Surgical Operation To Restore Some Sensation Lost From Female Genital Cutting

Armen Hareyan's picture

Female Genital Cutting

About 100 women in Burkina Faso have had surgery to reconstruct theclitoris and restore some sexual sensation lost from female genitalcutting since the country last year became the first in Africa to offerthe procedure, Michel Akotionga -- head gynecologist at the main publichospital in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso -- recently said, Reuters reports. According to Reuters, as many as three-quarters of women in Burkina Faso have undergone genital cutting (Schwarz, Reuters, 8/21).

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Femalegenital cutting -- sometimes referred to as female circumcision orfemale genital mutilation -- is a practice in which there is a partialor full removal of the labia, clitoris or both. About 6,000 girlsundergo the practice daily worldwide, and the World Health Organizationestimates that 100 million to 140 million women worldwide arecircumcised. At least 90% of women who undergo genital cutting live indeveloping countries -- such as Djibouti, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone,Somalia and Sudan -- while almost no women undergo the practice inIran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, according to UNICEF (Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report, 8/10).

Thereconstructive surgery costs about $150 in public hospitals and as muchas $400 in private clinics in Burkina Faso. According to Reuters,the surgery is possible because most of a woman's clitoris is embeddedwithin the body, and usually only the few external centimeters areremoved, which allows a physician to reattach some of the embeddedpart. For the surgery, doctors "open the skin around the remainingclitoris, dissect it and pull it toward the exterior end to fix it atthe skin with stitches," Akotionga said, adding, "The remaining part ofthe clitoris is ... enervated, which is to say it has nerves, but itdoesn't play exactly the same role as in a woman who was neverexcised."

Alice Behrendt of Plan Internationalsaid she is concerned that some families might try to re-excise womenwho have the reconstructive surgery. "Already there are cases where theparents or grandparents think the excision was not done fully enough,that the girl is not yet pure, and they insist on her doing it again,"Behrendt said. Benjamine Doamba, a campaigner against female genitalcutting in the country, said, "I support science that permits suchmedical advances, but for me it is essential to stop the practicealtogether so there is no need to repair anything later" (Reuters, 8/21).

Reprinted with permission from You can view theentire Kaiser DailyWomen's Health Policy Report, search the archives, and sign up for emaildelivery at The Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report is published for, afree service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.