, this has actually instigated the carrying out the practice.

THE PROCEDURE
FGM is carried out with varying levels of severity depending on the community and religion and involves high degrees of violence against women in Nigeria.
Type I, called the clitoridectomy, is the least severe form of the practice and involves the removal of the hood of the clitoris or part of the clitoris itself.
Type II is a more severe practice involving the removal of the clitoris along with partial or total excision (removal) of the labia minora (the inner vaginal lips).
Type III is known as infibulation and is the most severe form of FGM. It involves the removal of the clitoris, the labia minora and the adjacent medial part of the labia majora, and the stitching of the vaginal opening leaving an opening the size of a pinhead to allow for the flow of urine and menstrual blood. The girl’s or woman’s legs are generally bound together from the hip to the ankle so she remains immobile for approximately forty days to allow for the formation of scar tissue.
Type IV includes the introduction of corrosive substances into the vagina. This form is practiced to a much lesser extent than the other forms in Nigeria.
These procedures can take place anytime from a few days after birth to a few days after death. In Edo State, for example, the procedure is performed within a few days after birth. In some very traditional communities, if a deceased woman is discovered to have never had the procedure, it may be performed on her before burial. In some communities it is performed on pregnant women during the birthing process and accounts for much of the high morbidity and mortality rates. It varies among ethnic groups in Nigeria.

IMPLICATIONS
FGM does irreparable harm. It can result in death through severe bleeding, pain and trauma and overwhelming infections. It is routinely traumatic.
• It has dangerous health implications because of the unsanitary conditions in which it is generally practiced.

• It is a fundamental violation of human rights because it is carried out at a very young age when there is no possibility of individual consent.

• Circumcised infants, girls and women face irreversible lifelong health risks, among other consequences. Harmful effects include:

• Failure to heal • Abscess formation • Cysts • Excessive growth of scar tissue • Urinary tract infection • Painful sexual intercourse • Hepatitis and other blood-borne diseases • Reproductive tract infections • Pelvic inflammatory diseases • Infertility • Painful menstruation • Obstructed labor
• Chronic urinary tract obstruction/bladder stones • Increased risk of bleeding and infection during childbirth. • Increased susceptibility to HIV/AIDS.

INCIDENCE:

With over 250 ethnic groups and an estimated population of 150 million, a national estimate of this practice is very difficult to obtain. The most recent survey is a 1999 Demographic and Health Survey of 8,205 women nationally, which estimates that 25.1 percent of the women of Nigeria have undergone one of these procedures.

According to a 1997 World Health Organization (WHO) study, an estimated 30.625 million women and girls, or about 60 percent of the nation’s total female population, have undergone one of these practices. A 1996 United Nations Development Systems study reported a similar number of 32.7 million Nigerian women affected. According to a Nigerian non-governmental organization (NGO) coalition study, thirty-three percent of all households practice one of these forms.

However, the actual incidence may be much higher than these figures as stated by leaders of the Nigerian National Committee (also known as the Inter-African Committee of Nigeria on Harmful Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children [IAC]) who have been conducting a state-by-state study of the practice.

Another survey carried out by the National Baseline Survey of Positive and Harmful Traditional Practices Affecting Women and Girls in Nigeria (Egunjobi: 2000), reports that the highest rates of FGM were found in Osun State (98.7per cent), Oyo State (96.8 per cent) and Ondo State (91.6 per cent), followed by Edo (74 per cent). In the southeast, the highest rate was found in Imo State (95.4 per cent); Abia and Anambra have rates of 82.4 percent and 75.5 percent, respectively. Significant rates were also recorded in the South-South, Cross River (93 per cent), Delta State (91.4 per cent), Akwa Ibom State (65 per cent), and Rivers (58.3 per cent). In Kano State, the rate is 55.5 per cent, in Kaduna State, it is 36.5 per cent and in Jigawa, it is 32 per cent.

Unfortunately, this traditional harmful practice has high prevalence in Africa but also happens on other continents. Nigeria was one of five countries that sponsored a resolution at the forty-sixth World Health Assembly calling for eradication of harmful traditional practices, including FGM.

Most NGOs working on this issue claim that helping traditional communities change their cultural folklore is necessary to end this practice. Proverbs, songs, theatrical and dance performances, and other cultural activities have reinforced this practice for centuries. The NGOs also point out that efforts to end the practice will fail unless Nigerian men learn that uncircumcised women are marriageable, will not be promiscuous, and are not poor risks as mothers.

