U.S. surgeon starts giving circumcized African women their lives back


African women who have been victims of the  dreaded Female Genital Mutilation ( FGM ) have been given a new lease of life  . An American surgeon has started giving them back what they lost to a crazy ritual that left them less than whole. From Colorado, Catherine Tsai reports :

TRINIDAD, Colo. — This picturesque southern Colorado town known for decades as the sex-change capital of the world — thousands of gender-reassignment operations have been performed here — is becoming a beacon for victims of female genital mutilation.

Dr. Marci Bowers has performed about two dozen reconstructive surgeries on mostly African born women victimized as children by the culturally driven practice of female circumcision. Bowers is believed to be one of the few U.S. doctors performing the operation.

Bowers, who underwent a gender reassignment operation in the 1990s at age 40, said she relates to what her mutilation patients describe as a loss of identity, of not feeling whole.

“It took me so long to get there in my own life. I know what the feeling is like, seeking my own identity,” she said.

Massah, a patient who grew up in a village in Sierra Leone and now lives in Australia, said the surgery “is like giving us a second life. Actually it’s starting to live.”

Wearing a blue-and-white striped shirt, dark blue pants and sneakers to her pre-surgery exam, Massah asked that her full name not be used because she hasn’t told most friends and even family that she was having the surgery, or that she was circumcised as a girl in Africa.

She paid a $1,700 hospital fee, plus lodging and travel expenses for the surgery last month.

“I will spend my whole life savings,” she said, “even if it’s for one minute of feeling complete.”

The World Health Organization estimates 100 million to 140 million girls and women worldwide have been circumcised.

Cultural, religious and social factors have helped keep the practice alive among those who believe it will reduce promiscuity and take away sexual pleasure or desire. The World Health Assembly passed a resolution in 2008 urging an end to the custom.

The restorative surgery practice in this town of 9,500 people near the New Mexico border began in early 2009.

Last month, at a guest house a short drive from Bowers’ office, Massah and six other patients talked late into the night, sharing stories that they’d found difficult to voice even with best friends. All requested not to be identified.

One 37-year-old woman from Richmond, Va., was circumcised as an infant in Nigeria and realized in college during a biology class that she didn’t look like her textbook diagrams. She said she would still like to ask her mother why.

“Why did you allow it to happen? What were you trying to prevent?”

Massah said she was circumcised at age 11 by a village woman. She was with about a half dozen of her sisters and cousins.


She was placed before the woman and was held down before being cut with what she thinks was a razor. She still remembers her screams.

“Nightmarish,” she said.

She has felt ashamed, incomplete and apprehensive toward sex, she said.

“It’s embarrassing going for Pap smears,” Massah said haltingly, trying not to cry. “Just the look on people’s faces.”

She said she was hoping for “wholeness” from the surgery. A week into her recovery, she said she felt “ecstatic.”

“Some people get another chance in life through organ transplant, but for me, this is it,” she said.

Bowers learned her techniques for operating on FGM victims with Dr. Pierre Foldes, who performs the procedure in France.

Typically, patients have not had the entire clitoris removed, Bowers said, and the surgery exposes what remains, uses remaining tissue to reconstruct labia that may have been cut away, and clears scar tissue.

She said the surgery typically results in improvement in sensation as well as cosmetic benefits.

Bowers hopes to form a teaching program so other doctors can serve FGM victims.

“Somewhere, at some point, women have got to hold hands and say, ‘No, no more. We’re not going to do this anymore,’” she said.

Bowers’ patients pay their own hospital fees and travel and lodging expenses, unless an insurer agrees to cover the hospital fee. Bowers donates her services.

Just how long that will continue here is uncertain. Bowers has announced plans to move to California this fall, and Mt. San Rafael Hospital where she operates says it has no immediate plans to add a new gender reassignment surgeon. That would be a big change for Trinidad, where Bowers’ mentor, the late Dr. Stanley Biber, performed more than 5,000 sex change surgeries over more than 30 years.

Attitudes toward female circumcision are changing, the women patients said.

But, said Massah, “It’s changing, but too slow. It’s going to take a lot of generations.”

Iman, a mother from the Twin Cities area in Minnesota who was circumcised, is grateful for Bowers and the chance to talk with other patients who underwent FGM.

“I left all that baggage at the guest house, all the things that tormented me,” she said. “Imagine dealing with your worst demons and then meeting six other people who are dealing with the exact same issues you are. Then you get to leave all your baggage there, with no judgment.”

Unlike other women who were blindfolded and cut in village ceremonies, with drumming and singing in the background, Iman was excised at age 12 in Kenya, in a doctor’s office.

She had localized anesthesia. “I remember everything,” she said. “My mom was there. I don’t blame her because she did what was done for her. It was a rite of passage.”

Later, she was taken to her grandmother, who checked whether the doctor had done a good job, she said.

After her grandmother died, her mother didn’t take her three younger sisters to be circumcised. “I give her credit for that,” she said. “It stopped with me.”



The Kindest Cut
In Colorado, a surgeon helps restore feeling—and so much more—to victims of female genital mutilation.
One day, when Sila Folow was an 8-year-old girl living in Mali, four elderly women held her down on the dirt floor of an outhouse and, in keeping with local tradition, used a sharp blade to cut out her clitoris and most of her labia. Her grandmother and other villagers held a celebration. Sila, bleeding and in terrible pain, could not walk for weeks. Like millions of other African girls who are forced to undergo female genital mutilation—a ritual many women say is intended to ensure that they grow up to become sexually passive wives who will not stray from their husbands—Sila never recovered. She eventually moved to New York, married, and had two children. But she was reluctant to have sex with her husband. It hurt, and the scarring made it impossible for her to feel pleasure.

This May, Sila, now 38 years old, underwent a simple but profound operation to undo the past. She traveled to Trinidad, Colorado, where Dr. Marci Bowers, a gynecological and pelvic surgeon, has recently begun to perform “clitoralplasty” or “female circumcision reversals” on African women. A relatively new procedure, it reshapes the anatomy and, in 80 percent of patients, restores pleasurable sensation. “I want my womanhood back,” Sila told Bowers when she first spoke to the surgeon about the operation. “I just want to know it’s there. To have the feeling that I can fight against this culture.”

