Scholars Ending FGM: A Tribute to Engagement on International Human Rights Day

Lorraine Koonce Farahmand moderates Crimes against Women at the AGS in Paris

Lorraine Koonce Farahmand moderates Crimes against Women at the AGS in Paris

“Five miserable looking women are huddled into the room by police officers.They have been charged with causing the death of … a 17 year old school girl. One woman is the mother, the old woman with thick glasses is the grandmother, it was she who took the razor blade, the other three are neighbours, they had come to sing and rejoice. They did not intend to kill her, the mother had loved her. She was the grandmother’s favourite grandchild named for her. That is why she wanted to do what was best for her, turn her into a woman. They said she wanted it, too.

She bled and bled, they tried to stop the bleeding but they didn’t know how, and she couldn’t stop bleeding. They ran around in panic in the village trying to find someone with a car who could take her to the distant hospital, but there was nobody and she continued bleeding. She bled until she couldn’t bleed any more. She was dead.

The state wanted a psychiatric assessment. They were sane and of sound mind.

As they turned to leave the grandmother tried to open the window instead of the door. She was called back, her vision was tested. She had undergone cataract removal, even with the glasses she could only see shadows. She was almost blind.

After they were taken away, I thought about the faceless girl whom I had never known. She was probably strong, healthy. I thought of all the things she might have done, gone happily to school with her friends, played net-ball, laughed all the way to the river as she went with other girls to fetch water. And she died such a senseless death.” (13-14)

Tobe Levin introducing the IAC and Bamako Declaration

Tobe Levin introducing the IAC and Bamako Declaration

My friend Dr. Anna Muthoni Mathai penned these insightful words[1] that capture the entrapment and heartbreak binding unwitting actors in an infernal social script they did not write. Recording field notes in her diary, the physician and former FORWARD – Germany board member, now at the University of Nairobi, had been on loan to rural psychiatric clinics in Kenya to explore attitudes toward FGM and was reporting back to her sponsor, the German Society for Technical Cooperation, Inc., then called the GTZ (Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit).[2]  

In 1999, the GTZ published Einschnitte [Incisions] Materialband zu [Documentation on] Female Genital Cuttings (FGC), edited by F. Diaby-Pentzlin and E. Göttke [GTZ: Eschborn]. The collection, a mélange of testimony, creative writing and research results, informs German development workers about the practices comprising FGM, for despite the title’s use of the disputed term “cuttings,” “texts make no attempt to convince anyone that the practice should be stopped. On that point, general consensus reigns.” In other words, without a doubt, the human rights violation — FGM – must end.

How to end it, however, is the question. The essays answer by entering “the minds of those in favor, confronting conservatism on its own ground.” Yet caution is advised. Ethnographers tread a fine line between observation of a harmful tradition and tacit approval of it.[3]

Tobe Levin speaking at the American Graduate School in Paris on FGM

Tobe Levin speaking at the American Graduate School in Paris on FGM

Sections in the documentation suggest where fine lines may lie. Part 1, “It’s only women’s pain”[4] reflects the trivialization of women in male-dominant cultures, including of course our own; Part 2, “Why does this practice continue?” cites numerous rationalizations perpetrators offer; Part 3, “Body and Identity” explores aesthetics, femininity, and pressures to conform; Part 4, “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” finally makes claims and Part 5, “Where Good Practices Begin” shares several promising projects.

Sadly, this research from nearly two decades ago, including Mathai’s poignant account of an FGM fatality, remains relevant. Muthoni’s field notes could as easily describe an event in 2014 as they did in the mid-1990s. FGM continues endangering lives and thereby – I’m sure we agree – violates human rights.

Yet, even when life goes on, the specific abuse of girls’ genitalia falls under the aegis of today’s commemoration. Declared by the UN as International Human Rights Day, December 10 is dedicated to abuses of women (and men, girls and boys) on many fronts but certainly includes indignities incurred as a result of FGM.