HOW TO ELIMINATE FGM

• Call for legislative provisions and stern measures to prohibit the practice
• Development of alternative sources of income for circumcisers
• Strong advocacy campaigns against the practice nationwide by working with the media on information, education and communication campaigns that have an impact on the public’s understanding of, and societal attitudes to, FGM

In conclusion, I would say, the effect of FGM on me is devastating, I may not have had gynecological issues if I wasn’t circumcised and I’m trying hard to get over the hazards associated with it. Countless of other women are going through what I’m going through right now or even worse as a result of FGM and this calls for its urgent eradication. The eradication of FGM also calls for urgent attention in the context of HIV/AIDS as women are most vulnerable, the use of contaminated instrument in the operation could be an important mode of transmission.
The risks are evidenced from the fact that the operation is mainly carried out by practitioners of traditional medicine and by traditional birth attendants using unsanitary knives and other instruments in generally unhygienic conditions.
The transmission of HIV/AIDS is an obvious danger, alongside the usual gynecological and psychological problems associated with the practice.
These multiple risks are compounded in the case of infibulations by the need to cut open the infibulated area for childbirth. Carried out with crude, unsterilized instruments and without anesthesia, the reopening operation causes intense pain and frequently results in infection and heavy bleeding and causing maternal & child mortality.

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous new media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.

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Comments

amiesissoho's picture

Treasureland, you touch my

Treasureland, you touch my heart on choosing to write on the topic of FGM. The challenges are great but with commitment we shall overcome the barriers. I respect your viewpoint on FGM. With a deeper understanding of the culture around it, I do not refer to FGM as barbaric, No mother would voluntarily subject a vulnerable child to it if it were not for the social pressures. Also in my part of Africa, most people associated it to the religion of Islam until recently when peolpe are becoming aware that it has nothing to do with religion, in fact it presdates Islam.
once again thanks for writing on it.

Amie

treasureland's picture

FGM is really an issue...

Thank you Amiesissoho, FGM is really an issue, even a lot of women went through it but do not know they did and somehow, it is affecting them now. Women should please don't succumb to the pressures of giving their girl child in for FGM.

CHEERS

Ifesinachi

amiesissoho's picture

Treasureland, you touch my

Treasureland, you touch my heart on choosing to write on the topic of FGM. The challenges are great but with commitment we shall overcome the barriers. I respect your viewpoint on FGM. With a deeper understanding of the culture around it, I do not refer to FGM as barbaric, No mother would voluntarily subject a vulnerable child to it if it were not for the social pressures. Also in my part of Africa, most people associated it to the religion of Islam until recently when peolpe are becoming aware that it has nothing to do with religion, in fact it predates Islam.
once again thanks for writing on it.

Amie

Leslie Stoupas's picture

Very informative!

Thank you for sharing such a broad array of information on this practice from both an insiders and an outsiders perspective. It is helpful to understand what the discussions about the subject are really about!

Leslie Stoupas

treasureland's picture

Thank you Leslie

It's really a broad array of information. We wish to have it perpetually stopped.

CHEERS

Ifesinachi

usha kc's picture

Dear Ify, you shared very

Dear Ify, you shared very touchy and important issues that women are facing in your country. we women are facing such cruel practices in the name of culture.
You raised the issue, I salute your courage sista.

treasureland's picture

Thank you Usha KC

Its indeed touchy, as I'm yet to get of the shock from what the doctor to me.

CHEERS

Ifesinachi

Okeny-Lucia's picture

Female Genital

And as if the world is not yet done with women ,comes a modern way of mutilation that was once highlighted in Europe among the Somali women immigrants.It is loss of dignity.But we fight on.This is great work treasureland.

Lucia Buyanza
Reproductive Health

My dear, we will keep speaking until all forms of FGM is abolished.

CHEERS

Ifesinachi

Stella Paul's picture

I had difficulty reading

This is an issue that makes reading difficult because I keep imaging it happening to me and I cringe. How difficult will it be for those who actually experience that? I am glad you are an unaware victim because you don't remember the physical pain. But it must be hurting inside. I am yet to understand the logic behind it all - the subject being alien to this part of the world. But what I understand is that its absurd, crude and inhumane. Fight it on!