As she awaited the anesthesiologist on the morning of the surgery, Sila—attractive, fun-loving, and talkative—was uncharacteristically quiet in her thin blue gown and hospital socks. She took a final phone call from her husband and mother, and set aside the romance novel she had brought to the hospital as a little joke. It was titled Good Girl Gone Bad.

The doctors wheeled her to the operating room, anesthetized her and got to work. Dr. Bowers cut away the thick scar tissue that had formed over Sila’s wound and had obscured the remains of her clitoris. She then scraped away layers of a black, sooty material—the decades-old remnants of the ash poultice the local women had used to stop the bleeding. It had caused a low-grade infection that still hadn’t healed—one reason Sila was always in pain. “They really got her good,” Bowers said, shaking her head behind her surgical mask. Bowers used a cauterizing tool to quickly stop a sudden rush of blood. “That’s arterial blood flowing there,” she said. “You can see why so many girls have died after circumcisions.” The root of the clitoris, which extends several centimeters beneath the surface of a woman’s skin,is much larger than most people—and for many years scientists—ever suspected. Bowers exposed the remaining flesh of the organ and drew it out, securing it in place with delicate stitches that eventually dissolve. Finally, Bowers also did some cosmetic work to restore the appearance of Sila’s labia.

A little less than an hour after it began, the surgery was complete. Two days after that, Sila was on her way home. In most cases, it takes three to six months to begin to tell if the operation was a success. However, the extent of Sila’s injury was so severe—her reconstruction took twice as long as the average 30 minutes due to the level of scarring and the depth of the cut—it may take longer before she knows if the surgery worked. Still, “You should be able to feel something; there was two centimeters of scar tissue over the area,” Bowers told Sila right after the operation.

“Just knowing it’s out and I’m clean, I feel great,” Sila said, still groggy from the anesthesia. She says she looks forward to the day when she can “have a romance with my husband.”

Sila’s operation was only the fourth time Dr. Bowers had done the procedure, but she has more than twenty years of experience in reconstructive surgery. Bowers learned the procedure in Europe by observing Dr. Pierre Foldes, a French urologist and surgeon who pioneered the technique after years of humanitarian work in Africa. He has received death threats from radical Islamists for his work as a surgeon and for his other efforts to reduce violence against women, he says. But he continues to train doctors and to perform the surgery. Foldes—reached by telephone outside Paris—tells NEWSWEEK that more than 3,000 women have come to him, largely because in France, genital reconstruction surgery is covered by national health insurance. (In the United States insurance companies are still mostly unfamiliar with the surgery—only one of Bowers’s patients has so far gotten full medical coverage for the procedure; others are still fighting with their insurance companies or have paid out of their own pockets. Bowers performs the surgery free of charge, and the hospital caps its fees at $1,700. “As Dr. Foldes has said, you cannot charge money to reverse a crime against humanity,” she says. “Sexuality is a right.”

Bowers speaks from personal experience. She was born male and underwent gender-reassignment surgery to become a woman 11 years ago. She now specializes in sex-change operations; she has performed some 700 of them, and is one of the leading gender-reassignment specialists in the U.S. The small Colorado town where her clinic is located has long been known as the sex-change capital of the world thanks to work of Dr. Stanley Biber, a pioneering surgeon in the 70s whose practice she took over. Asked if she is worried about the death threats that have followed Foldes, Bowers doesn’t flinch. “I’ve jumped through enough fires and over enough barbed-wire fences in my life by now. I do not fear for my safety.”

Bowers expects that the restoration technique she performed on Sila “will explode” in popularity as word gets out to the thousands of other circumcised African women who live in the United States. (Female genital mutilation is practiced in both Christian and Muslim communities and has been performed on some 100 to 130 million women worldwide, and some of those women may have been mutilated here in the U.S.). Since Sila, Bowers has performed four additional surgeries with two more scheduled for this month. A California nurse, Ngozi, who was circumcised as a newborn in Nigeria and also had her labia entirely cut away, came to Bowers in August. She is already feeling results, she tells NEWSWEEK. “Before, I would look at my textbook and look at myself and they were two different things. I wasn’t even human.” Bowers performed not only the clitoral operation but also plastic surgery to create labia for Ngozi, 34. “Now when I look at myself I feel like a woman,” says Ngozi, who says she has even experienced orgasms for the first time in her life. “It’s beautiful, I just love it, it feels like you’re melting. Before it irritated me when my husband tried to touch me, now I reach out to him.”

But here and even in Europe, many women fear being ostracized by their immigrant communities if they undergo the operation. Sila, whom NEWSWEEK followed before, during and after her operation, has the same concerns. She asked that her full name not be used for this article—Sila is her nickname—because she worries friends and family in America and Africa will once again treat her as an outcast. Sila knows about the stigma uncircumcised girls suffer in some African communities. Her mother, who was 14 when she gave birth to her, was vehemently opposed to female circumcision and for years refused to subject Sila to the procedure. In Mali, where nine out of 10 girls are forced to undergo the ritual, Sila stood out. Her cousins and friends had all been circumcised, many as infants. They teased her for being unclean and wouldn’t let her eat at the same table with them. When Sila was 8, her mother moved to the United States, leaving her grandmother to raise her. The grandmother soon arranged for Sila to be made “normal.” But the women who performed the circumcision the first time weren’t satisfied with their work. Three weeks later, they held her down and cut her again. (In one way, Sila says, she was lucky. Some African girls are subjected to an even more extreme and dangerous ritual called an infibulation, which involves sewing up the vagina, leaving only a small opening for urine and menstrual blood.)

In 1989, when Sila was a teenager, her mother invited her to come live with her in the United States. She went to high school and college, and became a U.S. citizen. Dating was awkward. When she’d meet a young man, says Sila, “I’d think, he’s cute, but if he knows he will run away. I would go out with them but when it came time for bed I’d say, ‘Bye!’ ” She married an African man at age 20. Her husband was understanding. “He had lived in the U.S. a long time,” she says. “He thinks the circumcisions are wrong.” But her avoidance of intimacy strained their relationship. An avid reader, Sila devoured American romance novels with a tinge of jealousy and confusion. “I’d think, I wish I had that.”

Last year she was reading a book with a character who’d had a sex change and wondered if she could change herself too—not into a man, but into a “real” woman. If a man can be made to feel like a woman, she thought, maybe they could fix me?

