The Story of My Life after FGM: A Dedication to the Most Excellent Surgeon in the World.

September 04 2017, category: International NEWS
The following story was submitted by a Clitoraid patient who wished us to publish it while keeping her identity private.
She is dedicating it to Dr. Adan Abdullahi of Nairobi, Kenya who offers clitoroplasty to FGM victims following Clitoraid's humanitarian mission in Kenya last Spring. During the two-week event, lead US surgeon, Dr. Marci Bowers trained several Kenyan doctors.

This is the story of my life and it is dedicated to the best surgeon in the whole world. I underwent Female Genital Mutilation at the age of ten and back then I was exhilarated by the rite because it marked my passage into womanhood. Later on, I came to learn that I was subjected to Type I FGM.I underwent the rite with a cousin of mine and there were lots of celebrations that were marked by singing, dancing and eating among other festivities. The circumcision occurred at around three in the morning. I tried to scream because of the sharp pain that I felt between my legs but my screams were in vain because they drowned in the ululations of the older women that were present to witness the ceremony. I bled so much till I thought that I was going to die because of over bleeding. The initiator tried to manage the heavy bleeding with some herbal remedies and it took two days for the heavy bleeding to subside. It took three weeks for us to recover from the initiation.

I joined high school at the age of fourteen and that is when reality dawned on me that the FGM had destroyed the most precious treasure of my womanhood. My best friend in high school came from a community that did not carry out FGM and one day she asked me whether I was circumcised and I denied it because I was not comfortable with discussions concerning FGM. Her question made me to feel inferior to the other girls that were not circumcised. Additionally, one of the stories that stood out for me in the Literature syllabus during my high school years was Saida Herzi’s short story “Against the pleasure principle”. In the short story, Hawa, a circumcised woman says that “When people found out where I was from…they pestered me with questions about female circumcision. To avoid their questions, I told them that I had not been circumcised and therefore, could not tell them anything about it .Evidently, Hawa was embarrassed in her life because of the FGM. This story made me to detest the practice of circumcision and I swore never to do it on my daughters once I became a parent. I surely could not understand why parents were subjecting their daughters to the act including the educated ones. Reading testimonies from various circumcised women in the short story made me to believe that I was not going to enjoy sex in my life because part of the clitoris had been cut.

I must confess that the short story made me to experience some sort of self-fulfillment prophecy in respect to sexual matters. I read the story many times and it shaped my beliefs concerning sex. To elaborate, Herzi writes that “She (Hawa) remembered the first time her husband made love to her, how horribly painful it had been. And it had continued to be painful for even after she got used to it. She knew that for most of the women in her society sex as something to be endured not enjoyed.” This part of the story demoralized me and it made me to believe that I did not have any chances of being sexually aroused. Even before I started being sexually active I and the mindset that I was never going to know how it feels to have pleasurable sensations in my life. I identified with Hawa and sympathized with her because I knew what she had gone through.

I made friends from various communities at the university and even after graduation and most of them asked me whether I had faced the cut because it is common knowledge that my community is notorious for the practice. I lied to all my friends that I did not go through it because I wanted to avoid their questions and sympathy as far as the rite was concerned. Nevertheless, I could not lie to myself because I knew that I was circumcised and I did not have the power of the capacity to reverse it .It was a scar that was indelible thus lying to my friends could not help it. The idea of being circumcised really bothered me after I become sexually active because at the back of my mind I kept thinking that I was missing something significant to live a sexually fulfilling life. I only got consolation after reading about the vaginal organism which for me was a perfect alternative since part of my clitoris had been mutilated.

Taking showers has always been a difficult moment in my life because during such times I spend a significant amount time looking at myself and it makes me wonder how I would have felt if my clitoris was still intact. Furthermore, through the years, I have consoled myself by reading testimonies of FGM victims that experience orgasm. At some point I read a blog about the part of the clitoris that lies beneath the skin that makes it possible for women to experience orgasm. So I felt comforted after reading the blog because I understood that after all, not all my clitoris was removed. I must admit that my consciousness concerning the FGM has affected my psychological wellbeing that is why I have never discussed it with my hubby. I was scared about talking about it with him because doing so, in my view, would be equivalent to admitting that I am an “incomplete woman”. It is painful memory that I tried to avoid by all means and pretend that it never happened in my life.