Stella Paul
Twitter: @stellasglobe

treasureland's picture

Dear Stella

Stella we will fight it to a standstill, God willing.

CHEERS

Ifesinachi

amiesissoho's picture

I still remember the pain, I

I still remember the pain, I was 10 years old. That is why i am part of the GAMCOTRAP campaign against FGM in my country. We deal with in from the very culture it is being claimed and thanks we are witnessing change taking place.

Amie

You can imagine the pain. I may not have remember the pain I went through because mine was done when I was a child, but I STILL feel the psychological pain knowing i went through it. God will help us.

CHEERS

Ifesinachi

Celine's picture

Good Exposition

Hi Ify,

Thank you for the exposition on FGM, especially in the Akwa Ibom and Edo states, where tradition is highly upheld in Nigeria.

I agree with Amie that our mothers subjected us to that because of pressures from society and the myths such as promiscuity, death for baby hitting the clitoris, etc.
One good thing is that with the sensitization going on and association of FGM with diseases such as HIV/AIDS, parents no longer see any reason for subjecting girl-children to the obnoxious practice. Even a Traditional Birth Attendant who lives around my area, I confronted last time told me that she no longer carry out the 'operation' on girls, saying that it is outdated.
I think that if our present generation of mothers are strongly determined to do away with the practice, it is as good as a forgone. Sensitization go on these days and thank goodness for the NGOs you pointed at.

Regards,
Celine

My dear Celine, it is due to pressures that made our mothers subject us to such things but now mothers are learning not to succumb to such pressures though it's still very much happening in most rural communities. Traditional birth attendants (TBAs) in the urban areas are trying hard to do away with FGM due to the high level of awareness from NGOs but those of their counterparts in the rural areas still find pleasure in it. Lets keep speaking up.

CHEERS

Ifesinachi

Chinemu's picture

It's inhuman

This practice is inhuman, I can even feel the pain as i read the story, I can imagine what the women who have undergone this feel. What are the legislatures doing about this in your country? For me this act is criminal, something needs to be done.

Thanks for sharing, We need to keep fighting

treasureland's picture

Truly inhumane...Chinemu!!!

My sister this was what some women went through and some others still going through it now. We must all speak against all forms of violence against women.

CHEERS

Ifesinachi

noreens's picture

I could actually feel my body

I could actually feel my body pull away from my laptop as I was reading, as if it was happening to me, and as if I could feel the pain. What an awful thing to go through. Good article, Treasureland

treasureland's picture

Thanks so much Noreens.

Thank you for your comment. The pain could actually be enormous that's why we must SPEAK and keep SPEAKING against all forms of violence against women. CHEERS.

Ifesinachi

ikirimat's picture

Lets keep shouting

Your story is touching, especially your experience. Today a watched a documentary on FGM and the expression of the women where as 'painful' as your description. So lets keep shouting until this deadly practices stop.

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."


treasureland's picture

Ikirimat my dear,

My dear, my experience is still shocking to me, I even had to call my mum in emotional pain asking her why she had to succumb to such a thing.

Thanks for your comment.

CHEERS

Ifesinachi

Rachael Maddock-Hughes's picture

Thank You

Thank you very much for sharing your experience with FGM and enlightening us on the situation faced by so many women in Nigeria and throughout the world. I think FGM was a popular topic in the last ten years, but has been losing steam in the mainstream media. I'm glad you brought this to our attention.

One thing that I would have liked to have heard more about, is the alternative initiation rights you briefly mention in the beginning. I would be nice to know what specific efforts have been successful in helping to reduce the practice of FGM. I know Tostan in Senegal has also been very successful in reducing FGM. You may want to check them out!

Cheers,

Rachael

"In every human heart there are a few passions that last a lifetime. They're with us from the moment we're born, and nothing can dilute their intensity." Rob Brezny

treasureland's picture

Thank you Rachael

Hello Rachael thanks for your comment, this is an issue that people thought has stopped, but it's still very much happening and it's absurd. Presently, Safehaven International is one of the NGOs ensuring an alternative programs that will supersede and substitute for the traditional FGM practice, such program is the Alternative rite of passage ceremony

Alternative rite of passage is a critically sensitive approach- one that respects the value of tradition but rejects the violation associated with it. The law makes Female Genital Mutilation illegal but it will take a long time for it to be effective. In the meantime, we need to be educating and sensitizing our communities about the negative effects of the practice hence we offer them an alternative rite of passage.

