Lead by a team of experts in gynaecological and pelvic surgery as well as psychiatrists, the Desert Flower Centre opened its doors to an anticipated 50 to 100 patients per year.
Also referred to as female genital mutilation (FGM), the World Health Organisation (WHO), states that the ritual procedure is carried out every 11 seconds, to varying degrees. These include cutting off a woman’s clitoris, sewing together her vagina, or even sewing together the entire genital region.
Most common in parts of Africa, the WHO estimates that around 140 million girls and women have been subjugated to FGM. Around 50,000 of them live in Germany.
Even for women who live in western countries like Germany, a trip back to visit family in African countries sometimes ends in being circumcised. Richer families sometimes take their daughter to the hospital to have it performed, but often it will be done at home.
This can result in infection, incontinence and even fistulas – as the colon can be broken if the doctor is unskilled. Chronic pain and infertility are also possible consequences, as is an increased chance of a baby dying while it is being born – as their way out can be restricted due to badly healed scars and stitching.
It is these kinds of problems that will be treated at the clinic in Zehlendorf, south Berlin. The first few patients are already being seen to and three cases are being looked into, said Roland Scherer, head surgeon. Treatment will be paid for either by health insurance or, in the case of those without by the Desert Flower foundation.
Human rights organisation Terre des Femmes welcomed the opening. Spokeswoman Katharina Kunze did say that not every women who has been circumcised needs surgical treatment, more important is that doctors learn more about the subject.
Berlin-based Hadja Kaba set up the Mama Afrika foundation, which fights against FGM. Subjugated to it herself aged seven, she said that she chose to be circumcised. It was so normal in Guinea, where she grew up, that she “wanted to belong.”
She explained that the topic remained a taboo that “was passed down from mother to daughter and not spoken about loudly enough.”
Kaba said that even more important than setting up a clinic in Europe was for more education around the topic in Africa. “We need to talk, talk, talk about it,” said the 57-year-old.
Former supermodel Waris Dirie was at the opening of the centre, a bestselling author and Somalia native, she was circumcised at a young age and has protested against the procedure for a large part of her adult life.