All Honor to Girl Children and Their COURAGE in Fighting FGM

Khady front coverThe fourth or fifth in line, trembling at every howl, I felt my entire body tense at the agony that grabbed me from behind the wall where my friends, one by one, were being sliced.

Soon two women dragged me inside. My turn had come. The big one took hold of my head, her knees on my shoulders. The other clasped my thighs and spread my legs. … Then the exciser grasped that small piece of flesh and whacked it off like a piece of zebu meat. …

This paraphrase from Khady’s memoir Mutilée (in English Blood Stains. A Child of Africa Reclaims her Human Rights) tells you what generations of awesome survivors have been fighting, and sometimes risking their lives, to stop: female genital and sexual mutilation.

The UN has declared October 11 the International Day of the Girl Child, and UnCUT/VOICES Press is proud to offer the words of daring witnesses to violence against their own young bodies, undergone hundreds of thousands of times. Khady in pieces Khady speaks for all too many when she writes about how, after excision, she was forced at age fourteen to wed a sanitation worker and to live in a one-room apartment in Paris. Facing marital rape night after night, she gave birth to five children in as many years before her husband imported a second wife. Like nearly all child-brides, Khady depended at first on a spouse who controlled the budget, and he, like many men who disapproved of birth control, beat a mate who took the pill, accusing her of being a prostitute.

To whom could a young woman turn to escape? At that time, in the eighties at the birth of a global movement against FGM, the answer was “no one.”

A hero, Khady deployed her feistiness, intelligence, and valor to enter a profession and a public life striving to ease the path for other immigrant women and girls like herself. A leader who became the founding president of the EuroNet-FGM and the face of the campaign that led to the UN Resolution to Ban FGM in December 2012, she risked – and continues to defy–, significant backlash.

Because the pain, Khady says, was “like yanking out your guts. Like a hammer in your skull,” and, not only down there but everywhere, her body “home to a famished rat or an army of ants. … Swallowed whole by horror,” she writes, “I was engulfed from my brain through my belly to my feet and felt like my frame had been hacked in two” (12).

Years later, she laments, she still hears herself howling.

It’s hard to understand that brutality like this, — ritual and systematic–, is still imposed on girls. But the public remains largely indifferent to the crime.

Another book soon to be released, Kiminta. Maasai. A Survivor Reflects on FGM by Maria Kiminta and Tobe Levin, closely follows Khady’s script. Describing that morning when her turn came, Kiminta writes:

“Following the command to strip, we were made to lie down. Hardly had I hit the ground than my thighs were seized by two adults who yanked them apart, crushing my hips. A third person’s weight descended on my head and chest. To prevent kicks, they bent my legs at the knee, tied them at the ankles and extended the rope to my thighs. Two more women imprisoned my hands. Clearly, they presumed I’d fight.

Then, without missing a beat, the circumciser grabbed my clitoris, pinched it between her unclean nails and, — slash! – cut it off. She then presented the severed organ to senior female relatives: had she deleted the right amount of flesh? Would one thrust suffice or were more required?”

Enough, you are probably thinking, and yet … Although scholars quibble about inadequacies in the one-size-fits-all approach to FGM that highlights similarities in girls’ experience rather than differences in context (these two texts come from Kenya in eastern Africa, and Senegal in the west) basically, this is what it is.

This is what too many citizens of conscience prefer neither to see nor to know. This is even what timid advocates of abolition sometimes try to hide – because, you agree, it is just too terrible.FORWARD new board 2014

The good, possibly GREAT news comes from those former victims, now survivors who, wounded as girls, are coming out in droves as women to end the silence and stop FGM.

With special thanks to Khady, Kiminta, the Guardian, and everyone involved in revving up their efforts to improve the lives of girls and, hence, the globe.  In this photo, I present the  board of FORWARD – Germany, elected on 20 September 2014, for whose support I remain forever grateful. Left to right, Treasurer Annette Ibkendenz, President Dr. Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana, Vice-President (and founding president) Dr. Tobe Levin, Member-at-large Dr. Mariame Racine Sow, and Secretary Dr. Angelika Köster-Lossack. Photo credit: Managing Director Heidi Besas.