She surfed the Internet and discovered Foldes. She arranged an appointment, but the cost of the trip was high and French health care wouldn’t cover an American patient. She found a small nonprofit organization on the web called Clitoraid, which had helped to fund Dr. Bowers’s training in France. The organization has unusual backers: it is run primarily by volunteers of the provocative French Raelian movement—the pleasure-promoting “UFO religion” whose members believe life on Earth was created by a race of advanced aliens and who emphasize human sexuality. Clitoraid, however, reaches out to women of all religions and focuses solely on connecting women with trained surgeons in order to “create real, long-lasting changes for women who have been forced to experience clitoral excision or genital mutilation against their will” according to its mission statement. It has been the primary source of referrals to Dr. Bowers and has provided some financial aid to some of her patients, In late May, Sila flew to Colorado for the surgery. Like many of Bowers’s patients, she stayed at a guesthouse for people awaiting sex-change operations. She was charged just $35 per night, less than half the usual rate.

Sila had spoken with two of Bowers’s first three patients. Mariam—she agreed to give only her first name—was circumcised as an infant in Mauritania and now lives in Virginia. She spoke with NEWSWEEK seven weeks after her surgery and was still healing, but had begun to recover some sensation. “When I cross my legs or sit in a certain way, I feel something,” she says. “It’s kind of exciting. You keep wanting to do it.” She is still haggling to have her hospital stay covered by insurance. “I’ve gone through this hell, why are they going to say this is cosmetic?” she says. “They don’t even know what they’re talking about. If a person is missing something, it’s not cosmetic.”

After the surgery, Sila showed anger for the first time at the women who cut her as a child. “They were so mean, so mean to me,” she said as she rested on the couch in the guesthouse. “I want to go back and”—she made a shooting motion—”t-t-t with a gun.” But she quickly reverted to her cheerful self. “Even if I feel something just one time, it will all be worth it.” She knows she’ll be criticized by fellow immigrants who may read this story, but hopes that eventually those who practice female circumcision will come to recognize it for what it is—a primitive and barbaric act. “They’ll call me an infidel now, but later they will say it is a good thing,” she says.

The night before her operation Sila could barely sit still, much less sleep. It was, she wrote in her journal, her last night “as an incomplete woman.” At one point, she took a call from her mother. In African culture, says Sila, “usually you don’t talk about things like this with your mother.” But when she told her mother that she was going to have the operation, her mom was envious. “Oh, I’m too old to do it,” she told her daughter. That was how Sila learned that her mother, too, had been circumcised. And now her mom hopes to be one of Dr. Bowers’s next patients.


© 2010, COCORIOKO. All rights reserved. – Discuss this and other related articles on the Salone Forum

21 Responses to “U.S. surgeon starts giving circumcized African women their lives back”

  1. Julie Mariama SesayAugust 11, 2010

    Great news good for women. To reverse the cutting and people are willing to do it at all cost shows really how bad the practice is. This exposes FGM as harmful and not fit for humanity . This information will be widely desseminated in Sierra Leone at various fora. Hope that The UN bodies will invite Dr. Bowers to visit Sierra Leone and give us a reasonable cost to reverse the FGM


  2. Dr. Hindowa A. Ehlojahun PhD.,RNAugust 12, 2010

    They have started again their propaganda FMG as harmful and not fit for mankind or humanity.Oh go and ask your Grandmums Madam Yoko of Tiama, MOYAMBA and Mama Binta Manneh (Bintumanni)of Port Loko,PORT LOKO in Sierra Leone if they were not happy because they were cut. Please if you find them extend my love and Greetings to them. Dont forget to tell them thanks for the grate work they did by cutting that thin—–.


  3. George KamaraAugust 12, 2010

    Are you kidding me, Dr. Elohajun? Note, that I am using the title, Doctor, loosely. How could you as a doctor endorse such a barbaric act on women? Guess what? Madam Yoko and Mama Binta Manneh had no idea what the long term consequences of such procedure would have on them and all the women that followed. You have to realized that these women were uneducated and were probably coerced to engage in such activity by your great, great grandfathers who thought justlike you.
    FGM needs to be abolished for it has neither physical advantage nor a psychological advantage for those who have underwent the procdure. In fact, the contrary is true. If it were up to you Dr. Elohajun, the Ibo’s of Nigeria would still be leaving twins in the bush to die because they would considere them evil, right?
    Sir, you’re still stuck in your ancestors’ shoes, literally.
    Do you realize how much relationships have been ruined because these women, who have no sexual desires, much less experience orgasm, are unable to please their partners, resulitng in infedlity and worse, having children out of wedlocks?
    I can go on indfinitely I if so choose to, but I hope that a legislation is past, soon, in Sierra Leone to help halt this egregious act. Is time to realize that our mothers, wives and daugthers have the right to relish sexual activity as much as their male counterparts do. Oh, I forgot to mentioned the medical disadvantages of FGM, but I will leave to you, the “expert.”


  4. Ade WrightAugust 12, 2010

    Dear Dr Hindowa,
    I am really surprised to know that with all your support for the African Cultures and Traditons, you opt to become a doctor and not an herbalist or juju man as they are the doctors of african settings.

    Was it right for you to abandon your culture and traditions for those of the west?
    If so, why is it not right for the ladies and women of today to choose something of the west?
    Have you not demonstrated that our cultures and traditions are backward for ignoring what you had to choose that of the west?
    Are you driving cars or still sitting on camel’s back?
    Dr of what are you? Please change that title if you really are.


  5. As one who has been married to a woman who underwent FGM and as a father of two beautiful young women, I strongly condemn FGM in the strongest terms. It has no place in our culture. Bondo and Sande can do without this brutal practice. The premise that FGM prevents girls from prostitution or that it makes girls mature is bogus. For those that support such a practice, they might as well support the cutting of limbs in Sierra Leone that occured during the rebel war. It is time Sierra Leone thinks seriously about banning this practice. We cannot in good conscience continue to allow our young women to be subjected to such torture. One woman told me how she almost bled to death in Kabala when her aunt tricked her and took her to the bush to cut her. Now if that is culture, I do not want to be part of it. And as I have said before, if anybody should ever perform such a act on my two children, that person should be ready to be in jail for the rest of their lives.