Just when I was convinced that I was going to live with the FGM scar for the rest of my life, I saw on national television that Dr. Marci Bowers, of Clitoraid, was conducting clitoral reconstructive surgeries in Nairobi for the first time at the Karen Hospital. This was the best news that I had heard in my entire life. It was the first time that I was hearing about the clitoroplasty .The news was brief so I searched on the internet to increase my understanding of the procedure that reverses FGM. The news caught my attention because I am very sensitive to FGM issues. I told myself that I was going to go through the procedure no matter what. I tried to make time so that I could book an appointment with Dr. Marci Bowers but I did not manage because of work commitments. I did not lose hope though because I was referred to Dr. Adan Abdullahi who offers the Clitoral Reconstruction Services at the Karen Hospital.

During my initial consultation, I could not bring myself to tell him that I am an FGM survivor and it was then that I realized that I was traumatized by this whole thing of being circumcised. I only managed to tell him “I underwent FGM and I want you to reconstruct my clitoris”. He conducted a physical examination and after completing he told me “sorry”. For me his “sorry” meant that I was going to be alright. I was relieved somehow because I knew that there was someone who understood me at that moment and my pain. Subsequently, we set the date for my surgery which took place three weeks after the consultation.

Prior to the surgery, I experienced a roller-coaster of emotions. I was scared about going under the knife because it was the first surgery in my life not to mention that I am scared of injections. I was so inquisitive and asked him a lot of questions before I made the final decision of going through with the procedure. He answered all my questions comprehensively and above all he was so patient with me because of my anxiety. I just want to say that Dr. Adan Abdullahi is the single most patient, professional, understanding, excellent and kindest doctor I have ever seen in my life.

He is the first person that I told my story about FGM and he lent me listening ear without judging me. He understood me just like I wanted to be understood.All that FGM survivors require is a doctor that will listen to them and give them the assurance that they will get better. Another thing that scared me are articles that cite opponents of clitoroplasty that dispute the effectiveness of the procedure. These arguments made me to think that the procedure would end up frustrating me even more. However, I conducted additional research on the internet about women that have reported improved sexual lives after the procedure. This research together with Dr. Adan’s responses convinced me that the Clitoral Reconstruction Surgery was a procedure to die for.

On the D-day, I did not take anything in the morning because the doctor reminded me that I was not supposed to take anything prior to the surgery. I work up six and was set for the procedure that was going to mark the greatest milestone in my life. The team that works alongside Dr. Adan is amazing and it made me to realize that there was no need to be ashamed about my condition. The nurses were supportive, understanding and they made sure that I was warm and comfortable because it was a chilly Saturday. The assistant surgeon prepared me psychologically about the entire procedure .Subsequently, the anesthetist carried out the anesthesia procedure that numbed the lower half of my body so that I could not feel any pain during the surgery. I have never felt at home like I felt on the day of my surgery and I had never seen such kindness in my life.

After the anesthesia, the doctor commenced the surgery. At the background some rhumba music was playing and the clock on the wall was ticking slowly. I was awake throughout the procedure and after about 45 minutes the doctor told me “I am done.” At that moment, it became clear that anything can happen in less one hour, even a reversal of FGM could happen without any pain. I was reborn on that day.The reconstruction surgery entailed removing the scar tissue associated with FGM and bringing the remaining clitoral forward. After the surgery, I felt a sense of relief and told myself that I had finally managed to see light at the end of the dark tunnel. I was moved to the ward where I recovered after two hours and went home. It gave me the closure that I need to overcome the emotional torture that I have experienced for many years in my life.

Throughout my recovery, the doctor supported me and he never stopped answering all my queries even after the surgery. I visited the doctor for reviews and he confirmed that my recovery was impressive. This support has been instrumental in changing my attitude and perspective about life. Today, I have recovered fully and I look forward to living a normal life just like the other uncircumcised women.

I just want to reach out to other women out there who could be traumatized as a result of FGM. Just know that there is hope after FGM thus you should not lose hope of being fulfilled in sexual matters because the Clitoral Reconstructive Surgery reverses the effects of FGM. More important, remember that the fact that FGM is reversible does not mean that we should stop campaigning against this inhumane act that strips off women their dignity and right to sexually fulfilling life .Please let us discourage parents from circumcising their daughters in secret because it is not worth it. It is time to let go this outdated tradition. Let us be at the forefront in preaching against this inhumane act in our communities because it is no longer relevant in the lives of women. Today, I can hold my head high because my dignity was restored.

