How one woman is changing the lives of victims of female genital mutilation

By Kate Hassett

How one woman is changing the lives of victims of female genital mutilation
The woman fighting to restore victims of FGM to their former selves.

Few issues have gone so long overlooked and misunderstood as Female Genital Mutilation. The harrowing procedure, endemic to 29 countries across Africa and the Middle East has seen over 130 million girls targeted with as many as 30 million more at risk.

The procedure, which is often labelled ‘female circumcision’ tends to vary depending on the country or township it is performed in. More often than not, the process involves narrowing the vaginal opening by removing – at least partially – the clitoris.

The harrowing concept of the procedure is that it serves no medical purpose whatsoever, except to endanger the lives of the women who undertake it unwillingly. The procedure also has an incredibly high risk factor for developing cysts, infections, infertility as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths.

One woman is attempting to change all of this one surgery at a time.

Dr. Marci Bowers first became aware of the horrific situation after treating Somali patients at the University of Washington. The ob-gyn came to specialise in female-to-male transition surgery, and as a transgender woman herself,  made history by becoming the first woman in her field to do so. It was her significant experience in procedures of this kind that meant her talents extended to repairing the victims of FGM.

“I saw these obstructed birth canals, and I thought that would be something that could be corrected,” Bowers told Mic. 

Her willingness to help these women regain part of their former selves, as well as limit the risk of secondary infections and diseases was met with strong resistance form others in the medical field.

However, her conviction was strong and soon enough she had partnered with an organisation called Clitoraid who work to transform the lives of women who had painstakingly been living with the procedure.

“These women feel like their identity has been taken from them.”

“This is a deeply ingrained cultural practice,” said Bowers. “There is still a lot of resistance, even among women and communities where they would most certainly benefit.”

Bowers now travels to the hospital set up by the organisation and has performed approximately 130 restoration procedures for women in need.

The issue on the ground is so ingrained and far reaching that these operations barely skim the surface of helping those suffering. However the amazing work undertaken by Bowers and her team continues to make headways into repositioning the medical field on how they view and treat FGM.


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