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 change.org. Each can support the many young women who long to have their bodily integrity restored via the Clitoris Restoration Fund: http://uncutvoices.wordpress.com/2014/01/10/announcing-the-clitoris-restoration-fund-reversing-the-effects-of-a-crime-foldes/

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 http://uncutvoices.com/ … and thrill to Eve Ensler’s incandescence as she disarms brutality and applauds women’s strengths.  The link again: https://www.radcliffe.harvard.edu/event/2014-who-decides-conference


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 Afrik.com  http://www.afrik.com/article23820.html

Inna (Modja) Bocoum in Afrik.com http://www.afrik.com/article23820.htmlt 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 http://www.afrik.com/article23820.html




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 https://www.facebook.com/pages/Healthy-TomorrowSini-Sanuman/

For further information, especially regarding tax exemption in Germany and the UK, email Dr. Tobe Levin tlevin@fas.harvard.edu or tobe.levin@uncutvoices.com

The GUARDIAN campaigns against FGM. Your comments, please, to Hilary Burrage …

L to r: Tobe Levin, Efua Dorkenoo, Hilary Burrage, London August 2013

L to r: Tobe Levin, Efua Dorkenoo, Hilary Burrage, London August 2013


Hilary writes: “In January 2014 the Guardian Newspaper is to launch a campaign to eradicate female genital mutilation
(FGM).  This will include not just reports about what is happening
right now, but also asking how FGM can be stopped  within a generation,
and what we can all do to make this happen.    In preparation for this
campaign, the Guardian is inviting people in Britain and around
the world to advise on how to abolish the practice forever.
This enquiry starts right here, today.”

UnCUT VOICES Press has suggested expanding efforts to set up university programs and courses for the interdisciplinary study of FGM. Already engaged in this endeavor are Dr. Pierre Foldes, the Global Alliance against FGM, the German GIZ, the University of Geneva, Prof. Charles-Henry Rochat and others. A second suggestion concerns the newly launched Clitoral Restoration Fund. Tax exemption is offered for donations through Healthy Tomorrow (Susan McLucas) in the USA; via FORWARD -Germany and Terre des Femmes in Germany.

Another story-teller telling Tashi’s story: novelist Verena Stefan hears the children cry

Although no one knows the origin of FGM, few would advance that the custom dates from the era of the dinosaurs. And yet … On Friday evening, November 8, 2013, Frankfurt’s Senckenberg Natural History Museum hosted the Ingrid Gräfin zu Solms-Wildenfels Foundation’s twentieth anniversary reception. The fund rewards accomplishment in medicine and human rights, the first human rights prize in 2002 having recognized my efforts to end FGM.

At the Senckenberg Natural History Museum in Frankfurt am Main

At the Senckenberg Natural History Museum in Frankfurt am Main. 

Not far from the triceratops with a brontosaurus towering nearby, Renate von Köller, a local Zonta president, and I are discussing Sherry Hormann’s Desert Flower. The film about Waris Dirie, the Somali model and first renowned FGM victim to go public with her wounds, had attracted a full house the previous Monday to the German film museum. … Suddenly, an astonishing lack of incongruity between the venue and our subject hit me, and it seemed as if the skeletons, their longevity and size, symbolized what is most intimidating in genital assaults, hard as FGM always is to confront. But these monsters, dwarfing us, shaped my emotions  and inspired feminist discernment.

Those who perform FGM have power; those who undergo it, mainly little girls, do not, and the torture teaches them to fear. Humbling and, indeed, sexually blinding them, it happens only because they are girls. Since I, too, have been a little girl, it could have, or would have, happened to me. “There but for fortune,” Joan Baez laments, we go, witnesses to the blades we can imagine. Leyla Hussein affirms, “I have been mutilated because I am a woman … and I have to live with that for the rest of my life.”[1]

Leyla Hussein, founder of Daughters of Eve, at a panel discussion following performance of "Muted Cry" by Abdirahman Yusuf Artan in London, 9 February 2012.

Leyla Hussein, founder of Daughters of Eve, at a panel discussion following performance of “Muted Cry” by Abdirahman Yusuf Artan in London, 9 February 2012. Photo Tobe Levin


For years before and well into the nineties, the effects of genital torture on the mind had generally gone unheeded.[2] When Alice Walker’s Possessing the Secret of Joy appeared in 1992, it had been mainly authors of novels and memoirs expressing psychological effects, less so anthropologists or, ironically, members of the medical profession.

But emotions like fear or pride motivate all sides, supporters and opponents alike. And passions such as these are the clay that creative writers shape.