  6. Let us respect the rigt of children as they are also humans.


  7. Dr. Hindowa A. Ehlojahun PhD.,RNAugust 12, 2010

    To: Mr. George Kamara, Point of correction the name Ehlojahun means not drown in a river and Elojahun means drown in a river. I know you are not a MENDE Speaker of SIERRA LEONE. Anyway I will be coming up with a lenghty scientific report some time on this issue.This is a topic all Africans should express their views on. I like views of of others. Greetings, Hindowa.


  8. Ade WrightAugust 12, 2010

    Dear Jocob Sax Conteh

    Kindly enlighten me about the sande culture as I have no knowledge of it.

    DO they also carry out FGM as the bondo people do?


  9. Bambay Lans KamaraAugust 12, 2010

    Could any of you have the women give their views as far as this issue is concerned?
    Because what I have read is from a woman who had circumcision done in the hospital and the Doctor that did it is a transgender therefore, the two can not convince me easily for fact that the Doctor does not the natural experience of how it feels and the woman can not give us an experience as distinct as is done by the societies.
    Many Sierra Leonean women who were participants on many Sierra Leonean forums abstained from this discuss. I did not wish to ask or even contribute to it because I have no knowledge of it and have had girl friends in my life who could have told me had there been complications.
    The practice is done in the Western cultures.
    Read the following: “Labiaplasty (sometimes spelled labioplasty and sometimes referred to as labia minor reduction or labial reduction)[1] is plastic surgery of the labia majora and/or the labia minora, which are the external folds of skin surrounding the structures of the vulva. The procedure involves reducing elongated labia. When labia are created where there were none, it is usually part of a vaginoplasty. This procedure is performed for a variety of reasons, including correction of damage done to the labia during childbirth, because larger labia can cause pain or discomfort, or for the purposes of cosmetic surgery.
    Surgical procedures
    Labiaplasty reduces the size of one or both sets of labia. It may also be employed to repair the labia following disease or injury, or especially after childbirth. In addition, a hoodectomy may be performed at the same time, which exposes the clitoris in an attempt to increase sexual stimulation. Hoodectomy is sometimes used to treat sexual dysfunction such as anorgasmia.

    Labial reduction: before and after
    As recently as 1999, surgeons usually performed labium reduction by straight amputation of the protuberant sections and then by suturing the edges together.[2] However, this procedure sometimes created a fragile and stiff suture line as well as eliminating the natural contour and pigmentation of the labia minora. Moreover, other procedural and clinical problems existed with amputation that did not ensure a favorable outcome.
    Several years later, more surgeons introduced lasers into their armamentarium and began using more refined surgical procedures, such as inferior wedge resection and superior pedicle flap reconstruction. In one outcome study, surgeons studied the results of 20 patients undergoing labiaplasty via the procedure. 95.2 percent of patients at 46 months reported being very satisfied. While five complications cropped up, all but one were handled immediately postoperatively and did not require additional hospital stays or interfere with healing.[3]
    Labiaplasty is almost always an outpatient procedure performed under anesthesia. It is debated as to whether a local or short general anesthetic delivers better patient comfort. After surgery, patients may experience some mild discomfort and variable swelling, which usually disappear for the most part after one to two weeks. Recovery times ranging from three days to two weeks are claimed on surgeons’ websites.”
    I am not suggesting that the practice is wrong or right but we have not heard the women’s point of view, and as a matter that involves them, let us avoid the temptation of jumping at each other’s throat when we have no experience or experiences of how the women feel after the procedure/s.
    I know I have had sex with more than two dozen African women in my life time. Some of whom are reading currently that I can boast are special. I did not have these sexual encounters with many of them because they could not give me satisfaction. I did so because of ego and the fact that most had to marry, move to other towns or countries to benefit themselves or I had to move to other towns for educational purposes. I have to hear the woman’s perspective to know how they feel and what they feel before I could decide to condemn or embrace and respect the cultural views of our women.
    Even in surgeries medical malpractices take place, accidents take place. Why do you think there are malpractice cases? Let the women decide on ways to refine the practice if need be or abolish it if it is dissatisfying.
    Therefore, this matter is about the women and we have plenty of them in parliament and in Cabinet in Sierra Leone. If it is a matter of great concern to them, I am sure they will push for legislation to modernize or ban it. You and I don’t have experiences from the practice we are assuming. We still drive cars and other vehicles that have killed millions of people in Africa but have we stopped importing them because accidents occur with these cars? The number of people killed from vehicular accidents and guns is more troubling that one or two accidents that take place from a procedure that we have never been part of.
    The lady went to the hospital who probably was doing something quite different from what is done in the societies. If she wants to make a change why is she concealing her identity if what she is doing is right and not disgraceful. Some time when some of come abroad we go crazy with Western style. Can see Munku them nar dat same Western World! Want to kill because you want —- gots to go!


  10. Bambay, you may not be suggesting that the practice is wrong or right, but from reading your post, you are certainly not against it. You bring up cars and car accidents as if that’s a point that’s germane. For the sake of conversation, we have to drive cars. What is the purpose of female circumcision? All it does is disfigure young girls, takes away any future sexual pleasure and worse even endangers their lives. How many young girls die from this practice? If you have a young daughter, would you let your wife put her through such a procedure? You also point out that there are women in power and if the practice was a problem, they would have done something. Either you are very naive, or you brought up a point you know is nonsense just to try and make your point. For whatever reasons, govts are very reticent to upset the secret societies that engage in these practices and you know this. Its time to ban this nonsense.