On November 28,, 2014, the American Graduate School in Paris, accepting the UN’s commemorative mandate, hosted an international colloquium. My contribution “On FGM. Cause, consequence, and key to abolition” found the fulcrum in African leadership. I introduced the Inter-African Committee and the Bamako Declaration[5] as well as UnCUT/VOICES Press to an audience nearly 200 strong. English  solicitor, NY lawyer and gender advocate Lorraine Koonce Farahmand opened the event with a powerful delivery of numerous forms of violence that affect women worldwide. Having answered her invitation, “policy-makers, diplomats, international lawyers, scholars, human rights activists, and journalists” considered how best to approach, and end, the global scourge of aggression aimed mainly at women and girls. The illustrious podium seated representatives of the Council of Europe (Carolina Lasén Diaz), UNESCO (Angela Melo), CEDAW (Violeta Neubauer), the Embassy of Austria (H.E. Ambassador Ursula Plassnik), the Chief Crown Prosecutor of the UK Crown Prosecution Service (Nazir Afzal, OBE),  American Graduate School in Paris faculty, The New York Times (Marlise Simons), NGOs such as CAMS (Linda Weil-Curiel), others and me.

Helpfully, FGM was embedded among many forms of violence. Speakers offered alarming statistics, in one case from the CDC which mentions upwards of 66,000 annual cases of rape in South Africa measured against 1000 convictions; or Russia where domestic violence kills 14,000 women each year. Germany, we heard, reveals one-third of girls physically abused before age 16. And the list goes on. Fortunately, the Istanbul Convention is an agreement with teeth, holding its signers accountable for government preventive action, and although cultural norms require respect, “they never excuse a crime” (Farahmand). As Nazir Afzal OBE insisted, “Prosecution must be used” to counter “gender terrorism.” And, the Crown prosecutor added, “The state should not let women down” where ethnic sensitivity competes with rights.

This is Khady’s position in Mutilée as well. Translated into English as Blood Stains. A Child of Africa Reclaims Her Human Rights (2010), Khady undergoes excision and then, having just turned fourteen, is forced to marry an immigrant sanitation worker who brings her to Paris. Facing marital rape night after night, she gives birth to five children in as many years. And then her husband imports a second teenaged wife. Fortunately, Khady had completed the 7th grade and knows how to write but most of her friends from Senegal are illiterate. Nearly all are also without private means, dependent on the generosity or meanness of spouses who control the purse-strings. Many men disapprove of birth control and beat wives they discover taking the pill, creating intolerable living conditions.

These abuses – FGM; forced child marriage; marital rape; economic dependency and lack of reproductive rights – were, indeed, deplored and denounced. As abstract nouns, however, they appealed to reason, not anger. But rage is surely reason where child abuse is concerned. As Khady reveals:

The fourth or fifth in line, I was seated, … trembling at every howl, my entire body strained by the agony behind the wall. Then two women caught me and dragged me inside. One took hold of my head, her knees crushing my shoulders. The other clasped me firmly by the thighs and spread my legs … Using her fingers, the exciser grasp[ed] the clitoris and … whacked it off like a piece of zebu meat. … Often, she can’t hack it off in one go she’s obliged to saw. (10)

Having felt like her “frame had been hacked in two,” Khady laments, years later she still hears herself howling.

Multiple variants exist, of course, but basically, this is what FGM is. This is what critics prefer not to discuss. This is even what timid – some might say, cautious–, advocates of abolition want to hide – because, you agree, it is just too terrible.

An emotional issue par excellence, female genital mutilation remains a neglected human rights abuse partly because it is so distasteful, the memory suppressed by victims, the facts too vile for outsiders to grasp, and the fear that revealing them will incite latent racists.

None of these, however, can excuse inaction, and certainly not on the part of scholars trapped by reverence for an illusory neutrality.

For what Khady and Muthoni’s girl suffered was wrong, and the academy, with the rest of the world, should no longer fail to acknowledge  it.


Photo credit: Alyssa Barylotti

[1] You can find them online in a special issue of Feminist Europa. Review of Books on FGM: Search Anna M. (Muthoni) Mathai …

[2] The name was changed to the GIZ, Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit, like US AID or the UK’s DFiD (Department for International Development).

[3] FE FGM p. 68.

[4] “It’s only women’s pain” contains a mélange of poetry, field notes, interview and straight-forward reporting, thereby mustering the fullest range of language choices, from the strictly scientific to the emotional. To start, Somalian Dahabo Elmi Muse’s famous poem on the three feminine sorrows introduces a female perspective followed immediately by Ahmed, speaking for Sudanese men. “The thought of hurting someone I loved so deeply caused me great discomfort,” he admits (11, back translation). Ahmed charges most husbands with indifference to wives’ pain and their own. The morning after the wedding night not infrequently sends the couple to the hospital, both wounded. “A friend’s penis had been rubbed raw…” (11).

