Dr. Bowers is one of the few surgeons worldwide who perform surgical reversal of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
In 2007 and 2009, Dr. Bowers traveled to France and received training from renowned physician Dr. Pierre Foldes. Using delicate surgical techniques, Dr. Bowers removes scar tissue, corrects and reverses infibulation, and works to restore sensation. She performs these surgeries at no cost to patients (although there is an operating room and anesthesia fee). The surgical procedure is relatively simple and short in duration (under one hour) with most patients experiencing improved cosmetic appearance, sensation, reduction in pain and infection. Many patients have reported being orgasmic for the first time in their lives after healing from the surgery.
In March of 2014, Dr. Bowers traveled to Africa to train surgeons at the Hospital Kamkaso “Pleasure Hospital” in Burkina Faso, where victims of FGM will be able to have identity-restoring surgery once the hospital is rightfully granted its licensure. In July 2014, the local doctor who prevented licensure for Hospital Kamkaso was found to be guilty of discrimination, opening the doors once more to progress in licensure of the facility. Full operational opening of the hospital in Bobo Dialasso, Burkina Faso is expected by February 2015. This should coincide with United Nations’ International Women’s Day.
For women considering this surgical procedure, there are many considerations. We attempt to be culturally respectful but forcefully disapproving of the cultural practices that lead to FGM. There appears to be a current of résistance against FGM in Africa with larger cities, countries (Kenya in 2013), and individuals beginning to say no to the practice. As women (and men!) communicate about the devastating effects on intimacy, relationships, and health due to FGM, the tide seems to be turning. Much of this education is leading to growing awareness of the consequences, that these so-called ‘purifying’ rituals do harm rather than good, I believe the tide is turning. Communication via cellphone and internet is helping to spread truth about this practice. That there is also a surgical procedure which can help to reverse FGM is also empowering to the people of Africa. Our goal in bringing the surgical procedure to Africa is to allow women to control their own destiny, to regain their sense of identity as women and as sexual human beings.
Unfortunately, there remains enormous work to do. Even Burkina Faso, which has had wide support for the FGM reversal procedure and outlawed the practice of FGM in 1996, there are still pockets of stubbornness and ignorance—as evidenced by our hospital denial and medical privilege revocation in March. Female sexuality is still devalued and traditions remain strong. Worse, the major source of perpetuation of the FGM practice are the towns and villages where the majority of Africans live. It is in these small villages where information can be manipulated and myths perpetuated. Unfortunately, it is often the ‘cutters’, women who benefit economically from performing FGM, who continue to promote FGM as beneficial to young women and girls. These beneficial claims vary wildly from desirability to purification to improved health—all false and misleading. Quite the contrary as women after FGM grow to have medical and obstetrical complications, urinary tract infections, misery during sex and intimacy and ruined relationships—-all due to FGM. Education, honesty and sincerity are the keys to bringing a better future to the women of Africa. Our role is expected to be supportive and short as the People of Africa assume control of their collective futures.
The FGM reversal itself is nearly always, to some degree, successful with the majority of women glad to have undergone the procedure. When Dr. Foldes, the procedure’s inventor, published his data in The Lancet ( http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(12)60400-0/fulltext ), skeptics emerged, astoundingly. British Gynecologists, these critics actually denounced his technique as theoretically impossible—without witnessing the procedure or bothering to ask the women themselves. The fact is, if you listen to the account of even one woman reporting her awakened sensation and experiencing orgasm for the very fist time in her life after FGM reversal, science is no longer necessary. In my experience of more than 100 surgical reversals, we 100% always find the clitoris. The clitoris is much larger than reported. Fact is, the FGM procedure itself removes only a tiny portion of the clitoris—the Reversal process simply uncovers what is remaining. Literally, removal of the tip of the iceberg does not rid the iceberg itself. We ALWAYS find the clitoris during reversal procedures. Exposing it and securing the clitoral body to the skin surface is the delicate and slightly complicated aspect of the procedure. If these same gynecologists honestly cared for these women or were genuinely concerned, they would set about learning the procedure and implementing incremental improvements in surgical technique.
