The construction of a controversial clinic to offer surgery to victims of female genital mutilation is under way in Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Fasso, West Africa and is expected to be completed by September this year, taking only six Months to construct.
The Clinic is dubbed ‘The Pleasure Clinic’ by Burkina Fasso, and it is proving to be a subject matter which is separating the country due to the topic of sex still being a taboo subject in the region.
“The clinic will restore justice and give women the ability to feel sexual pleasure”, Mariam Bainmanie president of Clitoraids local NGO partner, ‘Voices of Women’ said. “Burkina Women are beginning to stand up for what they believe in and why should sexual pleasure not be part of that?”
The restoration of the clitoris which many African women have cut through a procedure named female genital mutilation/cutting or Female circumcision will bring back the sensation of an orgasm, something that they have been missing for many years. Despite the many dangerous medical side effects the procedure has on the women, the sexual matter is the angle that Clitoraids campaign is taking.
Clitoraid is a US-based charity funding the clinic which will restore the damage done to women at a young age by providing free surgery to restruct the clitoris to its normal form.
A spokesperson says along with the Country being the gateway to other West African countries the fact that the procedure is illegal and therefore not as controversial as it would be in other African countries, is why they chose Burkina Fasso as the location.
Bobo-Dioulasso has a population of over 435,000 people; it is the second largest city in Burkina Fasso, a little known West African Country on the borders of Ghana and Mali. In 1996 the Country passed a controversial law of banning the procedure of cutting a females clitoris, one of the only countries in Africa which has such a law.
Although the law has been passed in this country the procedure isn’t unknown. Between 1996 and 2005 there were over 400 convictions of the practice of the act. Cross border FGM has also been on the rise, with cutters and girls evading the law travelling to a neighbouring country to undergo the procedure.
It is the statistics of neighbouring countries of Sierra Leone, Mali and Guinea that are most startling however, with nearly all the female population being circumcised. According to the World health Organisation (WHO) over 3 million young girls are at risk each year and without much campaigning of the severe side effects of the ritual millions of lives could be lost.
Blood clots, excessive bleeding, tearing during child birth, urinary retention, tetanus and HIV if close attention isn’t paid to ensure the instruments used for cutting are clean, which is often the case, are only some of the dangers associated. Not mentioning the severe pain and psychological issues that young girls, often as young as five go though all in the name of culture.
The harm done is obvious; there cannot be any argument against that. But for the women who practise the excision it is often a cherished part of their tradition, a tradition they are reluctant to abandon because it helps them define who they are.
Financed through non profit “Adopt a clitoris campaign” it sponsors the women wanting to have the reconstructive surgery performed by American surgeons. After raising more than $50,000 the program will put West African women through a series of counselling sessions before and after the surgery and use them to raise further awareness for the risks associated with female circumcision.
Like most girls, Abi Sanon, now 36, was only 12 when the procedure was performed on her. She remembers being woken up early in the morning and taken to a deserted area of her village where four women forced her to the ground and held her down, one of them between her legs performing the procedure. Of course she expected it at some stage in her life as it was a local custom and girls who didn’t have it done were in fact outcaste from their village and could not marry.
“I have never felt so much pain” She exclaims. “I cannot begin to explain how it felt; tears still appear in my eyes today when I think about it. I actually thought I was going to die.”
And of course she easily could have died, the majority of these girl don’t have any anaesthetic and it is very common for girls to die during the procedure; it’s as simple as these unqualified women cutting a vein or an artery accidently and dying of a blood clot or excessive bleeding.
It is thought in their cultural and often religious beliefs that if a girl is not circumcised then she will not marry as she is not virtuous. Therefore by performing the ritual it helps honour the girl and her sacred virginity as well as the family until the day of marriage. Faithfulness is the most important virtue. Not being circumcised is a sign of promiscuity, when the clitoris is removed the vagina is then sewn up and the only way of separating the vagina is by having sex, for the first time. If a woman isn’t sewn up then she is deemed as un-marriable.
“I wanted to find my integrity and to no real pleasure”, Abi now says. She was lucky enough to find the equivalent to 320 dollars and have the surgery done privately in Ouagadougau, Burkina Fasso’s capital. Abi is now a local spokeswoman for Clitoraid and is helping to counsel the women coming in for the operation.
As imaged there have been some protests about building the clinic. Most from Men, but some from Women. One man from Benin, a small Country neighbouring Burkina Fasso insists that women trying to achieve sexual pleasure should not be the main problem in Africa’s economic situation and that the money could be spent on more worthwhile projects.
“While FGM is dangerous, without it encourages promiscuity and the seeking of ‘False’ pleasure can also be dangerous”, he insists.
Although the clinic is not seen as positive by everyone it is now so popular that they have a waiting list starting at 100. “Currently too few surgeons are available and the price of private clinics remain unaffordable for most” According to one of the few surgeons who is trained on the procedure that was pioneered in Burkina Fasso in 2006.
The secret of female genital cutting elicits strong emotions. Those who campaign for its abandonment are driven by empathy for the suffering of millions of girls.
Tens of charities are set up yearly to raise awareness for this act but it is a strong traditional belief that African communities have been brought up with. Although they know the harm that it may cause, they too have a strong emotional hold on the powers that it has.
Through years of practicing the procedure people from some villages in Africa believe many false beliefs such as removing the clitoris enhances fertility and can be a harm to children at childbirth if it is not removed.
They also believe that women do not truly find their womanhood until it’s removed and that if there are any complications then it is the work of evil spirits and not medical reasons.
Sanon says that she was surprised at how well her family took the news of her surgery since the topic of Sex is an unimaginable conversation in Africa. Her Mother, 75 is now looking into the procedure.
See Clitoraids work at, www.clitoraid.org.