  11. Julie Mariama SesayAugust 12, 2010

    • This matter of FGM is a serious matter for women in Sierra Leone. You don’t know how serious it is until you have an opportunity to run a workshop on FGM where people are encouraged to break the cultural silence to discuss all that is involve (The culture is passed from generation to generation and in the process you are told never to explain the practice if you do your stomach will be swollen). If you have 100 women after the discussion you will notice that about 90% will say I never knew what it was all about nor thought of the consequences, I regretted I did, I have not seen or accured any benefit in the form of money to reduce my poverty or a position that will earn me money. Any way for me and my family to be accepted in our community, I still do it on my children and even the grand children so that they are not intimidated to visit around, no provocation and name calling like “gboroka” and I can easily get a man to marry me for that is the culture accepted by men. The 10% usually happens to be those who are engage in the practice either as practitioners or helps during the ordeal. Since they earn their living form the act of cutting, they cannot make themselves redundant by condemning the practice.
    • Since 2007 my organization has been engaging women in five chiefdoms in Northern Sierra Leone, to break the Silence on FGM and Domestic violence. The project is not there to condemn culture but help identify good cultural practices and promote them, to give and receive information (focus group discussions, posters, hand bills radio panel discussions with phoning for audience participation and contribution, production of a book for Muslims and Christians use in the mosques and churches etc.), build their capacity through trainings, develop and use community by laws, train focal persons for the implementation and monitoring of by laws in their communities. There are many organizations too working on the elimination of FGM in Sierra Leone, not because the west is condemning it, but due to the fact we have learned and have analysis the issue, there are” no benefits”, it’s all loss, increase poverty on the family who does it, immediate loss of blood and serious pain, wickedness and evil, subsequent pain on the scar especially during sex, increases hazardous medical conditions during child birth like delay in labor and bleeding to over 70% of women who are cut, because the scar cannot stretch and increases polygamy as women who are cut when they are young only enjoy sex for the byproduct of having children, after which the woman as old as 40 years and above has no desire for sex, and this drives the male counterpart who is still active to find a young girl and marry and after that girl gets one to three child, the sex desire is gone and the man finds another ,and other and another and so on….. .
    You use a vehicle made from the west, though it sometimes kills in the course of accident, but you continue using it because of the benefits. It takes you were you want to go, reduces sweating, strians, it increases your income as you to many places as fast as you can and helps you to do many job, It yield dividend. You can’t compare FGM to a vehicle. It is like comparing life to death.
    • May I remind or inform you that women in the parliament, civil society organizations and human right organizations came together and worked on three gender bills in Sierra Leone. FGM was part of the Domestic Violence act. When the bill was passed on 20th March 2007, the FGM was Expunged. Many women in parliament, civil society and human right organizations are still working to see that FGM is abolished.
    • Coming to the issue on the “rite of Passage”. In Sierra Leone, FGM is not done presently for the rite of passage as 80% is done to earn income. Prove me right, try to see children who are initiated now in Sierra Leone. You will notice that children between ages 2 to 12 will form the majority of initiates. The original desire of FGM which included the rite of passage is totally destroyed as children below age are taken to the bush, they cannot understand or use the training pass on to them. The various cultural ceremonies for the rite of passage is an ordeal to be done by matured young ladies in preparation for marriage, but the parents of young initiates ends up performing the cultural rite on behalf of their incapable and un matured child or pay some money to the practitioner(sowei). This in fact led to the exposure of FGM and it has also contributed to girls drop out of school. Immediately a young girl comes out of the FGM initiation, she is considered a woman and men go after them for marry and sex. This also increases early marriage, teenage pregnancy and unwanted pregnancy. Friends FGM has a whole problem tree that is also adding to Sierra Leone being below the Development index. Consider what I have share with you, make informed choices and informed decisions.


  12. Bambay Lans KamaraAugust 12, 2010

    Sam, I will respond to you latter, I had written this before I saw your post. Hang on. I have already typed it.
    Meet Sierra Leonean women:
    I am reading what I wrote bellow because my heart is laughing.
    It is only dumb to be giving all the reasons why one should desist from an act but continues tirelessly to do the same especially, if such actions have caused so many difficulties and pains for another person and particularly if such an action is against the Law and immoral.
    Reason is defined as :” a rational motive for a belief or action; “the reason that war was declared”; “the grounds for their declaration”
    • an explanation of the cause of some phenomenon; “the reason a steady state was never reached was that the back pressure built up too slowly”
    • the capacity for rational thought or inference or discrimination; “we are told that man is endowed with reason and capable of distinguishing good from evil”
    • decide by reasoning; draw or come to a conclusion; “We reasoned that it was cheaper to rent than to buy a house”
    • rationality: the state of having good sense and sound judgment; “his rationality may have been impaired”; “he had to rely less on reason than on rousing their emotions”
    • argue: present reasons and arguments
    • cause: a justification for something existing or happening; “he had no cause to complain”; “they had good reason to rejoice”
    • think logically; “The children must learn to reason”
    • a fact that logically justifies some premise or conclusion; “there is reason to believe he is lying”

    Has somebody greened in your face to make you believe that though you are educated but you are not benefitting from your education, a reason of no fault of yours but that he or she or he and she can make it possible that you do not enjoy the benefit of your education because you are educated, to make him or her feel he or she is hot in this day-in-age, in the year of our Lord 2010? Yah!!! For no other reason but wanting to look cool. Wow!
    Education did not start in Sierra Leone yesterday. Therefore, I would hope that my motives for taking the wait-and-learn stance are not misconstrued. Nonetheless, I would emphatically say that I have reasons to doubt many condemnations of the African cultures. Especially on the subject of what is now called FGM that I grew-up knowing as female circumcision. A subject only those who participate in it can tell about it, which is never done. All those who come-up with theories do so from reports given by a few misfortunate collaborators.
    As I said, education on many issues did not start in Sierra Leone yesterday, probably the reason why just few Sierra Leonean females would complain on this issue and why the said lady would hide her identity.
    I am a Medical Assistant who also went to school for a Registered Nursing Degree. I am not working as a Medical Assistant but doing day labor just to get-bye, why, stereotypical reasons and mostly the lack of reasoning and a hate for African excellence or determination. Most of you readers know the ordeals because since 1997 I told most of you what happened, where an African lady went to deliver in the bush and squatted and the baby fell from her Virginia, she abandoned the lady and latter came to pick her up with flies hovering all over her. This was the video shown in my Psychology class. I left the town where this video was shown to another town in the same state and did remarkably well in the higher portion of the Psychology I was taken in the said school that showed the video.
    Education did not start in Sierra Leone yesterday. However, what is astonishing is when I hear question such as “where did he get the education? In most civilization the questions should be why is he not benefitting from the wealth of knowledge he has? Benefitting from one’s knowledge is how civilization reached this stage. In the dark ages people were killed because they were educated, which was done in practically every continent. But people realized that knowledge is important for human growth. Since then, and even before the Dark Ages, people have benefitted from the wealth of their knowledge. Why is it different?
    This is what was done in Sierra Leone and has continued to this date:
    Sir Milton Margai was born in Gbangabatoke in what is now Banta Chiefdom, Moyamba District, on December 7, 1895. The eldest son of the prominent businessman, Mr. M.E.S. Margai of Bonthe, he received primary and secondary education at the E.U.B. school, Bonthe, and the Albert Academy in Freetown, respectively. In 1921, he obtained his B.A. degree from Fourah Bay College. He then went to Britain where he obtained an M.A. degree and studied medicine at King’s College, Durham, graduating in 1926.

