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…”
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.
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.