Late last year I had the privilege, courtesy of Dr. Pat Allen and Women’s Voices for Change, of attending an advance screening of Waris Dirie’s autobiographical film Desert Flower.  I’ve been thinking about the film ever since, especially around Valentine’s Day. It was painful to contrast the increasingly absurd, American-style holiday ritual against a personal expose on the horrors of being a woman whose vagina was sewn shut with thorns, after having her labia and clitoris cut off with a dirty razor at the age of two, on a rock in the desert, her precious genitalia left for the buzzards—patiently circling overhead—to snack on.

What’s it like to be sitting across a café table from a man your heart fancies, sensing his reciprocal delight, knowing that the war zone that is your vagina is sewn so tightly shut that a pencil barely fits into the opening—to the point that every trip to the toilet involves 20 minutes of waiting for the urine to slowly drip out. And you spend half of every month dealing with the equally sluggish efflux of your menstrual flow. What’s it like knowing that, should you consummate this budding romance, you’ll first have to find someone to “cut you open,” then heal from that, then explain it to said lover, then suffer pain, bleeding, and (remember, clitoris shaved off to the bone) never experience an orgasm. Ever. Might just be easier to keep all romantic escapades within your tribe, where the men expect the women to show up in bed terrified, docile, and anorgasmic. To quote Desert Flower: “A good woman is a cut woman.”

Shocked? It gets worse. This is not a new phenomenon. Female Genital Cutting (FGC) or Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)—take your pick—involves varying degrees of vulvar amputation, done to make the women marriageable, often but not always carried out within elaborate, weeks-long coming-of-age rituals (think Sweet 16, debutantes, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs) in the societies involved.

Fran Hosken, founder of Women’s International Network, first outed this terrifying procedure Stateside back in the 1970s with The Hosken Report, 300+ pages on all the countries and all the techniques used—and all the blood, death and debility involving millions of women in Africa, Asia, and the Arab world, in cultures that can’t seem to marry off their girls without whacking off their parts and sewing shut their vaginas.

This past December I met Molly Melching, founder of Tostan, at the third annual meeting of the International Society of Obstetric Fistula Surgeons in Dakar, Senegal. Tostan, the Wolof word for Sharing and Transformation, has been in action in Senegal and surrounding nations to improve the lives of the underserved in these areas. One large part of Tostan’s mission is the reduction of FGM. Working with the villages and communities since the 1970s, Tostan’s programs have allowed more than 5,000 villages in five countries to publicly extract FGM practices from their “rite of passage” and marriageability rituals.

Momentum continues to build with the globalization of women’s rights, including the right to live a genitally intact life. What better time for Waris Dirie to bring her story to a worldwide audience with a full-length feature film?

Honor the feminine; honor the memory of Fran Hosken; honor the women who’ve suffered this loss world wide. Support Waris Dirie and Tostan with your hearts, minds and efforts. Show up—see Desert Flower.

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  • Melpub March 18, 2013 at 6:20 am

    The most interesting method I heard of for preventing genital mutilation was to start clubs of parents who are against it. One of the methods used to stop Chinese foot binding was forming clubs to give parents who were against the practice the social support to avoid it. Most parents who cut their daughters love them and want the best for them. Interfering by saying “we know better–stop this!” can be counterproductive. But starting a new community of clubs to support uncut girls and favoring female health and even good mothers might work.