In Tough, Wild and Free. Images of Girls in Literature (Original: Rauh, wild & frei. Mädchengestalten in der Literatur, 1997) Verena Stefan, who analyzes stories, includes Alice Walker’s Tashi in the company of feisty youth like Jamaica Kincaid’s Annie John or Audre Lorde’s young self in Zami. Yet, in the study’s catalogue of figures from German, French, British and American fiction grouped under headings like “Eager Fire” or “Street Sisters,” only Walker’s heroine enjoys a category all her own called “Why was the little girl crying?”

The girl, now as Tashi, is crying in the novel at the death from excision of her older sister Dura; now as M’Lissa, she weeps for the exciser’s younger self; and then as Amy, a white woman from the American South, whose clitoridectomy at age five brings mourning projected onto a depressive son, his affliction recognized as really hers only after he kills himself.

Author Verena Stefan

Author Verena Stefan

In “Mutilation of the Vulva and Circumcision of other Female Freedoms — or the Perfect Vulva’s Aura and Revolt” in Waging Empathy, Stefan looks at such intergenerational trauma occasioned by FGM and  asks “why … the little girl [was] crying.” She thereby honors sensitivity to children’s pain and, like Walker, admires Tashi whose “resistance is the secret of” – we might also say, the key to—“joy.” Despite the shattering nature of her wounds, Tashi seeks wholeness through action, symbolic to be sure, but on the way birthing a movement. Goal-oriented, determined, and courageous, the heroine covers continents to eliminate cutters. “As a symbol,” Stefan writes, “her act [of murder] strikes … tradition at its core which is women’s betrayal of girls through social control. Tashi can no longer bear women’s cowardice, she says, even if she understands the exciser as merely the long arm of the village elders, a tool of the patriarchs.”

The Global Alliance against FGM with Hubert Postulart, Prof. Charles-Henry Rochat, Elisabeth Wilson and Godfrey Williams-Okorodus after a colloquium on fistula, May 2013 in Geneva, Switzerland. The team privileges art in its campaigns.

The Global Alliance against FGM with Hubert Postulart, Prof. Charles-Henry Rochat, Elisabeth Wilson and Godfrey Williams-Okorodus after a colloquium on fistula, May 2013 in Geneva, Switzerland. The team privileges art in its campaigns.

A counter image emerges from The Color Purple, not of treachery but of support. Observing Miss Celie’s sexual duress Shug teaches her anatomy, where to find the clitoris, fondly called the button, and what it’s for. Unlike cutting cultures’ pain, Celie is inducted into pleasure, and Stefan concludes: “The image of mutual sexual exploration characterized by seeing, recognizing, and passing the new knowledge on is a foil to women’s betrayal of girls. The ‘circumcision’ ritual presents an intimacy shared between [an older female generation and a younger one], but it is the intimacy of horror: women observe and touch a girl’s sex only to mutilate it.”

Concerned with this complicity, Stefan finds it in the silence smothering bereavement. Yet she also sees it challenged in Tashi’s quest to unify her warring mind. By replacing the victim’s hopelessness with psycho-therapy and art, Tashi “fights back,” heaving the brush for twelve long hours to excavate her terror. Ripping open the crust that had contained her mental illness, Tashi “holds the tool, the brush, and labors, just like the hand of the exciser had held a knife and labored.” Insufficient paper cannot support “the overwhelming cock” whose portrait soon covers her host’s entire wall. “Despite nausea, she paints herself out of schizophrenia and into integrity, retrieving the little girl who wept and with her, the shock that tears had sprung.” Finally grasping the immensity of loss, both of her sister and her soul, she is at last enabled to recover her audacity.

As new studies show, “after reading literary fiction people performed better on tests measuring empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence.”[3] If activists deploy a military lexicon, we also learn from warrior girls with the courage to reveal their trials and from stories of passion to stop FGM.

Translations from the German by Tobe Levin. See also, just in: http://www.salon.com/2013/11/10/the_cost_of_sexual_shame/?source=newsletter  




[1] Talking to journalist Rachel Johnson. “66,000 girls mutilated – and we’ve let them do it!” Mail Online. 9 November 2013. Web. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/columnists/article-2495861/RACHEL-JOHNSON-66-000-girls-mutilated–weve-let-it.html#ixzz2kMbmQhpJ Retrieved 12 November 2013.

[2] With exceptions. Italian researcher Pia Grassivaro Gallo authored an early study that asked infibulation victims to draw what came to mind concerning what they had endured. They drew monsters.