Clitoraid confusing genuine well-wishers

Posted on April 12, 2010.

Kudzai Makombe

I can’t bear to read anything about female genital mutilation. Of all the forms of gender-based violence, this one disturbs me more than any other and I struggle to understand why anyone, male or female, would subject a child or another adult to this form of torture.

Religion or culture, as far as I am concerned are not any kind of excuses and there can be no justification for this practice. My heart breaks when my children get hurt in any small way so I wonder at the power of patriarchy to make women, who have themselves experienced its horrors, act as the gatekeepers of this harmful practice and subject their own daughters to the same.

So I was surprised pleasantly surprised when I heard about Clitoraid, an organisation that says its mission is to rebuild the clitorises of women survivors of FGM.

Based in Las Vegas, the organisation aims at “restoring the sense of dignity and pleasure” of women who have been subjected to FGM. The website says they are building a “Pleasure Hospital” in Burkina Faso to extend the surgery to more African women. Currently there are surgeries taking place in the United States using a reconstructive technique that cuts away scar tissue and surrounding skin to expose whatever is left of the clitoris.

Well okay, was my first impression, though ending the practice and addressing issues of bodily integrity and trauma seemed to take a back seat to the pleasure principle.

Reading further set off my alarm bells. The organisation is founded by what can only be described as a cult – the Raelian Foundation – run by a fellow who calls himself Rael and who claims to be extending a message from human-like aliens who visited him in the 1970s and told him they had created humanity scientifically.

Now I’m not one to have a go at other people’s belief systems, as long as they are not harming anyone. But the approach of Clitoraid, with its “adopt a clitoris” campaign does not go with the idea of the “dignity” they claim to be extending and it left me a little cold. Then there are the partnerships – specifically Good Vibrations, an adult toy company and Erotica Expo — which I’m sure are fine on their own but serve to make the objectives of Clitoraid questionable.

Rael himself supports the most controversial ideas. He set up Cloneaid to support human cloning and most recently asserted that victims of pedophilia may not be so traumatised as we would like to believe. I’m pretty convinced that in Clitoraid he has only his own self interests at heart.

I’m not the only one. A group calling themselves Feminists Challenging Clitoraid has set up a petition to challenge Rael, charging Clitoraid as a humiliating and racist exploitation of the issue of Female Circumcision for dubious fundraising purposes.

So what might have been a good thing turns out to be a complete farce and I see dangerous potential for the further exploitation of women who have already been harmed under the guise of religion and cultural practices being lured into a cult that will further exploit and harm them.

The African population is already the fastest growing denomination for various religions with many looking to spiritualism as the answer to poverty. For women, this has served to further subjugate them through this sector that remains one of the strongholds of patriarchy. Allowing Rael to spread his cult will surely only worsen things.

Meanwhile, from my reading on the Internet, genuine well-wishers who would like to support the survivors of this horrible practice of female genital mutilation are at a loss. Clitoral reconstructive surgery is a great idea worth supporting, but for the right reasons. But equally they are aware they need to support efforts to end the practice altogether and to do either or both through reputable organisations whose aim is not to exploit women and girls in need.

What a shame that such an important issue that needs people to pay attention and act has been highjacked.