Amr Seifeddin has been a practicing gynaecologist for over 35 years. He works in public hospitals, where he caters for the majority of economically challenged women, and private hospitals that provide medical services to more economically advantaged women. Seifeddin doesn’t recall a day in which he didn’t come in contact with a Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) survivor.
“It is really widespread, to a devastating point,” he said.
While statistics have roughly estimated that close to 90 percent of women in Egypt, between the age of seven and 70, have undergone FGM, Seifeddin, like other gynaecologists, would argue that it is perhaps more.
“We are talking about a range of harm really – sometimes it is much more devastating than others, but in general what one sees often is the cut of a big part, if not all, of the external part of the clitoris,” he added.
During the past 10 years, Seifeddin has been providing a medical service that could help some of these women find a way out of the harm that they had to endure – “unfortunately sometimes at the hands of medical doctors who agree to do this operation.”
Seifeddin has indeed been one of the first in Egypt to introduce restorative surgeries that allow the unharmed part of the clitoris to regain its function.
“The clitoris is an 8-12cm organ. Only the palpable part is removed during genital cutting, the rest lies within the body. We can remove peri-clitoral adhesions, basically the tissues around the clitoris, and with a delicate surgical technique, make the clitoris more accessible to stimulation and thus able to function, as close as possible, like the uncut clitoris,” he explained.
Surgical intervention is one of the options FGM survivors Seifeddin and Riham Awwad are offering at their medical centre Restore FGM, which they co-founded to help FGM survivors overcome the damage they suffer from.
“Overcoming the damage is a process that starts essentially with psychological assistance to help women overcome the trauma they had and to make sure that their perception of their bodies is not undermined,” he said. “Then there is a range of therapies that help improve the functions of the sexual organs to allow for women to better enjoy sexuality,” he added.
Then, Seifeddin added, there is always the surgical path that helps women with their body functions and with the aesthetics of their bodies “and the latter is very important.”
Throughout the past 10 years, Seifeddin and Awwad have helped dozens of women through the medical services of their centre.
According to Seifeddin, the “restorative operation of the clitoris” will be in higher demand once the centre is registered as an NGO. This will help funds to flow to provide the centre’s services at at no or very low cost for the majority of women who need the operation but cannot afford the cost, “which varies a great deal depending on the case.”
“The government has been encouraging families to abandon this practice which is part of a deeply rooted culture all across East Africa,” Seifeddin said.
Since 1995, several legal penalties have been introduced to put a cap on the widespread practice. Only in January this year, the penalties have been relatively toughened against those who pursue FGM and those who practise it.
Still, Seifeddin believes it is a very long way before the numbers could significantly drop. And in any case, he argued, “we are talking about millions of women” today who are into their reproductive age and are suffering the many complications of FGM.
“So, yes, we need tougher laws, more awareness campaigns, and of course the medical services to help those who had to go through this ordeal to find their way out,” he said.
At the end, Seifeddin argued, the restoration of the clitoris is part of the wider and growing cosmetic gynaecology that has been finding its way in Egypt during the past 10 to 15 years.
Women who require these medical services are not necessarily victims of FGM. According to Seifeddin, the most non-FGM related cosmetic surgeries are the vaginoplasty and labiaplasy that often attend to the side effects of recurrent childbirth.