Ali Awadelkarim is a medical doctor who obtained his medical degree in Sudan, where he’s gaining experience in female reproductive health. Dr. Ali has worked in various hospitals around Khartoum for the past two years. AWRA interviewed Dr. Ali about his experience working with survivors of female genital mutilation (FGM) in Sudan, where 88 percent of females between the ages of 15-49 have undergone some form of genital mutilation. The cut, which is rooted in patriarchal norms, affects every aspect of a woman’s physical, mental, and sexual health. It’s the first step of a series of societal initiations that deprive women and girls of their basic right to bodily autonomy.
Here’s what Dr. Ali had to say in this Q&A with AWRA:
Q: Your experience in working with FGM survivors is unique. How often do you come across FGM survivors in your line of work?
A: “For the past six months, I came across different FGM survivors. Between every ten patients I see, there are eight to nine FGM survivors.”
Q: What kind of health issues are the victims facing?
A: “Long term health problems include scarring, cysts, abscesses and tissue damage. FGM is one of the greatest crimes that faces our community. Some of the health issues that the patients face include prolonged labour, which can lead to suffocations or injury by contractions for the baby. The mother may also develop a fistula, which is a hole or tear between the birth canal on her bladder or intestines. This can cause leakage of urine and fecal matter leading to infections. The majority of FGM survivor patients come to the hospital complaining from dyspareunia, which is pain during sexual intercourse and decreased sexual desire.”
Q: What kind of cases did you have to treat or assist?
A: “One of the most heartbreaking cases was a 19- year-old patient who was ashamed of her experience with FGM. Her marriage ceremony was upcoming and she came to the hospital looking for a female doctor because she wanted to undergo a reconstruction surgery so that she could have a normal and healthy sex life after marriage. I had to perform the procedure for her. Another patient was a 32-year-old female. Her husband is a truck driver who goes absent for long periods of time due to his work. Each time he departs for a work trip, he takes his wife to the nearest midwife to stitch two-thirds of her vaginal opening so that he can be sure she won’t cheat on him. He makes her unstitch her vagina when he returns from travel. As a result, her vagina was completely damaged and she got recurrent infections, bleeding complications, and tissue damage. I also assisted in the removal of several inclusion cysts, which is a remote complication of FGM.”
Q: When you’re speaking to the families of these victims, do you sense if there is any regret or remorse for forcing their daughters to undergo FGM?
A: “Absolutely not. In their opinion, they’re doing the right thing. In my personal opinion, FGM is a crime that should be banned.”
Q: How young are the FGM survivors that you meet in your line of work?
A: “FGM has no specific age, but 80 percent of the survivors went through FGM during infancy by their grandmothers.”
Q: How has it impacted you as a doctor? How has it impacted your mental health?
A: “When I saw it for the first time, I couldn’t forget the damage for the first week and the picture of the damage did not leave my brain for a second. This impacted my mental health very badly. I was really disappointed and felt heartbroken. Since then, I promised myself I would do everything in my power to create awareness. We must stand against FGM. One of my goals is to start a local campaign to educate more people about its damages, especially in rural communities.”
Q: What advice, if any, can you give other male doctors or African and Sudanese men when it comes to ending FGM in their communities?
A: “My advice to all male doctors who haven’t yet come across FGM survivors is that FGM really destroys a female’s genital organ. As medical doctors, we need to be overall supportive, helpful, and give survivors all of the emotional support they need. As for myself, I plan to participate more in standing against FGM by educating on its risks. It is an unnecessary damage. We must learn and advise the older generation and communities in order to break this cycle.”