[5] See and

Female Genital Mutilation as Violence against Women. At the Institut en Santé Génésique with Dr. Pierre Foldes, Frédérique Martz, Linda Weil-Curiel, and satisfied patients

When Fatoumata gave birth to her first child, a girl, she devoured the newborn with a hungry mother’s eyes and found her perfect — until her gaze rested on the child’s lower body, on something untoward between her legs. Suddenly grasped by anxiety, she thought of hermaphrodites and asked the midwife, “Is my daughter ok?” “What do you mean?” her helper replied. Pointing at a prominent outcrop, the new mother said, “Look. What’s that? She’s not like me…” “Oh,” the clinician replied. “That’s because you’ve been excised.” “Excised?” “Yes. You’ve had a clitoridectomy. What you are seeing is a clitoris, and yours has been cut off.”

Dr. Pierre Foldes teaching in Düsseldorf about his method of restoration. February 5, 2014.

Dr. Pierre Foldes teaching in Düsseldorf about his method of restoration. February 5, 2014.

I heard this story yesterday at the Institute for Genital and Sexual Health in St. Germain en Laye. To celebrate 25 November, the International Day of Violence against Women, the Institute near Paris held a press conference on domestic violence, FGM, and other abuses targeting mainly females.

Although the majority of speakers were victims of wife-beating, four women talked about FGM. Most striking in their testimony was that three of the four, like Fatoumata, acceded to their traumas only in adulthood. Their narratives expressed the shock incurred when they learned, almost accidentally, that their vague sense of bodies being not quite right could be explained. The knife met them in their very early years, well before memory formed. “I can’t remember being cut,” Bintou exclaimed. “And therefore never thought about what I did or didn’t have. Still, I always felt uneasy, as though something was wrong that I couldn’t quite place. It was my first boyfriend who asked…”

25 November 2014 at the Institut génésique for the International Day against Violence against Women

25 November 2014 at the Institut génésique for the International Day against Violence against Women

Since the 80s, the age at which FGM is carried out has been sinking, a sure sign, in the words of Institut génésique board member Linda Weil-Curiel, that people are aware the procedure is forbidden. Whereas clitoridectomy had routinely been faced by teens and considered a rite of passage to adulthood, recent decades have witnessed excisions in toddlerhood or even infancy. Why? Because the smaller the victim, the less likely she is to squeal, leading to arrest and conviction.

Bintou was not the first to tell me that, despite having been too young to remember, identifiable damage had been done.

Speaking Out against FGM on the International Day against Violence against Women

Speaking Out against FGM on the International Day against Violence against Women

Sinidou, for instance, back in Frankfurt, came to sit in my living room day after day for  weeks to watch my videos on FGM – this was in the early nineties before widespread access to the internet. She was searching for something, the source of a general malaise about her body. One day she said, “I’ve found the answer.” And only then could we talk about it

The November 25 event in St. Germain en Laye showcased the benefits of articulating what had happened and how it felt. “Des mots pour des maux” – a pun in French meaning, as the Chinese might state it, talking bitterness – expressed the idea behind the “cercle de parole” or speak-outs during which Dr. Foldes’ patients share tales of surgery and healing. “You had to have patience,” Awa said, “because, if you were older when they mutilated you, the operation sends you back, and even anticipating it can be upsetting. Then, when you’re still sore, and the discomfort can last for weeks, you doubt whether this miracle is really plausible. Only after several months does your heart begin to sing …”

Maimouna agreed. “I felt enormous relief — I’d even call it liberation –, on finally finding I wasn’t alone but among many others full of questions. And whereas before I was shy, now I even have the confidence to address a group and to tell my friends they’d better not do it to their daughters …”

In other words, the feeling of wholeness, after restoration, isn’t merely sexual. Over and over the audience heard, not only was it now conceivable to speak out about FGM but also possible and even appealing to speak up about other things as well. Witnesses agreed, self-confidence replaced timidity.

“May I take your picture?” I asked as our quarter hour conversation during the lunch break wound down. “I’d like to put you in my blog.” “I’m sorry,” my witness replied, shaking her head. “At home, they’re not supposed to know I’m here.”