Stories of the clitoris restored … and of family pressure to cut it off again! With Dr. Pierre Foldes …

With Dr. Pierre Foldes,  Frédérique Martz, sponsors and supporters, FGM survivors who have been restored recount their experiences.

With Dr. Pierre Foldes, Frédérique Martz, sponsors and supporters, FGM survivors who have been restored recount their experiences.

The young face quivered, yet fortitude kept the tears in check. Straining to subdue her pain, Aissatou (a pseudonym) released her story in hushed tones. Following the deaths of both parents, she had chosen to have her genitalia restored only to have her aunts, uncles and cousins, in France and in Africa, reject her, causing unspeakable grief. Now, for re-acceptance, they demanded submission to the blade again. Pressured to marry a man who required an excised wife, the slim woman was torn. Her family meant so much to her. Too distressed to follow the discussion, she slipped away. At the door, we exchanged sympathies as she, now openly weeping, offered us an anguished look. Unable to lose either her clitoris or her folks a second time, she remained impaled on this dilemma. We felt moved.

Although to Linda Weil-Curiel, sexual mutilation is “the most sexist crime on earth,” most testimony on September 4, 2014, at the Institut génésique, or Institute for Women’s Genital and Sexual Health in St. Germain-en-Laye, remained upbeat. Like the “big voice in the Diaspora” from Mali, many of Foldes’ patients came to discuss why they had chosen restoration and how their previous ordeals had affected them. They exposed the harm they had endured while simultaneously helping to end it by the very act of speaking out.

For five years the head of GAMS – Groupe de Femmes pour l’Abolition des Mutilations Sexuelles –, Christine told us how amputation of her clitoris forty years before, bringing with it recurrent urinary tract infections and constant pain, made her days a “true secret drama” and, as a result, she chose celibacy. Never married, she says, her “entire life unfolded as it did as a result of [her] excision,” and that travail led her to vehemently and publicly oppose the ‘rite’.

Others, in contrast, came out as activists only after having been restored – to celebrate the joy of what they had recovered. A Nigerian midwife reminds us, “Recovery advances along three separate but intertwined plains: physical, psychological and sexual, and the clitoris returned to you is a gift that needs attentive nurturing.” Now employed in the UK where reconstruction is unavailable, she urges everyone who has endured FGM to “TALK ABOUT IT! Always talk about it. I’m not ashamed. THEY should be ashamed.”

“Many who criticize Pierre,” she adds, “condemn the only motive they can understand: seeking orgasm. What I wanted was to be whole again, and only six months after repair you could find me demonstrating against FGM — in my jeans.” Having flown in from England especially for this event, she offered a precious footnote. “One of the loveliest moments of my life occurred at the post-operative check-up. ‘Ah, what a beautiful clitoris’, the doctor told me. How good for your sense of self when someone calls you beautiful down there…”

Dr. Tobe Levin, Attorney Lorraine Farahmand, and EuroNet FGM President Neneh Bojang discuss the Clitoris Restoration Fund.

Dr. Tobe Levin, Attorney Lorraine Farahmand, and EuroNet FGM President Neneh Bojang discuss the Clitoris Restoration Fund.

The surgeon who restores the clitoris feels men should be held accountable for an offence committed in their name. Feeling himself responsible for reversing the effects of a crime, he knows women themselves to be the well-spring of research. Their untrammeled words hold the keys to health.

Here is one doctor who listens.


Photo credit above: Frédérique Martz. Photo credit left: Aurelia Martin

Dr. Tobe Levin, Lorraine Farahmand, Esq., and EuroNet-FGM President Neneh Bojang in Paris accompanied the first beneficiary of the Clitoris Restoration Fund who was successfully operated on September 5, 2014, and she is doing well!

To help FGM survivors in their quest for renewed bodily integrity, you can direct your tax exempt contributions to the Clitoris Restoration Fund.