I am complete again and I believe that the hands of surgeons that restore dignity in the lives of FGM survivors are blessed. I hope that someday, even the poorest FGM survivors will get the opportunity to go through this life changing procedure that I consider to be the most supreme invention in the world of the FGM survivors. When that day comes, FGM will be a thing of the past. Above all Clitoraid is the best organization that has happened for the FGM victims. All in all, the clitoroplasty has been a life-changing procedure in my whole life and am optimistic my dreams will come true.

Work Cited: Herzi, Saida. "Against the pleasure principle."

"An End To FGM In Our Lifetime " Keynote address from Dr. Marci Bowers at the Walk to end FGM in Washington DC on Oct. 31

October 31 2015, category: International NEWS
Dr. Marci Bowers, Clitoraid's volunteer surgeon was the keynote speaker at the Walk to End FGM in Washington DC, Saturday Oct 31 hosted by the Global Women P.E.A.C.E. Foundation . In the past eight year, Dr. Bowers, a renowned gender reassignment surgeon in San Francisco, CA has been surgically restoring the clitoris of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) victims both in the US and in Burkina Faso, Africa. Here is the content of her address

An End to FGM in Our Lifetime

I am incredibly honored to be here as your speaker today. When I say honored, I do so sincerely because I am an outsider, an onlooker, a woman of privilege, a surgeon, an activist, a western educated caucasion woman. And yet you have invited me and I am truly humbled. I uniquely value my own womanhood---because it also came with struggle, if you know anything about my personal history--- and so, I suppose, it gives me special purpose to address this problem of FGM.

As a gynecologist and physician who has spent the past 25 years in women’s healthcare, I have been fortunate to have acquired additional surgical skills that allow me to create genitalia for transgender men and women. In my practice near
San Francisco, we--- literally--- deconstruct and reconstruct genitalia for this unique transgender population. So it was not surprising that in 2007, when Nadine Gary, the International Director of Clitoraid, approached me to learn a reconstructive
technique being performed and pioneered in Paris by Dr. Pierre Foldes----to restore clitoral sensation ----not simply defibulation but sensation----for women who had been genitally mutilated, I had no hesitation.

Civil rights activist Rosa Parks said, “never be fearful about what you are doing when what you are doing is right”. I knew immediately that this was right. I heard about threats to Dr. Foldes but had no fear. I heard about backlash, scorn, and skepticism from colleagues ----but was not afraid.

I was certain that a chance to restore sexual feeling for FGM survivors was important. I knew that the victims of FGM could not be happy with reduced or absent sexual sensation. I could see the misery from victims who had suffered painful sexual encounter after painful sexual encounter-----wanting to but unable to enjoy. I cared for the complications of FGM: the bladder infections, the cysts of trapped fluids, the obstructed labors. In Paris, I met a girl whose identical twin sister had died at 8 years old----while undergoing FGM together.

And I knew of the lies of the cutters who benefitted economically by cutting, who knew the lies of FGM---but kept on cutting because cutting fed the families, ironically, of the cutters. I came to understand the celebration of FGM---as a ritual, as a coming of age, as tradition.

But also I came to appreciate the sense of sexual pleasure as one of the basic human senses----as important as sight, smell, hearing, taste or touch. Imagine if there were a surgery invented to restore sight to a blind man or smell to a girl who had never smelt a rose or the aroma of a sautéed onion. I agreed that FGM was indeed a human rights violation. There was no question----human rights had been and were being taken from these women and girls----directly as a result of FGM.

When I reviewed Dr. Foldes’ so-called ‘clitoroplasty’ and came to Paris to view the surgery itself, I knew instantly that it had validity. The surgery worked! The clitoris was not removed fully in FGM----it can’t be. Never. Why? Because the clitoris is much larger than any of us had ever been told---even gynecologists.

The damage caused by FGM----among so many damages---was the obscuring of the clitoris by scar tissue. But the clitoris was large----like an iceberg, I thought---and so was merely buried beneath scar tissue as a primary result of FGM. In reconstruction, we ALWAYS find the clitoris. It is always there. Always.

So the surgery is designed to expose what remains of the clitoris, to free it of scar tissue and to bring it to the surface of the skin.Later, when I spoke to women who had been reconstructed by dr. Foldes and later, myself, they had feeling….down there. Sometimes it was scary. Sometimes, there were other issues that surfaced. Occasionally, the surgery did not work as planned. But many reported orgasm for the first time ---in their lives. The surgery worked. It was not a perfect surgery but it worked. There were risks of surgery but it worked.