A good many hurdles remain …

To respect anonymity, all names have been changed.

You can contribute to the Clitoris Restoration Fund whose first beneficiary is well on her way to recovery with a significant waiting list keen to follow. 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 information on tax exemption in Germany, email Tobe Levin or

You can also contribute directly to the Institut en santé génésique in France.

Why should you care? What can we do? “Sing and Shout against FGM”

As soon as her sister shrieked, Uba dashed to a door with no lock but found it shut tight. They must be leaning against it, she thought, anxiety on full. Her turn would come soon. And when it DID, she still heard screams. Assaulted by sound, she wanted to know, where was it coming from? Bouncing off walls, reverberating through the room, what was the source? It took time to grasp: the second gang of howls had been hers. …

Such loss of self in FGM victims isn’t rare. [1]

On October 29, 2014, in London’s Garden Court Chambers, our host Dexter Dias, QC, opened his “Sing and Shout against FGM” with this story, the gift of a survivor. Not yet ready to witness under her own name, she wanted the Queen’s Counsel [2] to disseminate the tale. “We met in the Dunkin’ Donuts at South Boston Station,” he explained, highlighting how, in the mundane world of brand-names and pastry, horror lies just below the surface, and cognitive paralysis, in both victim and witness, prevents us from grasping its scope. The litany of integers – 140 million– doesn’t make sense. Only one by one, each individual’s narrative does, and the anguish becomes our own. It is indeed ours, Dexter Dias asserts, by virtue of emotional investment in children, our “emissaries,” –so Neil Postman –, to ‘the future’.

So, every 11 seconds, what happens? Dexter asks. Someone mutilates a child, and, viewed through a human rights lens, the crime is clear.

BAREtruth readers  present Isley Lynn's "Sleight of Hand."

BAREtruth presents Isley Lynn’s “Sleight of Hand.”

Less clear is the complexity of FGM, staged in Isley Lynn’s “Sleight of Hand,” a dramatized reading by the BAREtruth Theatre Company including a flight attendant, teacher, ice cream van driver, street cleaner and postal worker. Like Chaucer and Boccaccio, the author tells stories that, taken together, remind me of the “blind men and the elephant” who, in grasping with their hands only parts of the whole, affirm the giant mammal resembles a snake, a tree trunk, or a wall. … Here FGM manifests for the flight attendant in the girl who slipped a spoon into her panties in order to set off the security alarm so she could appeal to the personnel for help. A victim of child marriage, she was being taken back to be cut in Africa. The instructor in turn teaches art, describing ‘normal’ children’s drawings until she spots one betraying excessive agitation. (Back in the early 80s, Pia Grassivaro Gallo of the University of Padua asked Somali pupils to sketch human beings; with depressing regularity, the girls produced stick figures that had NO body.)

If professionals meet regularly with tell-tale signs of evil going on, how can they read  clues without background knowledge? On landing in Nigeria, why is that girl still crying? Why, all the way from London, has she been so grieved? As the street cleaner notes, people try mostly not to look. But even if they do, can they see?

Sarah Jane Morris and Tony Remy warm up

Sarah Jane Morris and Tony Remy warm up

Acclaimed recording artists, modern jazz soul singer Sarah Jane Morris and her guitarist Tony Remy try to open our eyes in their album Bloody Rain, devoted to social justice and violence against women. Their lyrics expose the shared motivation behind clitoral ablation and so-called ‘honor’ murders. “The whore you became when you brought Western shame on this good family name,” a father explains, means “We’ll crush your will, your blood we’ll spill, and we will kill.” A song against FGM affirms, “You were born perfect, my precious little … rosebud,” yet what “makes your body sing” is shorn.

Mona and Ifrah present at "Sing and Shout"

Muna & Ifrah present at “Sing and Shout”

A monstrous violation, excision and infibulation drew two remarkable  twenty-somethings, Muna Hassan and Ifrah Hassan, to tell us how, when only thirteen and fourteen, they began writing poetry against FGM — and were ordered to stop. Who censured them? “Men told us we shouldn’t. We were embarrassing the whole community.” Their mothers supported them, however. “You must do this,” their moms agreed, “because we couldn’t.” Thus inspired, the girls and their group at Integrate Bristol – including Fahma Mohamed, whose petition to Education Minister Gove was signed by 200,000 people — produced Silent Scream, a drama-documentary that won first prize in Light Movies’ 2012 Young Voices competition. But “it’s porn,” their critics warned. A mentor from Zed Productions that helped bankroll the project, praising the “’courage and dignity of the teenagers involved’,” acknowledges the “fierce opposition” they faced. “Yet they were utterly determined to speak out, take action and resist … pressures“ [3] to hide FGM.