In Germany, by bank transfer with a clear notation “Clitoris Restoration Fund” to FORWARD – Germany, e.V., Frankfurter Sparkasse, BLZ 500 502 01, Account # 200029398. IBAN: DE20 5005 0201 0200 0293 98. BIC SWIFT: HELADEF1822

In the USA, by check with a clear notation “Clitoris Restoration Fund” to Healthy Tomorrow, 14 William St., Somerville, MA 02144 USA.

In France, by contacting the Institut Génésique. Tel: 01 39 10 85 35. By email or See

A project now also under the wing of the EuroNet-FGM and its president Neneh Bojang (IAC Norway), the fund is expanding to offer tax exemption to contributors throughout Europe.

For further information, contact Tobe Levin or Neneh Bojang


Jaha Dukureh, Representative Joseph Crowley and the Guardian campaign: The USA opposes FGM – at last!

ImageIn the early fall of 2004, as a visiting scholar in women’s studies at Mt. Holyoke College, I gave a talk on female genital mutilation that brought friendship from three Somali students who found the speech “awesome.” The young women approached me afterwards, inviting me to bring my presentation to the African and Caribbean Students Association (which, on November 3, 2004, I did) and asking to explore the issue further. I was delighted. We met once a week in my College Street office, planning to bring our growing awareness to high schools in ‘the Valley’ like Northfield Mount Hermon, where my daughter studied. All went well until after Thanksgiving. On their return from home, the three regretfully informed me that their mothers had forbidden them to become involved in campaigns against FGM. Why? “Members of our community are in touch with one another,” they told me. “Our moms don’t want to be embarrassed.” It was obviously not my place to override parental orders. We four mourned silently, and then went our separate ways. My path led me to fulfill by myself the first of what were to have been our foursome’s commitments, speaking at Northfield-Mount Hermon, sponsored by the high school’s Amnesty International section. I have since lost touch with the three Somali students but I doubt that they have remained silent in the intervening years. They had been avid to educate their peers.

2004 is now a decade ago. Thanks to the Guardian’s campaign, its talented and committed journalists, and adequate funding, the United States is finally emerging from its torpor regarding the systematic torture of immigrant girls from practicing communities. Readers of my blog don’t need reminding how gruesome FGM is. What must be stressed is how little others know.

Enter Jaha Dukureh, Representative Joseph Crowley, and committed Guardian journalists – Hilary Burrage, Mary Carson, Chavala Madlena, Alexandra Topping, and their chief, Maggie O’Kane. The campaigns in the UK and USA, Kenya and Australia, represent the first adequately financed effort to raise awareness on a broad scale of the tragedy of FGM. In a democracy, public opinion counts.

Posts to this blog have always been linked to the books we publish. In this case, the link is in the delivery. At theImage launch of the USA campaign on May 12, 2014, in the Guardian offices on Fifth Avenue in New York City, I offered copies of Undoing FGM, Blood Stains, and WAAFRIKA to the journalists and selected attendees who showed keen interest.

I stress: each of us has a role to play in ending FGM. Each of us can show solidarity by signing Jaha Dukureh’s petition at Each can support the many young women who long to have their bodily integrity restored via the Clitoris Restoration Fund:

If you are reading this, chances are you agree that it’s good to help spare little girls and soothe the wounds of the already-injured. Please spread the word.

Photo Captions: above — Representative Joseph Crowley with Jaha Dukureh

Below — (l to r) Jaha Dukureh with journalists Chavala Madlena, Mary Carson, and publisher Tobe Levin

Eve Ensler at Radcliffe: FGM sub rosa in a stellar speech

This web address leads you to Eve Ensler’s keynote at the Radcliffe conference “Who Decides? Gender, Medicine and the Public’s Health,” on April 10 -11, 2014, where Eve introduced In the Body of the World: A Memoir of Cancer and Connection. A survivor of advanced malignancy, she gratefully celebrates each day of life and tells a thrilling tale of bodies’ exiles and returns, proximity and distance. Brilliant.

