On a visit to Djibouti (Horn of Africa) in 1965, I came upon a report on female genital mutilation prepared by a French doctor attached to the Foreign Legion. It described the hideous practices perpetrated on young Somali girls by their female relatives.
It recorded how the child aged between 6-12 years old would be held down by her mother and aunts while the gede (grandmother) sliced off the head of her clitoris with a knife, or a often just a rusty razor. Infibulation was also frequently performed when the labia were cut and the edges sewn together with thorns. The unfortunate’s legs were then bound until the raw labia fused leaving only the tiniest aperture for menstruation and eventual penetration on her wedding night.
Few men were capable of taking a girl thus excised and it was necessary to cut her genitalia open for intercourse. Next day according to local custom, the man would parade through his village displaying his bloodied knife— to show everyone he had taken possession of his wife. The badly scarred woman could not give birth normally requiring surgical incision and re-stitching which had to be repeated with each subsequent birth.
Aisha the beautiful servant-girl where I stayed was terrified of the practice as indeed were a majority of girls facing this heinous custom to provide greater pleasure for the man, but my article (translated from the French) and offered to several London media outlets was considered too graphic for publication.
While female genital mutilation is now officially condemned by the UN, the practice continues even in hygenic western surgeries. But it is a wicked practice and women such as the US educated Miss Ahmadu trumpeting her enthusiasm (on SBS Insight of 19th February) after undergoing the procedure in Sierra Leone, does the cause to condemn FGM a huge disservice.
As for the Victorian woman gynaecologist on the programme saying that boy babies are circumcised — “what’s the difference ” — well this is simply ignorance since it is clinically proven that a penis with the drooping foreskin is a potential carrier of several STD’s as well as AIDS.
In London recently I put the validity of male circumcision to a sexual diseases specialist at St Georges Hospital who said there was no question about it. He emphasised that all sensible parents should circumcise a baby boy as soon as possible after birth when the procedure involves nothing more than a little snip (which having witnessed several circumcisions as a nurse, I can vouch is correct).
I’m pleased that Miss Ahmadu enjoyed her experience, but it would be interesting to seek the view of the famous Australian gynaecologist — 84 year old Dr Catherine Hamlin— whose Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia is filled with women who have suffered appalling childbirth trauma often resulting from sexual mutilation practices perpetuated by women on women to ensure their husband does not seek sexual satisfaction with another.
And finally to compare the current trend for labiaplasty with FGM is nonsense.A woman seeking genital reconstruction is making her own decision which in most cases stems from vanity and an equal desire to please her partner who is the only one who sees “down there”.