One of the major breakthroughs in the fight against FGM/C campaign is the restructuring of the rite of passage for girls which advocates for the sustenance of positive past and current ceremonial practices associated with the practice of FGM/C without the cutting.

It entails a seminar and ceremony, the seminar is a five days in residence training of the girls in preparation for the festival after staying in the fattening room for two weeks. The participants are trained on issues of Sexual & reproductive health, HIV/AIDS, Human rights, gender violence, health hazards of FGM, demystifying myths, Child local protection law and Cross River State Early marriage and FGM Prohibition Law.

Alternative rite festival
This is a community festival whereby the girls are given gifts and presented as UNCIRCUMCISED and public declaration by communities leaders to stop FGM/C.

Thank you & CHEERS

Ifesinachi

olutosin's picture

Mine was cut!!!

Who cut is? A dirty man ....hmmmmmnnnn. That does not pain me but with what was it cut? With the shell of a dead snail!!!! hmmmn

Olutosin Oladosu Adebowale
Founder/Project Coordinator
Star of Hope Transformation Centre
512 Road
F Close
Festac Town
Lagos-Nigeria

https:

treasureland's picture

Dear Sister...

Tosin, as you are saying it, I feel like weeping. I can imagine the pain but it's well. We must keep speaking up until FGM finally vanishes.

CHEERS

Ifesinachi

Breese's picture

Such a painful, dangerous,

Such a painful, dangerous, and traumatic tradition. It's great to see that more and more attention is being drawn to this issue, and that strong and brave women like you are leading their communities to change harmful cultural perceptions and traditions. Thank you, Treasureland, for this powerful and personal argument against FGM!

treasureland's picture

Breese, thanks for your comment.

FGM is really painful and dangerous, that is why we will keep speaking up until it is finally stopped.

CHEERS

Ifesinachi

Juliette Maughan's picture

I cannot even look

My heart goes out to the Women of Africa that had to and continue to endure this violence.

I believe that sexuality is a part of our human make up. It is what encourages us to have sex for procreation. To remove such essential parts of a woman's vulva is the biggest disrespect, abuse, rape... I write this and I am getting that feeling in the pit of my stomach.

I understand that tradition is important but not when individuals have to put their physical and emotional health at risk.

Your work is important!

J

treasureland's picture

My dear Juliette...

My dear Juliette thank you for you comment, but unfortunately, FGM don't happen to women in Africa alone but also happens to hundreds of women from other regions of the world, and it's a painful experience. We have a role to play from where ever we are, lets try and speak against all forms of violence against women.

FGM is indeed a form of violence against women and must be stopped.

CHEERS.

Ifesinachi

Treasureland,
Thank you for speaking on this topic that so many find unspeakable, We must raise our voices in a global chorus to stop the practice that so many are begging for an end. Amazing that this practice cuts to the heart of denegrating and oppressing the most sacred power and sensuality that is woman. At the heart of this practice is the fear of a woman's power. But even though cut her spirit lives on stronger - and proud survivors like yourself will become an army to turn the tide for future generations of beautiful girls.

Love,
Jensine

Jensine Larsen
World Pulse

treasureland's picture

Thank you so much Jensine

Thank you Jensine for your comment, of a truth we must all raise our voices in a global chorus to stop FGM. FGM has no benefit at all instead it brings pain, anguish and reproductive health issues.

CHEERS

Ifesinachi

Kristin Miller's picture

Thank you for speaking out!

Ifesinachi, thank you for courageously speaking out against FGM! By sharing such information about what it is, its prevalence across Nigeria and the world, and the health implications for women, you are educating women the globe over. I would argue this is the first step in affecting change. Well done!

I would also like to share that your comments board here at the bottom of your journal adds much to your piece! Here I can hear your voice loud and clear and you've touched on many nuances of your own thoughts and opinions. To me, this highlights the power of our World Pulse community and the depth of our commitment to supporting one another and empowering women to act.

Thanks again for sharing this!

Kristin

treasureland's picture

Thanks for your comment, Kristin!

Kristin, we really do have a responsibility to MAKE CHANGE happen. Lets keep speaking out until we see that CHANGE HAPPEN.

Thank you dear & thanks to World Pulse Community.

CHEERS

Ifesinachi

Robin Athey's picture

Yes.