Hilary Burrage

Hilary Burrage

Mutilation of girls’ genitalia has been obscured as much by the actors themselves as by a laissez-faire academy that could have educated an indifferent public capable of being roused by information which, instead of serving to spare children torture, was horded in archives or even actively suppressed. “This is a sorry tale of what for years I didn’t know about FGM,” sociologist and Guardian journalist Hilary Burrage [4] confesses in her astute remarks. Among the facts not disseminated broadly, Hilary lists a Minority Rights Group report, Female Genital Mutilation: Proposals for Change, co-authored by our friend Efua Dorkenoo whose recent passing we still mourn. This came out more than a quarter century ago, yet the proposals themselves are largely the same today. They include strengthening the will to prosecute, as attorney Linda Weil-Curiel has done so effectively starting in the early 1980s in France. They also include publishing “stories of FGM survivors” as “Tobe Levin in Germany, here with us tonight” has been doing “for years.”

Thus, one by one by one, the truth behind razors and knives is coming to light. Presented dramatically in two more BAREtruth plays – Bahar Brunton’s Dancing Feet and Karis E. Halsall’s Mutant, the impression over-all is contained in Hilary’s summation: “Now at last there is no excuse for anyone to say, ‘I didn’t know’.”[5]

[1] Most memoirs on FGM report a disconnect, an out-of-bodiness divorcing mind and matter.

[2] QC, or Queen’s Counsel: an attorney (in the UK a barrister or solicitor) awarded this status, based on merit, by the Court. In the reign of a male, the title is KC.

[3] Oliver Zimmerman quoted in “Bristol Teenagers Win Top Film Award.” Retrieved 6 November 2014.

[4] Author of the forthcoming Eradicating Female Genital Mutilation. A UK Perspective.

[5] The program also included good news. Alice Greenlees described a local project managed by Chase Africa among the Maasai in Kenya whose ethnicity cut 70% to 90% of girls. (When a teacher from the local partner initiative EVE asked pupils how many had faced the blade, ALL hands went up.) Successful implementation of alternative rites of passage has reduced those numbers.

P.S. When UnCUT/VOICES asked Ifrah and Mona to submit a manuscript, they agreed.

Source: Marshall, Daisy. “The time is now to end FGM – Guest Blog by 28TooMany volunteer Daisy Marshall.” 2 April 2014.

Burrage photo Source:

The Clitoris Restoration Fund and its US representative: Sini Sanuman/Healthy Tomorrow

Given the relentless Ebola crisis, a term is becoming increasingly familiar to English-language readers: MSF, the acronym for Medecins sans Frontières or Doctors without Borders. The admirable organization is mainly known for its intrepid intervention in medical catastrophes, but it deserves applause for another reason.

One of its founders, Bernard Kouchner – also, at one time, the Foreign Minister of France – penned these words:   “Give pleasure back to women, emotions other than fear of violence, gratification beyond that available to … a baby machine.” Kouchner is naming the intention of Dr. Pierre Foldes.

In his introduction to Hubert Prolongeau’s Undoing FGM. Pierre Foldes, the Surgeon Who Restores the Clitoris, Kouchner offers a brief history. His friend the clinician “operates, and his medical research and surgical repair attract attention. People start to emulate him; the World Health Organization is interested. He publishes an impressive series of successes. In nearly 80% of cases, women no longer suffer after intervention. They regain elementary sensation. A great physician, he has innovated a common surgical procedure for magnificent humanitarian ends.”

The Clitoris Restoration Fund aims to make this treatment available to women whose health insurance doesn’t cover it.

The joy among those 4/5ths is openly expressed. And “in any case,” Prolongeau reminds us, “restoring the capacity for sexual pleasure is not surgery’s principal aim but rather recapturing [a] sentiment of wholeness, of physical integrity, by taking back what had been snatched.”

Frequently patients say, “Now I’m a woman.”