A Word about Clitoraid and Raelianism
Clitoraid is the organization whose director, Nadine Gary, contacted me first in January of 2007 about learning the FGM Reversal technique from Dr. Pierre Foldes. 3 months later, I was in Paris, honored to be learning this technique from this incredible physician. Only later did I come to find that more than 25 gynecologists from across the US turned down Ms. Gary’s plea to help FGM victims. Some of this resistance, I suspect, was due to Clitoraid’s inception as a result of direction by Raelian founders including Rael himself. Neither myself nor Dr. Foldes are Raelian. Whether I agree or disagree with claims and ideals of Raelianism is immaterial to the importance and benevolence of this project. Furthermore, if this campaign against FGM and the push to restore clitoral function were promoted by the Catholic church or by Judaism, the project would be lauded and deified for its obvious good. That the Raelians had the foresight and initiative to launch this incredibly worthwhile project is a credit to their beliefs but not a wholesale endorsement of the religion itself. The ends justify the means. Rael deserves enormous respect as religious freedom in whatever form is entitled.
I healed well even though the first week I felt awkward with that part of my body with stitches. The medication that Dr Bowers prescribed me helped me a lot with the pain. Intercourses with my husband are better than before the surgery. -C.M. (2014)
“It is hardly a month since Dr. Marci Bowers performed a clitoral reconstruction, clitoroplasty, following the FGM that I underwent at nine years old. The surgeon’s empathy for victims of FGM is unmistaken. My first encounter with her during a pre-surgery assessment revealed her relentless efforts to restore wholeness to us. She does not only offer you a hand shake, but she hugs you, a gesture that she cares. This made me at ease during the consultation.
Undeniably, it is pretty early to celebrate the physical and psychological benefits of the procedure, but right now I see the anatomical evidence: I have a clitoris! Although I have not realized the clitoris’s physiological expression, one of my goals for the procedure has been fulfilled. I feel whole once again.
During my consultation with Dr. Bowers, I jokingly stated that even if I do not gain the functional intent from clitoroplasty, it will not affect my life as much as FGM has. It is not uncommon for victims of FGM to label themselves lesser women because they do not have a clitoris. I have had that attitude. Every time I saw a fellow female, I perceived her superior to me as I felt incomplete. Dr. Bowers found and restored that which I had lost. FGM robbed me a womanhood aspects through a procedure that nobody gave me the opportunity to make a decision or sign or even consent form. I once was lost but now I am found.
But three weeks ago, I was delighted to sign a consent form for clitoroplasty. My local gynecologist who performed the initial gynecological assessment to ascertain the type of FGM I underwent discouraged me against the procedure, claiming that it is an unnecessary surgery. I told him, I have done my research, and I know quite some information about the procedure. I have made an informed decision based on what I already know. You may not understand what it means for a woman to look and feel different in terms of sexuality.” He kept silent.
When I told my husband about my intention for clitoral reconstruction, he was ambivalent about it. I plowed ahead and started the preparations for it. When he realized my determination to go for the procedure, he gave me infinite support. I have done it, not for my husband, but for ME!
I visited a local gynecologist to assess my healing after surgery. As the gynecologist walked in with my folder, she stated, “I have no clue what clitoroplasty is, and I did not know that it can be done.” “You have made my day with breaking news” She continued. “Please allow me to share this encounter with my colleagues, she requested. I did not mind.
I wish health care providers would embrace and offer clitoroplasty as a special care for FGM victims. These women are going through life with stooped heads for what was inflicted on them without their choice. I consider clitoral reconstruction a necessary medical procedure for any FGM woman who would opt for it.”
On November 29, 2012 I had FGM reconstructive surgery with Dr. Bowers. I had built a great relationship with Nadine Gary who was very supportive with preparing for the process. She, Nadine, was also in the room during my surgery. Knowing I had emotional and physical support of friends and family was vital in being able to move forward with the procedure. I was nervous, scared and emotionally all over the place. I was happy to have the opportunity to have the surgery, but I was also very angry that I even needed it. Either way I had the surgery and now almost 4 years later I am so glad I did. I was able to have a vaginal birth with no complications. My OB said she could not tell that I even had surgery until I told her. Dr. Bowers and everyone that works to make this possible have impacted my life in the best way. I am forever grateful.
- The unopened ‘Pleasure Hospital’ of Bobo (BBC documentary)
- Catholic Church prevents March 7th opening of Clitoraid’s ‘Pleasure Hospital’
- New hospital in Africa to offer free reconstructive surgery for genitally mutilated women (ClitorAid)
- Trinidad surgeon helps women escape past of mutilation (Denver Post)
- In the US, Hope for Victims of Genital Mutilation (Newsweek)
- The pleasure doctor fighting to restore clitorises after female genital mutilation (The Conversation, June 16th 2014)
- The Guardian Spotlights Dr. Bowers’ Humanitarian Work (The Observer, August 24, 2013)
- An Exclusive with Dr. Marci Bowers (Global Women Peace Foundation, February 16, 2016)
- Surgery Offers Hope for Victoms of Female Genital Mutlilatoins (Healthlink, May 2017)