    He was a distinguished member of the Colonial Medical Service who pioneered social welfare and hygiene education in remote areas of the Protectorate. He encouraged leaders of the Mende women’s secret society, the Sande, to include training courses in hygiene, literacy and childcare in their programme of initiation for young girls. These courses were taught by qualified instructors, most of whom were trained by Sir Milton himself.” This is in according to the Sierra Leone Web History Archive.
    It is very insulting to say that generations of our grand mothers, mothers, sisters, wives, daughters, girl friends, some of whom currently doctorate degrees were stupid enough to continue a practice that was detrimental to them their children and never complained about it ever. When the practice of putting kids under trees and for the reasons they were put there were found to be bogus, hasty efforts were made to abolish it and made it a legal offense for anyone who practiced it.
    As I told you about an instance where, my mother had to rescue my niece because her mom left her under a tree because she was badly malnourished and American Doctors had said that there was no way they could resuscitate her and she the mother had done everything under the son to keep her daughter alive but was tiring. When my mother heard of it she took her home and constantly took her to the hospital and these were trained doctors, Whites, who told my mother also that the child would never make it. My mom’s response was, “God Willing. For so many reasons, my mom was talked about, laughed at because of what she and her family had to go through for this girl. Guess what, she has her own children and she is as beautiful as a queen. Full figured and healthy looking that any man would want to marry.
    So our grand mothers, our mothers, wives and girl friends know when things are not favorable and would complain. If they did not complain and those who are doctors have not raised their voices but the few unfortunate ones, we are a democracy, it is wise we listen to the voices of the majority, learn from them to make changes that are beneficial to everyone.


  13. Bambay Lans KamaraAugust 12, 2010

    Sam thank you for your response. Have you ever had sex with a Sierra Leonean woman? Try it please and tell me your experience.
    In response to your views in the post to me, where you stated that “from reading your post, you are certainly not against it,” I would say is absolutely true but in clarification, it is a wait and learn situation. This is so because in my life, I have come to realize that it is wise to study a situation, understand it better before coming to any conclusion or taking actions. This is what is done in any Sciences, in most civilized human dealings and it is what is done in law. The Police arrests not because they feel one is guilty, which is why they read the Miranda Rights to him, take such a person to jail to await trials. The Jurors listen to the case, get substantial evidence and then deliberate on such a case before they give their findings. If a sentence is passed, the convicted person can pursue the case if he feels dissatisfied. That is democratic practice and a sensible way of dealing with situations and information. We have not heard from Sierra Leonean women on this issue, we do not know exactly how they feel; who are we then to judge base on the explanation or experiences of two or three people one who was a man and then became a female the other did it in a hospital but is scolding the society or even if we had from a thousand when we have more than a million Sierra Leone women? I would have to give what I know, have seen and have experienced and stand by that until I get facts.
    You probably misconstrued my stance. It is a wait-and-learn situation nonetheless, I am, due to the fact that circumcision has been a practice since ancient times to modern times, and because in the two chiefdoms I know as home, I hardly know of no female that died because of complications due to malpractice of circumcision nor did any of the ladies complain of not having orgasm or enjoying sex for any other reason associated with circumcision, I am obliged to be on the positive side, that which I know, see families stay married until death and some even had fights because their husbands could not give them enough while others are happily married, which is what I know, until those women who go through the process say it is wrong, that they have been deceiving all men, though some fake orgasm but nar god go pay dem, and that they would hate a continuation of the practice then I will change my stance or if there is substantial evidence that this practice is medically wrong and has been proven that 70% of the women feel this way, then I have no reason not to support it.
    More so, I have giving you facts about that the practice takes place in the West, to which White and Black women take part in but you have not giving me any concrete evidence or provided any other Sierra Leonean women’s view about their detest for the practice or how such practice has ruined their sexual pleasure. What do you expect me to believe, evidence or the lack of?
    On the issue of the car, I tried to associate statistical evidence of death that more surpasses what is claimed in circumcision deaths. Therefore, it the issue is to protect the lives of African females, the vehicular accidents and circumcision which kills more of them? They have never complained to me and I have not heard of the many deaths that are hyped-up but I can give you numbers of cars


  14. Bambay Lans KamaraAugust 12, 2010

    Julie Mariama Sesay I do not have time to read your post but will do whenever I have the chance but thank you for your views.


  15. To Ade,

    Sande is the Mende version of Bondo and both secret societies use FGM as part of their rituals to help girls come of age. While I enjoy the dancing and music that surround the ceremonies in the village while I was growing up, I do not believe one has to have FGM to teach a girl how to become a good citizen. Though many argue that this is a women’s issue, it also affects men who end of marrying these women, and that is why I believe it should be outlawed outright. But there has to be education to convince the women, many who believe that without FGM a girl will not even be able to have a child!


