Saturday, 22 November 2008

Girls at risk

It's appalling that a Nigerian woman had to flee Nigeria and seek asylum in Ireland to prevent her two daughters suffering genital mutilation.

Now, having been in Ireland for three years, she's threatened with deportation but she's been given another three weeks to make her case for staying.

The genital mutilation of girls is still traditional in Nigeria and other countries, and her husband's family were insisting Pamela Izevbekhai's two daughters, Naomi and Jemima, should undergo it.

This was despite the fact that her first daughter Elizabeth bled to death from the procedure at the age of 18 months.

She was so determined this would not happen again that she abandoned her well-paid job, comfortable house and relaxed lifestyle and fled to Ireland, where she had to endure a spartan existence in a single room.

She now has just over two weeks left to persuade the European Court of Human Rights she should not be sent back to Nigeria to put the girls at risk once again.

I find the whole situation incredible. Even though her husband is now against the practice, his family feel they have the right to tell the couple what to do. The procedure can be carried out by an unqualified person in unhygienic surroundings. And it's seen as quite normal to damage or destroy someone's sexual organs.

This disgusting ritual is still rife all over the world - it even takes place furtively in the UK - despite years of struggle for women's independence and for control of their own bodies and sexuality.

Even when governments claim - as Nigeria does - that they're opposed to the practice, the law is not enforced and a blind eye is turned to what goes on behind closed doors.

What Pamela thinks is in the best interests of her two girls is irrelevant - she's expected to bow to social pressures and get them 'seen to' in the name of tradition and dogma.

I sincerely hope the European Court supports her.

PS: April 6 2009 - The truth of Pamela's story has been challenged. Elizabeth's death certificate is said to be a forgery and some journalists are questioning whether the child even existed. Her original lawyers have withdrawn from her case and replacement lawyers are being sought.

PPS: Male circumcision can be just as damaging, even though it's still widely practised in the UK.

Photo: Pamela Izevbekhai (right) with her daughters Naomi (7) and Jemima (6)


  1. It is a barbaric practice. I once read the sequel the the book "The Colour Purple" which discussed it in length as the main character watched the procedure. It's designed purely for the pleasure of men and to deny women any sexual gratification so it's cultural significance has no meaning in the modern world. I hope she manages to acquire residency! Male circumcision is very uncommon here these days but at least it doesn't impede sexual gratification!

  2. Baino - I thought the purpose was mainly to prevent female pleasure rather than to enhance men's, but maybe I'm wrong. There's a bit of debate about male circumcision - some men maintain it reduces pleasure because the most sensitive tissue has been removed.

  3. If I was a religious person I would be praying that she and her daughters are allowed to stay. As I'm not I will just hope.

  4. Suburbia - We can only hope the European Court appreciates the very real danger if she returns to Nigeria.

  5. It is a much bigger issue than this, Nick. Women are still considered chattels in many parts of the world. One of the premises behind this atrocity is that it will keep women from straying from their overlords. This woman is incredibly brave and how awful that another of her daughters had to die for no reason than that she was born a woman.
    I can hardly bear reading about such things. Impotent rage is what I feel. She HAS to be protected.

  6. Oh you're right, www, it's all part of the wider culture of female submission. And of course it continues because so many people (men as well as women, probably) are afraid to speak out and stop it. And because governments don't enforce their own laws.

  7. The mind boggles at man's inhumanity to man (and woman). I can only hope that the voices of the good can be loud enough in this case. It's so easy to forget and take for granted how good we have it.

  8. Conor, you're right, it's all too easy to take for granted the (relatively) enlightened cultures we live in and forget that in other parts of the world women may face utter barbarity.

  9. I wonder if the men lobbying for this this were forced to do the reciprocal but less damaging male equivalent would they be so keen

  10. Quicky - Good question. I think not somehow. After all, the male organ is sacred, God's gift to women and all that. It's only the female one that's dispensible.

  11. Nick, Thanks for posting about this, I had not heard about her plight, but Aayan Hirsi Ali brought these violations to the forefront with her story and her book.

    I wish we could petition the Eurpoean Courts to help her. What a strong mom.

    Here in the states we are so fortunate to have our basic human rights preserved.

    Young girls are so sacred. I wish her the best.

  12. House - You're welcome, I just felt so strongly about the continuing barbarity I had to do a post. I haven't come across Aayan Hirsi Ali. I hope it doesn't go on stealthily in the States as it does in the UK.

  13. She shouldn't have been here in the first place ahe arrived on our shores as an illegal immigrant. Whether or not her daughters are due to be castrated is of little importance to our continuing economic degress. In retrospect she is costing us "The TaxPayer" nearly 350,000 so far in legal fees alone not to mention the cost of housing her and her children. If this weren't enough the way she swans about the courtroom as if she was entitled to be there in the frst place.

  14. Anonymous - No need for anonymity, I don't bite! It seems to me that shielding children from sexual abuse is more important than economic turmoil. And the massive legal fees would have been a lot less if there hadn't been this long-running dispute between her and the government. Yes, she's an illegal immigrant but so are a lot of people when they first enter a country seeking permission to stay. As for swanning about the courtroom, I wasn't in court so I wouldn't know about that.

    But thanks for your very different opinion, I'm always happy to be challenged on anything at all! In fact I often change my mind as a result.