June 11, 2019 / 11:23 PM / a month ago

Kenyan FGM survivor's film urges women not to 'die in silence'

NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - As a 10-year-old in rural Kenya, Beryl Magoko was not surprised when her Kuria community arranged for her to undergo Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), as it was normal for girls.

But she was shocked to learn about reconstructive surgery for FGM at a 2013 screening in West Africa of her award-winning documentary “The Cut” - and started to film her own quest to decide whether to undergo this surgery, invented a decade ago.

“I wanted to use myself as a mirror so that women can reflect about their lives ... and encourage circumcised women (to realize) that it helps to talk about this trauma,” Magoko, now 35, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“We don’t have to die in silence,” she said from Germany where she now lives.

In her second documentary “In Search...”, which has its U.S. premiere at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival on June 17, Magoko talks frankly with other women about FGM and her uncertainties about undergoing surgery to feel complete again.

The World Health Organization says about 200 million women and girls worldwide have undergone FGM, which involves the partial or total removal of the external genitalia and can cause chronic pain, infertility and death.

Reconstructive surgery involves breaking open the scar formed by FGM, and pulling the clitoris, the majority of which lies beneath the surface, back to the surface, relieving the pain associated with FGM and restoring sensitivity.

The technique was developed in 2004 by French urologist Pierre Foldes, who has trained hundreds of doctors in the practice.

Doctors from Clitoraid, a U.S.-based non-profit, have performed 500 such surgeries since 2009 and have a two-year waiting list.

The film features a series of conversations between women in search of bodily autonomy, a sense of beauty and sexuality.

Magoko meets women in Kenya and across Europe who have undergone FGM, some who have had reconstructive surgery and others who have never heard of it, including her mother.

One woman in the film told her reconstruction was the best decision she ever made. Another said she would not do it because it was “impossible to imagine someone touching me there”.

All speak of the emotional trauma and physical pain from the resulting scar tissue that can make childbirth, sex and periods excruciating.

While FGM is outlawed in 22 countries, according to the campaign group 28 Too Many, the news about reconstructive surgery has not reached many villages, Magoko said.

Women in search of genital reconstruction do so in secret, for fear of being shamed by their family or community.

Magoko’s goal is to screen “In Search...” where FGM is practiced, including her home country Kenya.

Six African countries - Chad, Liberia, Mali, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Sudan - do not criminalize FGM, which world leaders pledged to end under global development goals in 2015.

Magoko said she wants to share the stories of FGM survivors and shatter the stigma, but she needed to help herself before she could help others.

“There’s no way I could help other women if my story or my history is still present and it’s haunting me,” she said.

“I felt like young Beryl got justice.”

Reporting by Kate Ryan, Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit news.trust.org

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