  16. Bambay Lans KamaraAugust 13, 2010

    Julie thank you for your passion; how is London?
    I see you are very passionate about eradicating the practice of female circumcision in Sierra Leone and Africa. From a woman’s perspective, something must have triggered your passion for this move. As it is believed that experience is the sinequanon of learning, you went through the procedure, which puts you in a better position to understand and explain it convincingly than anyone else who never had the experience, to allow those of us who have very little or no knowledge about it understand it better. The males go through their procedure, which might be different in many ways from the women therefore; the need to eradicate female circumcision can be understood better, coming from you than any of us. I commend you for summoning-up the courage to talk about it to open the doors for most women who for one reason or the other can not talk about it. May God help you in your endeavors.
    I see no reason anyone will oppose this move if such a person knows for fact that such a practice has adverse effect on women’s social, physical and psychological wellbeing.
    I have no quarrels with the abolition of the practice. However, my contention is that there has to be a scientific proof given by somebody, any body, who knows exactly what goes on in the bush, and have studied how it is practiced by at least 80% of those who practice it, to show evidence of the wrong way it is practiced to give reasons whether it should be abolished completely or amended and give reasons why such a change in a culture that has been practiced for over four hundred years if not more is justifiable; not one who is basing his findings on assumptions.
    We are in modern times and it is not the time men should control the lives of women; and in our midst thus far, all but you debating this issue are men. Most of who yell that the act is bad but are not giving reasons, scientific reasons and proofs from women that will justify their claims cannot convince me. This lives me no room to think otherwise but stand behind the women.
    I am also a huge advocate for, and a believer that certain cultural practices that are irrelevant and can create hostility, suppressed anger and deterioration in our communities be changed or done away with. However, if and when the women decide to hold on to the practice because they find it to be useful, not detrimental to them in any way, that their practice is misconceived and not just to practice it because our great grandmothers practiced it, I cannot quarrel with their decision until I see an educative explanation that will convince them otherwise. The problem with circumcision has never affected me. As I said, my girl friends were happy and so was I but them and I were not the only ones that were happy in relationships, but the vast majority of Sierra Leonean men and women were noticed to be happy in relationships. They couldn’t have been practicing it and suffer in silence because they wanted to be defiant. They continued the practice because they believed or believe in the values it extended or extends to communities and the nation as a whole.
    But when ethical values are taken away from any practice there is sure to be adverse consequences. When some part of the country’s Gbagbani societies’ ethical values were changed from the practices that the forefathers demanded be observed, the spiritual nature of the society and the respect it once possessed diminished or was on the brink of collapse. When foreign ideas and influences captivated the mindset of the younger generation of my time were introduced into the practice, and it became a political affair and a means to intimidate political opponents, and members started entering religious and sacred shrines such as churches and mosques, the secrecy of the society was diminished and almost lost the respect it once held. This might be the same that has affected the female secrete societies.
    Allow me to disagree with you on some issues and give you my reasons.
    You stated that “If you have 100 women after the discussion you will notice that about 90% will say I never knew what it was all about nor thought of the consequences, I regretted I did, I have not seen or accured any benefit in the form of money to reduce my poverty or a position that will earn me money.” That is not the goal of the society to make women rich but to help them earn social skills towards self-reliance and self-actualization.
    In the first place, FGM or circumcision is not responsible for any one’s poverty. It should not disappoint anyone should they become poor. Most of them were poor before initiation, were they not?
    It is not a business school, a government nor a bank that dishes-out loans to women that are initiated. We receive initiation to mold our moral and ethical reasoning, to be disciplined enough to be able to distinguish good from evil, right from wrong, learn how to deal with others better, acquire self respect, respect for others and respect for the law, manage well, be compassionate and determined, earn the tools to see what others see as meaningful and dignified, to be able to go into the world to play our part in changing it for the better, believing that we are not alone in the trials but have a system already in place that should help, join in and support the society in making others’ lives and ours better because this system is also believed to have undergone such a training and are expected to live by this standards that should make our endeavors less frustrating and less cumbersome. But the education received was not adhered to. That breakdown in the system making it go out of control is what caused poverty not female circumcision. There was rampant corruption and our socio-economic and political system was hit by tornadoes that caused poverty for men , women, children and the animals in Sierra Leone. Not female circumcision. The failure to adhere to the ethical and moral teachings of all forms of education in Sierra Leone is what brought about problems in the system. When they started earning their living form the act of cutting, and cannot make themselves redundant by condemning the practice because they used it as a source of income as oppose to the way it was practiced when no money was charged but was done to instill values and maintain a tradition, in which case everything was done for the dignity and good of the culture, and when the aims and objectives of the culture was diverted whereby, people started seeking their individual interest rather the interest of the tradition then there were problems.
    Do you know why the American Democracy will hardly fail? It is because the core interest is to maintain and improve the purpose for which the forefathers had set in motion, to promote freedom and democracy and upkeep the American power around the world. That vision is transferred from generation to generation so that changes are made but such changes are made to suit the trend of the progress made and to continue the aims and aspirations of the forefathers, which is why the American Constitution has never been changed but amended very few times.
    No woman goes to labor that does not have pains from child birth even in the developed world.
    Since my days in Sierra Leone women were taking contraceptives or required men to use condoms. Men marry many wives or have many partners since the beginning of Africa not because of the belief that women did not enjoy sex but for the latter generation, we either copied examples of our fathers or were egocentric, which is why even in the Developed countries certain women and men have pens and notebooks. Let me don’t go into that. The Mormons were example of people who engaged in polygamous marriage even in America. They did not do so because of female circumcision.
    Who are these people you are talking to, “(The culture is passed from generation to generation and in the process you are told never to explain the practice if you do your stomach will be swollen)?
    Jullie are you a Sierra Leonean, please understand that I am not questioning your nationality, or are you one of those who when they wish to interview for the wrong reasons go to little kids and illiterate villagers that can only give a distorted view of any and everythin? It is best you go to mature, educated and experienced Sierra Leonean women. When I am reading this makes me feel I am responding to somebody who knows nothing about Sierra Leonean culture or is vehemently determined to push her agenda. Please try to convince your readers that the act is not good by giving scientific reasons. I went to high school, college and “worked” at State House in Sierra Leone with highly intelligent women and well educated ones for that matter. We have Doctors, Lawyers, Lecturers, Accountants that are women that studied in Sierra Leone and others that studied in Sierra Leone and abroad, worked abroad and are now doing the same things in Sierra Leone that were initiated, these are some of the ones you need to assemble to get their views. Plus others who at least went to high school or have the maturity to explain with some sense.
    You stated “When the bill was passed on 20th March 2007, the FGM was Expunged.”
    I would see why such a law could be expunged because the reasons you have suggested are not enough to convince a person like me to put into law an abolition of a tradition when the reasons are vague, to change a practice that affects the lives of about three million people, without any convincing proof but distortion of facts such as children under the age of 2-12 are the initiates. For men yes but not for women, the latter, in most cases, if not all the time, are initiated during puberty.
    You need to feed us with facts that are convincing. As I said I do not have any quarrels with the abolition of female circumcision but I want facts to convince me.
    I am thrilled that you are taking the initiative to start a dialogue among women about circumcision. But it is vital that you also have the professional gynecologists to give their views on the matter. Before I left Sierra Leone we had only one gynecologist, Dr. Thollie. In fact, most people use to refer to him as Dr. Vagina. The thing is we know very little about Vagina and female sexuality because it is a taboo to look and to talk about it because people are ashamed. So I am glad you have started a dialogue. It is wise to make professional analyses of the situation by studying it properly to arm you with enough information to convince the government and the women to want to change. For example, according to Wikipedia, “Medical consequences it is stated that ” practicing cultures, FGC is most commonly performed between the ages of four and eight, but can take place at any age from infancy to adolescence. Prohibition has led to FGC going underground, at times with people who have had no medical training performing the cutting without anaesthetic, sterilisation, or the use of proper medical instruments. The procedure can lead to death through shock from excessive bleeding. The failure to use sterile medical instruments may lead to infections.”
    Even in this case, Sierra Leone was way ahead when Sir Milton Margai introduced and taught women to employ hygienic methods in the practice to which there are, like any other practice, complications but our female circumcision has resulted in very few, I mean very few accidents.
    They continue to say that complications such as “serious long term health effects, including urinary and reproductive tract infections, caused by obstructed flow of urine and menstrual blood, various forms of scarring and infertility. Epidermal inclusion cysts may form and expand, particularly in procedures affecting the clitoris. These cysts can grow over time and can become infected, requiring medical attention such as drainage.[44] The first episode of sexual intercourse will often be extremely painful for infibulated women, who will need the labia majora to be opened, to allow their partner access to the vagina. This second cut, sometimes performed by the partner with a knife, can cause other complications to arise.”
    Does any man involve in cutting a second time in Sierra Leone? I see this as favrication when it comes to Sierra Leone because I don’t know about other nations and the way they conduct their practice.
    They state that ”A June 2006 study by the WHO has cast doubt on the safety of genital cutting of any kind.[1] This study was conducted on a cohort of 28,393 women attending delivery wards at 28 obstetric centers in areas of Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya, Senegal and The Sudan. A high proportion of these mothers had undergone FGC. According to the WHO criteria, all types of FGC were found to pose an increased risk of death to the baby (15% for Type I, 32% for Type II, and 55% for Type III). Mothers with FGC Type III were also found to be 30% more at risk for cesarean sections and had a 70% increase in postpartum haemorrhage compared to women without FGC. Estimating from these results, and doing a rough population estimate of mothers in Africa with FGC, an additional 10 to 20 per thousand babies in Africa die during delivery as a result of the mothers having undergone genital cutting.”
    This is the finding but I do not see where there is mention of the training or the lack of training for midwives, the lack of medical supply during child birth or certain training women undergo to prepare them for child birth, the lack of proper nutrition for the healthy development of fetus that are all contributing factors for complications during child birth. I cannot argue the WHO but I have the right to question because I know certain issues in South Africa and Tuskegee Alabama that rings a bell once in a while and especially when I see some one reacts negatively to what I think about for no justifiable reasons but I will allow my personal experience overshadow the majority but when these reactions are because of misplaced presumptions about my contributions to African lives, I will have a reason to be concerned.
    I will read and listen to the women’s view and especially your views because you went through it and if you can narrate your stories and give us a concise explanation of what it did to you specifically, that will lay the foundation to help us understand and probably prepare us to start believing knowing that it came from one who feels and knows it all. But for now, if the women have no problem with it. I have no problem either.
    Until such a time when they unanimously believe it should be changed or the practice dies a natural death, I stand by what I know from the women’s point of view, and live the decision to them because accept it, know about it and have not decided to change it. I live it to the them and welcome further clarification. Thank you for your time.