A loyal supporter at UnCUT/VOICES’ Harvard presentations, Sini Sanuman/Healthy Tomorrow is represented among this group of attendees at the reading by Hubert Prolongeau and Tobe Levin of Undoing FGM. Pierre Foldes, the Surgeon Who restores the Clitoris (March 8, 2012, for International Women’s Day). Left to right back row: Dr. Hal Weaver, Dale Smoak (Sini Sanuman/Healthy Tomorrow), Jasmine DeCock (M.I.T.), Dr. Tobe Levin. Front row left to right, Susan McLucas (founder of Sini Sanuman/Healthy Tomorrow), Hubert Prolongeau, Dr. Abby Wolf (Executive Director, the Hutchins Center), Dr. Marianne Sarkis, and Dr. Krishna Lewis.

A loyal supporter, Sini Sanuman/Healthy Tomorrow is represented among this group of attendees at the Harvard reading by Hubert Prolongeau and Tobe Levin of Undoing FGM. Pierre Foldes, the Surgeon Who Restores the Clitoris (March 8, 2012, for International Women’s Day). L to r back row: Dr. Hal Weaver, Dale Smoak (Sini Sanuman/Healthy Tomorrow), Jasmine DeCock (M.I.T.), Dr. Tobe Levin. L to R front row: Susan McLucas (founder of Sini Sanuman/Healthy Tomorrow), Hubert Prolongeau, Dr. Abby Wolf (Executive Director, the Hutchins Center), Dr. Marianne Sarkis, and Dr. Krishna Lewis.

To bring this sense of fulfillment to as many sufferers as possible, Dr. Foldes appealed to French social security to pick up the bill. For French residents, he succeeded. Others in the Diaspora and, above all, in Africa, are lined up looking for relief.

How vast is their desire? The UK, presently a leader in the global fight to end FGM, has recently begun collecting statistics as part of its new Female Genital Mutilation Prevalence Dataset. As reported by The Desert Flower Foundation, in a single month (September 2014), 647 instances were newly identified by physicians when women sought treatment. Older cases numbered 1,279. The monthly data is published by the Health & Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) which plans, in 2015, to produce the annual report disaggregated according to age and type of mutilation.

The need for a comprehensive demographic survey of this type is pressing wherever FGM is practiced, and especially in the United States, home to the largest number of girls at risk.

Based in Somerville, Massachusetts, Sini Sanuman/Healthy Tomorrow is partnering with UnCUT/VOICES Press, FORWARD-Germany, and the EuroNet-FGM in accepting tax-exempt donations to the Clitoris Restoration Fund. By publicizing the collection, these registered charities are raising awareness of both the crime of FGM and the hopes of those who have been subjected to it. In close collaboration with journalist Hilary Burrage in the UK, attorney Lorraine Koonce Farahmand in France, and the Institut génésique in St. Germain-en-Laye founded by Dr. Pierre Foldes and an inter-disciplinary team, the Clitoris Restoration Fund has already supported its first beneficiary whose operation took place on September 5, 2014. Understandably wishing to remain anonymous, she reports, however, that she is recovering well.

Sini Sanuman/Healthy Tomorrow is also notable for activities in Mali. Pioneers in an artistic approach to changing hearts and minds, for many years the group has engaged leading pop stars to broadcast on Africable, a cable station viewed in 10 countries by 20 million people. In “Takhoundi,” performed by Nayini Koné in Sarakolé, girls in ritual dress ascend a mountain clearly heading toward excision but rushing up after them are their long-gowned mothers intent on snatching their young from the exciser’s grasp. Kandia Kouyaté’s song “We Can Say ‘NO!’” ran on the same station in September 2014. The narrative features a passerby who intervenes to stop the cutting while the lyrics detail damage to health which the fortunate girl has escaped. These videos and more can be viewed on the website:

To raise money in support of these broadcasts, to help the group continue counseling victims of sexual violence at their Listening Center in Bamako’s District 1, and to ensure on-going conversations with influential preachers such as Ousmane Chérif Haidara, Healthy Tomorrow will hold a rug and Christmas tree sale on December 6 and 7 from 11 to 4 at Unity Church Somerville, at 6 William Street, on the corner with College Ave near Davis Square.  Beautiful, fairly-traded rugs from Pakistan, Iran or Afghanistan or a Christmas tree are on sale at the group’s largest fund-raiser of the year.  Volunteers to help are also sought.

