Spain’s clinic offers hope for victims of genital mutilation
A clinic is offering reconstructive surgery of the clitoris to women who have been circumcised.Aissatou Gaye is uncomfortable talking to friends about sex. And it's for one very good reason: she has never experienced the joys of the flesh that the others insist on talking about.
Her grandmother is the one to blame.
Shortly after Aissatou was born, her grandmother took her to a woman who excised her clitoris. Aissatou does not remember the event, but now, at the age of 38, the energetic woman still suffers the consequences of her circumcision, which took place in a remote village in Senegal.
"I knew I had a problem on my wedding night," said Aissatou, a nurse who arrived in Spain five years ago.
"I don't feel anything when I have sex, and I blame myself for it. I feel like something is missing - as if I were a woman, but not entirely. And I will fill that void any way I can."
Aissatou, who is married and has three boys, is convinced that she will soon get back what she is missing, because she is one of the 10 women scheduled to undergo reconstructive surgery of the clitoris at Barcelona's Instituto Dexeus.
The results were more than satisfactory. "They have regained their sensitivity," he said afterwards.
The clinic is planning to perform the surgery two or three times a month, and wants to export the technique to other Spanish medical centres so that mutilated women can leave their ghosts behind.
"We tell women that there is a remedy for this," said Barri.
Female circumcision, an ancestral practice that is still carried out in a clandestine form in 26 African countries, is now present in Spain following the arrival of sub-Saharan families, particularly from Senegal, Gambia and Mali.
During the 1990s, there were several cases of mutilations of this type being carried out on Spanish soil, although the police are not aware of any recent incidents.
The Penal Code establishes prison terms of six to 12 years for female circumcision, so families take advantage of trips back home to avoid getting caught.
Police, judges, associations, social workers and doctors are now focusing on countries of origin to stop the practice, and have had a powerful ally since 2005, when new legislation established that mutilations perpetrated abroad could also be prosecuted here in Spain.
In Catalonia, the regional government has approved a protocol to detect potential cases, and the Catalan police have prevented 18 possible mutilations so far. Figures at the national level are hard to come by, as the national police do not differentiate between female circumcision and other cases of assault and battery.
But beyond police action, prevention is the key to putting an end to the practice, experts say.
"Sometimes, parents reject the tradition but run into pressure from the extended family, which is very important," added Yolanda Gracia, of the Catalan police.
"We know there is a risk factor if the mother has been mutilated or if the ethnic group that the girl belongs to practices female mutilation. But the definitive clue is the visit to the paediatrician," she continued.
Rosa Negre, another officer with the Catalan police, has years of experience working with African communities in the province of Gerona. She remembers a woman she was talking to started crying.
"She sobbed that if she did not mutilate her daughters, no man would ever want them. That is why a lot of education is necessary," said Negre.
The people fighting against female mutilation all agree that African women need to get especially involved.
Aissatou became aware of the problem when a niece of hers died two days after being mutilated. The child's mother did not want to do it, but her powerful extended family had to have its way.
"I suffered a lot; people looked at me the wrong way," said Aissatou, who has campaigned against the practice in Senegal for the non-profit organisation Médicos del Mundo.
Aissatou has talked about her problem with her siblings, but never with her grandmother.
"All I want is to go to Dr Barri and make up for lost time," she said.
27 May 2009
El Pais / Jesus Garcia / Expatica