Olubunmi Temitope Oyesanya. The Young Prey. Oil on canvas. 2008.

Olubunmi Temitope Oyesanya. The Young Prey. Oil on canvas. 2008.

Serendipity led me to the link, however,  as a troubling omission made me  nearly turn away. Attracted by the symposium’s title, I had been looking to see whether FGM – a major threat to public health — would be among the topics. After all,  more than 225,000 children in the USA are thought to be at risk; neighboring Brigham and Women’s Hospital houses one of the few North American specialists devoted to alleviating excised women’s pain; and the silence surrounding FGM south of the Canadian border presages a crisis once thousands of schoolgirls who may have undergone “vacation cutting” enter puberty.

Although Ensler includes female genital mutilation in the catalog of vaginal ‘rites’ her famous monologs preserve, she’s here in the UnCUT/VOICES blog for a lovely but seemingly disconnected comment made at 2 minutes and 13 seconds into her talk. While greeting the audience, she mentions one person by name, overjoyed  at seeing “Diane Rosenfeld and so many friends” she had “known for so long.”

Olubunmi Temitope Oyesanya. The Scourge. Oil on Canvas. 2008.

Olubunmi Temitope Oyesanya. The Scourge. Oil on Canvas. 2008.

Dr. Diane Rosenfeld, Harvard Law School researcher, worked with Efua Dorkenoo and others on the renowned Lancet study, published in June 2006, that provided the first peer-reviewed scientific proof of FGM’s horror in childbirth and damage to newborns. And Diane, I am so pleased to say, is one of ‘us’ — on UnCUT/VOICE’s honorary advisory board.

You can see Diane under “Our Partners” at … and thrill to Eve Ensler’s incandescence as she disarms brutality and applauds women’s strengths.  The link again:


An “Ethical Charter” to help stop FGM: Pierre Foldes opens the Institut en Santé Génésique (Institute for Sexual and Genital Health)

Dr. Pierre Foldes opens the Institut Génésique on March 7, 2014.

Dr. Pierre Foldes opens the Institut Génésique on March 7, 2014.

Khady had only just turned fifteen when, married a year earlier, she arrived in Paris as the child bride of an immigrant sanitary worker. Facing marital rape night after night, she gave birth to five children in as many years. And then her husband imported a second wife. Fortunately, Khady had completed the 7th grade and knew how to write but most of her friends from Senegal were illiterate. Nearly all were also without private means, dependent on the generosity or meanness of spouses who controlled the purse-strings. Many men disapproved of birth control and would beat wives they discovered were taking the pill, creating intolerable living conditions. But who was there to help the young person without money, without marketable skills, with dependent children, who has been excised and forced to endure that particular suffering and sorrow? To whom does she turn if she wants to escape?

This is Khady’s story as told in Blood Stains, and the answer to the question when she faced these disasters was “no one.” A truly remarkable woman, Khady deployed her feistiness, intelligence, and courage to box her own way out, into a profession and a public life fighting to ease the path for other immigrant women facing similar constraints.

She now has strong allies. On 7 March 2014, anticipating International Women’s Day, the French county Yvelines including the noble Parisian suburb of St-Germain-en-Laye celebrated with Dr. Pierre Foldes, Frédérique Martz, Linda Weil-Curiel and colleagues the opening of an interdisciplinary, holistic institute that addresses violence against women. To overcome inefficiency by bundling various specialties, the Institute welcomes distressed women (gratis), spends time to interview them and determines how best to set up a help schedule. To do this, it calls on the paid and volunteer staff including physicians, surgeons, lawyers, politicians, psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers, thus offering clients a single address at which to start what can otherwise be a nightmarish journey seeking aid through unfamiliar bureaucratic channels. Associates of the Institute génésique treat some complaints on site—the Institute is associated with the hospital where Pierre Foldes restores the clitoris. Otherwise, they make referrals, assured that the network’s professionals have a firm grounding in special needs. For instance, an immigrant woman appears, a victim of domestic assault and marital rape, whose husband is the sole source of her income. She is diabetic but he deprives her of access to medication. To whom can she turn? The Institut génésique will take her under its wing and show the way.