Overwhelmingly. It worked. And in 2013 when Dr. Foldes published his study in the British journal, Lancet---of nearly 3000 women who had been reconstructed, the scientific community had proof that it worked. Moreover, the reconstructive surgery
that we and others now perform around the world----is done free of charge. In many cases, we are also able to get insurance coverage. So the surgery gives hope to victims. It gives us control over identities that feel lost, over bodies that seem
incomplete, over relationships that could not flourish.

But surgery is not the answer. Surgery should not be the answer. Surgery should not be necessary. Surgery can never fully regain what has been lost. By FGM.And so, what I hope to do in these short words, is to construct an approach, to inspire a plan, to stimulate optimism that will result in an end to FGM in our lifetimes.

And I truly do believe, by the survivors who speak out, by the cutters who no longer cut, by the men who value the sexuality of their wives and lovers, by the parents who say no, by the media companies and news organization who continue to report our stories despite editors who say “too touchy”, “too controversial”, “too likely to offend” or , simply, “no”---that we are nearing an end to FGM.

And for that reason, for so many reasons, I know that what I am doing is right. And that for all of us to do what we are doing here today…that this gathering of amazing people … right.

I have no fear. WE have no fear. WE are standing up against FGM. WE are talking about FGM. By doing so, WE are taking action against FGM. WE are doing what is right.

I will conclude by saying that going forward what is needed is for us to further tell our stories. Poet Maya Angelou wrote, “there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you”. Tell your stories. Educate the world. Teach these doctors
who, when encountering an FGM victim, call to their colleagues as though FGM bodies were rare, circus animals to be gawked over. Teach them that there are surgeries to correct this problem and that there is training available to learn how to
fix this problem. And that these doctors need to recognize this problem, be educated about this problem and address this problem with certainty and with calm.

Secondly, we need to talk to our parents and our relatives here and where FGM is still being practiced. We need to be honest about our experiences, about our pain, about our loss, about our fears----so that slowly, surely, cutters will no longer cut. Respect the tradition but reject the practice of FGM.

And I will leave you with the words of Eleanor Roosevelt who once said, “You must [finally] do the thing you think you cannot do”.

Letter of protest delivered to Burkina Faso Embassies around the world

March 08 2014, category: International NEWS
The following letter was delivered to Burkina Faso Embassies and Consulates around the world while legal actions have began against those who pressured the BF Government to take such discriminatory and inhumane measures. Hundreds of FGM victims plan demonstrations in Burkina Faso next week since the Health Minister proceeded to also revoke the temporarily licence of all four US volunteer doctors who had traveled to Burkina Faso to operate on the first 80 patients on our waiting list. Though our hospital was prevented from opening, they had already operated on 29 patients in a licensed clinic near by and planned on continuing their humanitarian mission next week.

Dear Honorable Ambassador,

We come to the doorstep of your embassy today to express our indignation about the outrageous decision of the Burkinabe government not to grant permission for a fully operational medical center dedicated to clitoral repair to open its doors in Bobo Dioulasso on March 7, 2014.

The main function of the humanitarian Kamkaso medical center, which is sponsored by the American NGO Clitoraid, is to provide clitoral restoration surgery for all genitally mutilated women who wish to have that procedure done at no cost.

The first application requesting permission for the creation and opening of the center was filed in 2011 and was then declared lost by the Burkinabe Health Ministry Service. Following the loss of the first dossier, the regional branch of the Health Ministry Service requested that AVFE resubmit a new application in February 2014; all the required documents were submitted and the dossier took its normal course and reached the office of the Health Minister. Representatives of the Health Ministry nevertheless assured representatives of the AVFE women’s association, Clitoraid’s partner in Burkina
Faso, that the setback caused by the loss of the file would in no way interfere with the hospital opening, and that it would be possible for us to launch operations there on March 7.

However, on February 27, Burkina Faso’s first lady, Chantal Compaore, cancelled her participation in the March 7 inauguration. On that same day, the Health Minister prohibited us from launching the scheduled opening and refused to tell us when the authorization would be granted. These events occurred just two days after an influential doctor who is a member of a powerful Catholic organization in Burkina Faso wrote an extremely defamatory letter where he announced that the Ministry of Health and the Governor had been beseeched in order to prevent the opening of the center, simply because of Clitoraid’s affiliation with the Raelian Movement.