You can make a tax-deductible donation to support Sini Sanuman/Healthy Tomorrow with a check to Healthy Tomorrow at 14 William St, Somerville, MA 02144 or donate on the website at

To donate to the Clitoris Restoration Fund, simply note this clearly on your check.

The full HSCIC report is available from[SL1]

Celebrating Efua Dorkenoo, OBE, UnCUT/VOICES’ board member, author and friend

Human Rights Council 17 panelists and sponsors, 1 June 2011 in Geneva

Human Rights Council 17 panelists and sponsors, 1 June 2011 in Geneva

The sad news reached me last Sunday when the skies were already weeping in Oxford. It was unbelievable that she had died, my ally, colleague and mentor for more than thirty years. When you strolled into her office, most recently at 1 Birdcage Walk, her ample smile embraced you. A dynamic spirit, when Efua talked, her voice was strong, her gestures emphatic and her resolve unshakeable. … The photo on my desk reproaches me: I had intended to mail it to her, the informal shot that captures a beaming Efua on JanuaP1030023ry 13, 2006, in Kronberg outside Frankfurt at an event sponsored by FORWARD – Germany, the ‘little sister’ whose creation Efua had inspired. The founder of ‘big’ FORWARD had flown from London to join in welcoming our nation’s new Ambassador from Mali, Fatoumata Siré Diakité, a sister campaigner in the fight against excision. And as it was Friday the 13th, little mishaps seemed inevitable. Efua’s escort from the airport failed to find her, but she reached us on her own. That was Efua: resourceful, optimistic, confident in her power to manage what had to be done. And what had to be done was stopping FGM.

To do this she was indefatigable, midwifing The Girl Generation, an Africa-led youth group against FGM  officially launched on October 10, 2014. Efua outlived its birth by one week.

But she has left  a legacy, and Efua … we can assure you that your work goes on.

Honored to review Cutting the Rose for the European Journal of Women’s Studies [see August 1996 3: 315-318, doi:10.1177/135050689600300311], I know that Dorkenoo’s poignant book, reissued in 2007, remains a useful resource. You can also watch Efua’s interview  in Alice Walker and Pratibha Parmar’s documentary Warrior Marks (1993) where, majestically attired, FORWARD’s founder reveals a decisive strength: her creativity. Aware that FGM must be tackled with finesse and objectivity, she is also convinced that its emotional roots want a passionate approach. This can be found in fiction, or  better yet, faction. She authored a children’s book called Tradition, Tradition, in which a tribe ritually relieves females of one leg. The allegory picks up on a development theme, for how can an economy grow while a nation injures half its people?

Efua’s talent, of course, had always been deployed. Shortly before the first-ever symposium on FGM was held by FORWARD in London in 1992, she had been counseling recently arrived Somali refugees who had found their way to Covent Garden’s Africa Centre where FORWARD then had a tiny office. The traumatized women wished to do something to stop infibulation. Together, they and Efua wrote a play in which an arranged marriage brings a new bride to British shores. She must be opened, Efua explains, before the groom’s unrelenting efforts to penetrate prove more excruciating than what the authors stage. The drama presents a domestic scene, a London apartment, where the TV is turned up full blast, the radio and stereo are on – to muffle the howls of the girl being opened by her Somali neighbors’ knife. She couldn’t simply go to a GP back then, Efua says. “He would just freak out. So they do it here in the UK – by themselves.”  The playwrights warned her, however, such a script could never be performed. Should the community get wind of it, they could be killed. When protesting FGM, Efua repeats, “Women can be killed!”

Herself undaunted despite threats, Efua has served the cause of abolition at least since we first met in London in 1980 and then again in the spring of 1981 in Paris where Efua joined me, Awa Thiam, and a small group of German activists. All claiming human rights for women, we would continue through the decades and, given the sadly ongoing need, up to the present day.

FGM Panel Flyer-UN HRC 17

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

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

I last saw Efua informally with Hilary Burrage at Brown’s in London to discuss our Feminist Statement.

We last met formally in Geneva where Efua had kindly agreed to participate in my high level panel at the Human Rights Council.

I can’t believe she’s really gone.

I will miss her very much.

So will the world.

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