Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

How a Woman's Fakery Helps Save Thousands African Doctor Feigns Ritual Surgery That Injures Women

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

How a Woman's Fakery Helps Save Thousands African Doctor Feigns Ritual Surgery That Injures Women

Article excerpt

Call it Tounkara's List.

Like Oskar Schindler's unorthodox methods of rescuing Jews from the Nazis, for more than a quarter century, a female gynecologist, Aja Tounkara Diallo Fatimata, has been able to save thousands of women from one of Africa's most controversial and deeply held traditions: circumcision of young women.

Her method is simple: Fake the surgery. And she has taught this simulation to midwives and traditional circumcisers across most of Africa. Dr. Tounkara herself underwent the "rite of passage" when she was eight-years-old. She began working against it 20 years later when she saved a girl whose surgery had gone badly. Yet Tounkara says that she could not simply campaign against an "ancestral custom," as many Western and African activists do now. She says many Western activists seem less concerned with the negative effects circumcision can have on African women's health and more concerned about their own agenda - raising issues of women's rights and sexual repression. Rather, she decided to try to persuade parents of daughters not to allow the operation. "Then, when they argued that their relatives were just going to do it anyway, I would suggest the simulation. We would take lots of photos {to 'prove' the surgery had taken place}," she says. Tounkara says it is not always men who demand the procedure. She claims that in Guinea, her home country, men are usually the ones trying to stop their daughters from being circumcised. "It is invariably the women who offer the resistance," she says. Many women believe it is a ritual that binds them together, a shared experience that serves as a common bond. Tounkara's "don't-do-it-and-don't-tell" approach is sometimes the only option available where cultural traditions remain strong. Between 100 and 120 million women are circumcised each year, according to the World Health Organization. Often called female genital mutilation, female circumcision is practiced by Muslims, Christians, Jews, and animists in Africa. According to some cultures, the practice preserves a woman's chastity, and without it, she is not marriageable. But the practice is also seen as a coming-of-age ritual. …

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