  17. Bambay, I am still missing your point, or maybe YOU are missing the point of this whole conversation. You seem to be trying to suggest that just because this practice has been going on for a long time and you have not really heard women complain they are suffering because they underwent the practice, it should be continued. Instead of waiting for your scientific fact to bolster your argument that there is nothing wrong with it, how about looking at it from another perspective? What is the benefit of the practice? Could you answer that for me in simple english so I can get your point? And also, how old are you, if you do not mind me asking? I am thinking you are under 35, 40, but you are sounding like a 65 year old in a village some where with old fashion thoughts.

    Remember, the girls..not women, who undergo this, do not have a choice, if a family refuses, they are ostracized, heck girls are even kidnapped so this can be done. I think just the fact that basically, this is a forced practice is reason enough to ban it. Second, other than for those who were butchered and sex is a painful process, can a women who has been mind controlled into thinking this is a good procedure, not to mention, she does not know what she is missing in terms of sex, really tell you that undergoing the procedure is a bad thing?
    Would you be against something that’s “anti” your culture and who you are as a person, which is what our womenfolk have been brainwashed into thinking?

    You asked if I have ever had sex with a SL woman, to suggest that they still have pleasurable sex. Yes, some still do, but others still suffer, because once in a while, they are butchered, so sex is painful and also, the fact is, some women will not be able to have orgasms without a clitoris.

    Lastly, this is a health issue. Suppose a girl was born with AIDS or has been raped by some sicko, it does happen if you read this and that other paper, and has a STD, the STD would be transferred. Remember, they use the same knife on one person and maybe wipe the blood off so they can see, but no other precautions such as boiling the knife or putting it in alcohol is taken. The women performing the FGM could have AIDS and some girl is fussing and fighting, the woman cuts her self and now her tainted blood risks contaminating the poor girl. It should be banned. And please do not take this the wrong way. It is a civil conversation I’m enjoying having with you. I love my country and I want all that is wrong with it to stop. FGM is wrong!


  18. Bambay Lans KamaraAugust 19, 2010

    Sam thanks for your conversation. No, I enjoy discussions because they help people who are interested gain tremendously from it.
    I am not sixty-five nor do I live in a village, well, I live in Charlottesville, Virginia, one hours drive from Washington , D.C.,a population of 41,487 – Jul 2008. If compared to Washington D.C, the nations capital, where I was living until four or five months ago,
    with a population of about 591,833 people, yes, Charlottesville will look like a village in that sense.
    I would not have enough time to discuss this issue but let me remind you that it is two men discussing this issue, an issue that is sacred to our society that was a taboo to discuss but now the International Community thinks it is bad therefore, it becomes our business to discuss.
    You and I would know nothing about what is practiced there because it is very sacred. As a result, we will have no information of what actually goes on there.
    No evidence, no case. Is that fair enough?
    Good night.
    But I might get into details tomorrow if this is unsatisfactory.


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