The Clitoris Restoration Fund supports the Institute génésique by referring women for clitoris restoration. Your help is greatly appreciated.

In the United States, a tax deductible donation may be sent to the Clitoris Restoration Fund c/o Healthy Tomorrow, 14 William St., Somerville, MA 02144. On your check, please be sure to note that it is for the Clitoris Restoration Fund.

You can also make a tax-deductible contribution in Germany by bank transfer to FORWARD –Germany with the clear notation Clitoris Restoration Fund and your mailing address for the tax exempt certificate (Spendenquittung): FORWARD – Germany e.V., Frankfurter Sparkasse, BLZ 500 502 01, Account # 200029398. Options for giving with tax exemption from other venues are being explored.

Inna Bocoum and the Surgeons: Pierre Foldes, Dan mon O’Dey, Abdoul Aziz Kassé for Zero Tolerance to FGM Day 2014

Meet Inna (Modja) Bocoum.

Inna (Modja) Bocoum in

Inna (Modja) Bocoum in Inna (Modja) Bocoum.

Pierre Foldes’ patient and former top model, she was excised at just short of five. Addressing a full house from the broad screen, her sincere beauty, seemingly tranquil, hints at horror beneath a camouflaging caul of faith.

I am in the audience in Düsseldorf on February 5, 2014, a guest of JAPPOO, association of Senegalese in North-Rhine Westphalia, on the eve of International Zero Tolerance to FGM Day.

Inna has been restored, but the journey to that instant of courage had been long.

Enumerating erroneous beliefs taught her to justify excision, she mentions one I had forgotten: that an intact clitoris, like a Venus’ Flytrap, could ensnare a penis, preventing escape. The vagina dentata?  The nearly universal angst expressed in global legends? A masculine projection of female revenge? Whatever, a “cultural imperative” dictates that the cause of male malaise must be destroyed …

And it was taboo, Inna goes on, to ask questions at home although her need to understand was strong, especially when, at age 18, having come to France, she learned from her gynecologist what she had lost. Leaving the consultation room she had felt “vraiment bouleversée,” she says, blown away. Despondent, then enraged …

Until that day, age 25, when she read in Elle that you could get it back! What a pleasant shock, she testifies, though jubilation immediately dimmed. “It can’t be true,” she thought. “Not yet, anyway. They can’t be ready. It must be in an experimental stage. Maybe one day, in a year or two, or even three, from now…”

Still, with trembling hand, she dialed Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Dr. Foldes’ clinic. And her quivering hope muscled up with joy.

Dr. Pierre Foldes and Frederique Martz, General Manager, Institut en Santé Génésique

Dr. Pierre Foldes and Frederique Martz, General Manager, Institut en Santé Génésique

Only four weeks later, she met Foldes who talked to her – “très longtemps, presque une heure” – for nearly an hour, she says, as she sat in wonder, asking herself frankly why “a white man from another culture would take such an interest in us.” This IS what she said, “pourquoi s’interessait-il pour nous?” – for us. The answer comes shortly…

Following the operation,  Inna assures us, she felt “different,” though the difference was less about sexuality than identity. She perceived a renewed sense of self.

But we’re running ahead of our story. First, a Herculean task of remembrance had to be performed. Its aim?  To reassign allegiance, freeing a ‘prisoner of ritual’ from the culture of harm her Malian grandmother claimed. Yes, the matriarch had had it done, Inna feels, fearful of losing  another child to a foreign culture. Still, the trauma of the little girl, deleted from her conscious mind, had to be recalled – “un vrai travail psychologique.” Sentenced to hard labor mining the mind, she was enabled to retrieve what had occurred. The blade re-emerged in language, and a fighter’s tongue would fist it to the world. …