Wow, This is a beautiful and clear piece, Ifesinachi. You've done a great job of illuminating the issues of FGM, on a personal and collective level. I appreciate how clear you are about what needs to happen, to eliminate FGM.
And I am so sorry that you have your own story to share. That is really unfair.

The photos really 'send home' the trauma of this brutal practice on women.

What is happening to shift the motivation of the women who still 'find pleasure' in this practice, I wonder?
Are you seeing examples of approaches that seem to be working?

I think back to the 'positive deviance' practice that we talked about. And I wonder if those who have changed share their experiences with people in other villages? Are they engaged, as key people in creating more widespread change?

Thank you again so much. You have a really lovely gift for writing. And your passion and commitment towards justice are really clear.

Love,

Robin

treasureland's picture

I really appreciate you, Robin!

You are exceptional and I appreciate you so much for your dedication, out of your tight schedule you still find time to making me define my vision.

Thank you for your comment. There are measures that seem to be working to stem this practice, it is called the Alternative rite of passage ceremony, which is a critically sensitive approach, one that respects the value of tradition but rejects the violation associated with it.

I look forward to connecting with you next week Monday/thursday

CHEERS

Ifesinachi

Robin Athey's picture

I'm appreciating you, Ifesinachi

Wow. The Alternative Rite of Passage Ceremony sounds beautiful -- and I imagine it's very sensitive.

As an approach, it seems to 'go with the grain' in its honoring the value of tradition. I find that approaches that 'go with the grain' tend to be more influential and sustainable over time. And how 'going against the grain' -- by rejecting tradition -- could create defensive reactions in communities.

It also sounds like honoring the tradition -- and saying "NO" to violation (and violence) -- can appeal to people's hearts and deeper wisdom as they find new ways to usher girls into womanhood.

This approach reminds me of a quote I came across yesterday from a man named Buckminster Fuller:

"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete."

Fits, no?

Thank you so much, Ifesinachi, for bringing out your voice on this matter -- and for helping women to find theirs.

Robin ♥

Emily Garcia's picture

Thank you for sharing your

Thank you for sharing your experience on this very sensitive issue and raising your voice against it. I am wondering what your mother's response was when you called her after your shocking and distressing discovery. Is she receptive to your views? Does she feel as you do now or does she continue to support the traditional practice?

Thank you again for your article, and sending you warm wishes from Portland,

Emily

Emily Garcia
World Pulse Online Community Lead

treasureland's picture

Thanks EKG for your comment.

EKG, my mother was actually remorseful when I called her, she actually feels what I'm feeling because it wasn't her intention in fact she was also a victim of FGM.

CHEERS

Ifesinachi

MaDube's picture

Dear Treasureland

You story is moving and educative. I am sorry you were subjected to this heinous act but I am glad you have decided to take action to ensure it does not happen to others. Whenever I hear stories of FGM my mind goes to the causes of it, and indeed it is a deliberate effort disempowering women by taking away their feminine instincts. It is short of incredible how men across the globe found ways of doing this to women. Whereas in your part of the region they cut off the parts of your body to remove your sexual instinct and reduce your enjoyment in my part of the world they expect us to elongate the labia because it sexually excites them and so they dictate how the female organs should look even if the woman is not comfortable getting her labia elongated. So it is about power, control and dictating how we as women can use or can not use our own bodies to fully enjoy our lives. Thank you for sharing your personal experience in highlighting this very important issue.

Best,

MaDube

treasureland's picture

Thank you MaDube for your ...

Thank you MaDube for your comment,

it is really dishearting what women are going through all over the world. But I'm consoled because women globally are now taking the bull by it's horns in championing the cause of development and also helping in speaking out against all forms of violence against women.

CHEERS,

Ifesinachi

Greengirl's picture

Whoops!

Seeing the reality of FGM as depicted in the pictures is really scary, disturbing, depressing and very annoying! The way and manner you found out about yours also got me asking some questions. I imagine that there are droves of women out there who do not know that they are victims too! This piece is a must read for every woman! Margret's work is very important and your sharing about it also makes a lot of difference. I pray FGM gets wiped out completely. God bless your heart!

Lots of love,

Olanike

treasureland's picture

Thank you for your comment...

Olanike that is the reality of FGM, it is completely scary, disturbing, depressing and very annoying. With our voices, FGM must be wiped.

CHEERS

Ifesinachi

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