On the International Day for Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, VICE News reports on a little-known surgery that restores sexual function to the clitoris for women who had their genitals mutilated as children. We meet and follow a 32-year-old prospective patient who was mutilated at the age of six in Somalia, and who now lives and works as a nurse in the United States.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a cultural tradition that affects millions of women worldwide. Sometimes referred to as female circumcision or female genital cutting, the practice varies in severity depending on where it is performed. The procedure can range from minor nicks to the clitoris to the total removal of the clitoris and labia. In its severest form, the two sides of the vulva are sewn together, leaving only a small hole for menstruation and urination.
While the practice has been outlawed in many of the 29 countries where FGM is concentrated, it persists in some rural areas as a centuries-old cultural tradition, where it is usually performed by women elders as a part of a coming-of-age ritual. The tradition is sometimes believed to “purify” a woman and performed to preserve virginity before marriage.
The World Health Organization estimates that some 6,000 girls undergo FGM around the world every day. The procedure is often performed in unsafe and unsanitary conditions on girls between the ages of four and 12. FGM can be fatal, and can lead to immediate complications such as infections and urine retention, as well as long-term complications such as severe pain and tearing during intercourse and major complications during childbirth.
VICE News saw the result of the severest form of FGM first-hand in Dr. Marci Bowers’ operating room in San Mateo, California, and watched as she performed a defibulation procedure — the re-opening of genitalia that had been sewn shut — and clitoroplasty, the reconstruction and restoration of sexual function to the clitoris.