Saturday, 7 March 2009

The cruellest cut

If there's one thing that needs to be exposed on International Women's Day (March 8), it's the appalling global toll of female genital mutilation.

It's thought that 2 million girls a year, mainly in Africa, are forced into this degrading and agonising procedure, and have to live with the distressing results for the rest of their lives.

They may be prone to painful intercourse, menstrual problems, infertility and birth complications. Their essential womanhood has been routinely attacked and damaged in what is seen as a totally acceptable cultural practice.

It's not just women who suffer the consequences, it's men too. FGM doubles the risk of a woman dying in childbirth and makes it three to four times more likely she will have a stillborn child.

There are no valid reasons for it whatever, except cultural tradition. It isn't justified on any medical, hygienic, aesthetic or sexual basis. It's driven by pure sadism, cruelty and men's desire to dominate women and keep them under control.

There are many organisations working to stamp out the practice and persuade families and communities that it's a senseless and barbaric custom, but the huge weight of historic observance is hard to shift. Much more pressure is needed from governments and community leaders.

Here in Ireland, Pamela Izevbekhai is still battling to avoid being deported to Nigeria, where her first daughter Elizabeth died after genital mutilation and her other two daughters would be at similar risk. I sincerely hope she's allowed to stay here.

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 Her original lawyers have withdrawn from her case and replacement lawyers are being sought.


  1. The elimination of sexual pleasure, Nick, is part of this reprehensible and barbaric practice too.
    I've a friend who spent years in Africa operating a clinic to offer healing and medical intervention (with forays out of there to educate against the practice).
    Her stories would make the hair stand on your head.
    It truly boggles the mind that women can be so mistreated and abused, all in the name of some Invisible Cosmic Housekeeper.
    We all need to wake up and get angrier.

  2. We need to think about and give time to dealing with problems any and every day and not just on one.

    I am certainly no feminist, but the idea of having ONE day designated as International Women's Day worries me. Every day should be a People's Day

  3. www - I'll bet your friend saw plenty of horrifying scenes. I've read some horrifying accounts myself. But the inertia of engrained tradition is hard to change.

    Grannymar - Oh I agree, we shouldn't need a special day to emphasise things that are normally overlooked. I wish such practices were exposed and condemned every day as a matter of course.

  4. It is barbaric although I've also heard of women returning to their home country to have it done, so strong is the cultural sway. What is disturbing is that there's an increase in the procedure being performed by medically trained staff. OK might be better for the girls than their cultural 'healer' but the fact that it's condoned by medicos generally is very disturbing. WHO is particularly concerned about the increasing trend for medically trained personnel to perform FGM and strongly urges health professionals not to perform such procedures. And that's all we can do . . 'strongly urge'?

  5. Baino - That's appalling that medically trained staff are prepared to do it. It's equally appalling that the WHO aren't calling for the practice to be banned immediately on the grounds of psychological, physical and sexual damage. Why are people who're meant to be safeguarding other people's interests not doing so?

  6. Absolutely horrendous. THank you for raising awareness.

  7. Liz - We get plenty in the media about fashionable subjects like breast cancer and dieting, but precious little about truly horrific practices like this.