Dr. Foldes emphatically supports women’s bearing witness …

What a privilege to meet Inna, even if only her celluloid image, at one of the best colloquia on FGM that my long experience has allowed me to attend. Technical presentations suitable for medical students by Dr. Dan mon O’Dey, plastic surgeon at the University Clinic in Aachen, Germany; Dr. Abdoul Aziz Kassé, head of the Cheikh Anta Diop University Cancer Center in Dakar, Senegal; and Dr. Pierre Foldes of the Institut en Santé Génésique  who pioneered restoration technique in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France, joined moderator Ibrahim Guèye in expressing their outrage in a single voice. In unison they exclaimed, “L’excision est un crime” – FGM is a crime that should not be ennobled as “tradition” if anything positive adheres to the term. The amputation of girls’ and women’s genitalia is “mutilation,” these medical professionals insisted, and an “act of violence” that law should pursue and punish. Calling for “government accountability,” they showcased their belief in male responsibility. They spoke as men ashamed of what their gender has done, and still does, to the other.

For Pierre Foldes, FGM is a “macho” abuse for which men must be held accountable. Luckily for us, many men feel the same.

Dr. Abdoul Aziz Kassé in Düsseldorf

Dr. Abdoul Aziz Kassé in Düsseldorf

Remember, you can bring smiles to FGM survivors like Inna who long to have their birth anatomy restored. Please contribute to the Clitoris Restoration Fund. In the United States, your donation is tax deductible. Send a check made out to Healthy Tomorrow with a clear notation that you are contributing to the Clitoris Restoration Fund.

The address: Healthy Tomorrow c/o Susan McLucas, 14 William St., Somerville, MA 02144

You can also make a tax-deductible contribution in Germany by bank transfer to FORWARD –Germany with the clear notation Clitoris Restoration Fund and your mailing address for the tax exempt certificate (Spendenquittung): FORWARD – Germany e.V., Frankfurter Sparkasse, BLZ 500 502 01, Account # 200029398

For more on Inna Bocoum see




Announcing the Clitoris Restoration Fund: “Reversing the effects of a crime” (Foldes)

Allies. EuroNet-FGM General Assembly in the European Parliament, Brussels, Spring 2009.  Photo: Britta Radike

Allies. EuroNet-FGM General Assembly in the European Parliament, Brussels, Spring 2009.
Photo: Britta Radike

With each book, UnCUT/VOICES Press pledges to support action in the ‘real’ world aimed at stopping FGM. For those whose clitoris has  fallen to the blade and who wish to recover their bodily integrity, we are launching a tax-exempt fund. Dr. Pierre Foldes has assured me, he continues to offer his pioneering expertise as surgeon free of charge, but pre- and post-operative care in approved clinics, plus transportation, can be expensive. You can make a tax exempt contribution. UnCUT/VOICES is teaming up with Healthy Tomorrow/Sini Sanuman to make this desire a reality.

Foldes portrayed in the French paper Libération

Foldes portrayed in the French paper Libération

For each contribution of $100, you will receive a free copy of Hubert Prolongeau’s Undoing FGM. Pierre Foldes, the Surgeon Who Restores the Clitoris.

Why help women who wish to have their clitoris restored? As Hubert Prolongeau has shown in interviews for Undoing FGM, those with the courage to face the trauma once again are seeking not only  physical but also spiritual wholeness. Without naiveté, they understand that a residue of mental scars remains even after the initial horror recedes. But willing to brave the scalpel for the sake of return to an integrity which they themselves define, they wish to enter the fight against FGM with renewed confidence, as women whose birth anatomy and sexuality have been bequeathed a second start. As a man, Dr. Foldes has declared his dedication to “reversing the effects of a crime” perpetrated, in his view, by patriarchy, which means by other men. Women, of course, have acted in complicity. The decision to have the clitoris restored means defiance of both betrayals and promises to give the anti-FGM campaign its most dedicated activists.

In the United States, send CHECKS in dollars drawn on US Banks with the notation “Clitoral restoration fund” to Susan McLucas, Healthy Tomorrow/Sini Sanuman, 14 William St. Somerville, MA 02144. See

For further information, especially regarding tax exemption in Germany and the UK, email Dr. Tobe Levin or