We are convinced that the government of Burkina Faso does not want to join the list of countries practicing religious discrimination, and that it will want to resolve this situation quickly so that the hundreds of women who have registered to receive the free surgical repairs can benefit from that procedure as soon as possible. Our waiting list also includes 12 women from other African countries.

It goes without saying that Burkina Faso is a leader in the fight against the scourge of female genital mutilation, or FGM. (It is also known as excision). Therefore, to have a medical center dedicated to providing free surgical repairs for women currently suffering the consequences of FGM seems like a logical progression for the country.

Yet, today, after just such a hospital has already been built – thanks to donations from thousands of people of all faiths from around the world – it remains vacant, even though it is fully equipped and operational. It remains vacant because the person who came up with the idea of building this humanitarian medical center happens to be the spiritual leader of an internationally recognized philosophical movement, one that has thousands of members in Burkina Faso.

Our right to religious freedom is thus being disrespected and violated. Clitoraid’s volunteer doctors have had to begin the operations at a sister clinic in Bobo Dioulasso. Eighty women had already arrived in the city to have the surgery, and they were appalled to learn that the government had caved in to such pressure. Dozens of journalists were on-site witnesses, and the Clitoraid volunteers who show up in front of your embassy today will not relent until the discrimination they are experiencing is completely and unconditionally lifted and operations are allowed to begin at the world’s only medical center dedicated to FGM victims.

We hope the Burkinabe government will hear our plea through your services and that its discriminatory decision to disallow the hospital opening will be reversed quickly, so that there will be no need for us to appeal to an international court.

With my utmost respect,

Brigitte Boisselier, PhD

President of Clitoraid
Spokesperson for the International Raelian Movement.

MY BODY! MY RIGHT! Conference at Laval University, Quebec, Canada

November 28 2013, category: International NEWS
Tuesday, November 19, as part of the campaign "I love my body , I love my rights", held at the Université Laval in Quebec City, a conference was organized by the Committee Amnesty International of the Faculty of Law. The organizers chose the still taboo theme excision, a subject that is not spoken of, but yet leaves millions of women and girls injured for life.

They invited André Gaumond, Raelian filmmaker, to present his film "Excision , an evil that still hurts" and Aminata and Habibata, two young African women who have undergone female circumcision, to share their experiences. It was an emotional evening.

First, Andre's film reveals a facet of excision that is not visible, the horror lived by
 these women who are circumcised, the trauma remains throughout their life. Through the testimonies of circumcised women and doctors, the film sheds light on so many social wounds that remain in the lives of millions of women, as female circumcision is more than amputation of a small piece of flesh, it's the amputation of dignity and self-confidence.

Link to the film, click HERE

Aminata, who participated in Gaumond's documentary, experienced circumcision at the age of 6. Already affected by polio, she underwent a second handicap through excision. But just like other females both young and old, she did not speak about it, because we do not talk about circumcision. It is normal to be circumcised. It is only as an adult that Aminata realized that excision is not normal when a woman from her village could not have sex on the night of her wedding night, because of the excision. The husband could not penetrate her. They brought the gynaecologist, but he could do nothing. They even brought in the circumciser to remedy the problem. The husband was asked to penetrate her in the following day so the wound would not close. This is when Aminata realized all the evil that circumcision causes. She decided to talk, never be silent, because circumcision is not normal.

Habibata was also excised at 6 years of age. She was taken by force and they cut her clitoris with a razor blade. She cried. She bled. It was painful and pain has always remained in her body and in her heart. When she was with other young women and they were talking about sexuality, about their experiences, she could not say anything, she felt left out, because she did not know the sensations her friends were talking about. She had nothing to say. "Female circumcision is not limited to the clitoris, it also cuts something in your head, it takes away self-confidence," she said. When she learned that a technique was developed to repair the clitoris, she decided to restore her clitoris in order to witness to other circumcised women and say, "It works!". This simple decision, however, has not been so easy, everything was confused in her head. At each step, she relived her circumcision, again and again. Before the restoration of her clitoris, she first had to treat the psychological scars from the excision, but she had the courage to go through it. Then, three months after contacting Clitoraid, she went to San Francisco to meet Dr. Marci Bowers, to undergo surgery and to repair her clitoris, great hope for all circumcised women to regain their dignity!

"Although there is still a lot of social and legal work to do to counteract FGM, there is hope" it's on this note that law professor Louise Langevin, concluded the evening, as she presented the legal the developments that are occurring internationally to fight against this extreme violence done to women.
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