The UFO sect campaigning towards female genital mutilation

On a blisteringly scorching afternoon this month, an unusual gathering took spot in the city of Bobo-Dioulasso in the west African country of Burkina Faso. Shaded by red and green striped canopies, a couple of hundred folks stood in reverential silence close to a laptop. On screen, a guy with a meticulously clipped beard, dressed head-to-toe in white, addressed the crowd through Skype from Japan.

The speaker was a spiritual leader recognized as Rael, the founder of one particular of the world’s greatest UFO sects, and he was on the internet to announce the arrival of the initial clitoral restore hospital in Africa.

Rael preaches that humans had been designed by extraterrestrials to appreciate untrammelled sexual pleasure – a belief that has led the group to campaign towards female genital mutilation (FGM), and to advocate surgical treatment to improve sexual feeling to FGM victims.

“The concept of the hospital came from Rael,” mentioned Nadine Gary, a spokeswoman for Clitoraid, the Raelian-backed NGO behind the clinic. “Rael realised a good deal of campaigning work is currently being accomplished to stop circumcision, but nothing at all is being accomplished for the women who have already been circumcised.”

Each 12 months about three million ladies – primarily in rural Africa and Asia, are forced to have portion of their genitalia sliced off. But even though clitoral reconstruction surgery is becoming much more widespread in the west, it remains contested. The process restores normal appearances to ladies who have been mutilated – which can be an crucial stage in restoring self-image – but some physicians argue that it dangers leading to even more harm.

Many hundred girls have approached Clitoraid to undergo the free surgical treatment in Bobo-Dioulasso. Amongst the first was Marcelina, 33, who had been mutilated at the age of 13 by a traditional “cutter”, using a blunt blade and no anaesthetic. “I am genuinely satisfied about this hospital. FGM is just a way to oppress ladies. We have a proper to take pleasure in total sexual pleasure,” she said right after the operation.

But Clitoraid’s attempt to launch its clinic in Burkina Faso has had a wary response from neighborhood officials and furious opposition from mainstream religious leaders in the country. Critics warn of a long historical past of doomed humanitarian interventions in Africa that failed to consider account of regional culture.

So how did an American UFO cult end up spending almost a decade trying to construct a clinic in a landlocked west African nation few outsiders can locate on a map? It is a tale that has noticed an unlikely alliance between a California-primarily based fringe group and the growing quantity of African girls more and more speaking out towards a agonizing tradition.

Rael, the spiritual leader of the worldwide Raelian motion. Photograph: EPA

Rael – when acknowledged as Claude Vorilhon, a French-born amateur sports racer and journalist – altered his name in 1973 following what he says was an encounter with extraterrestrials who declared that he had been selected as their emissary to provide a message of joy to humankind. Because then the sect has produced an ideology of sexual satisfaction, with yearly “happiness parties” in which members wear wristbands to denote their willingness to have intercourse.

The motion manufactured its initial stage into the health-related globe with a venture known as Clonaid, which gained notoriety in 2002 when its chief executive claimed it had successfully cloned a human baby. Then at some stage in the mid-2000s, Rael set his sights on Africa.

The leap from proselytising cult to pioneering anti-FGM organisation took location in Burkina Faso, one of the number of nations in Africa where the most intense kind of FGM was traditionally carried out. As well as slicing off the clitoris, the vagina was sewn up, leaving just a modest hole to allow urination. The opening was enlarged following marriage.

In 1996, the sprawling desert nation launched 1 of Africa’s most effective campaigns to finish the devastating practice. Years of dogged function by teams of neighborhood well being employees helped to change attitudes at ground degree, and by 2011 the UN identified that fewer than a fifth of under-10s had been cut, compared with 80% of individuals among twenty and 49.

In this surroundings, Clitoraid started developing its hospital in Burkina Faso’s second city of Bobo-Dioulasso eight years ago.

Abibata Sanon, the group’s neighborhood co-ordinator – who had previously undergone reconstructive surgical treatment at a personal clinic in Ouagadougou – claimed dozens of girls approached her about surgery. “Even men have been calling to make inquiries on behalf of their wives. I always inform them I have [had the operation] – it modified my lifestyle,” she explained.

But it has been a rocky journey. Clitoraid was forced to rename the hospital soon after neighborhood folks complained that its authentic title – “the House of Pleasure” – was inappropriate. Dishing out cost-free intercourse toys in the conservative society backfired, and numerous bristled at the group’s fundraising efforts in the west, from collecting donations at adult entertainment venues, to a brief-lived campaign named “Adopt a Clitoris”.

Clitoraid’s spokeswoman dismisses this kind of criticism. “No other religion dares touch the concern of women’s sexuality,” stated Gary. “We’re not asking these ladies what their religion is – this is a humanitarian mission. All they want is their clitoris back.”

However some doctors say there is no proof that this is attainable. Critics argue it is like to striving to create a hand from an amputated wrist – and a lot more research needs to be completed just before the approach gets widespread.

In June 2012, a group led by the French urologist and surgeon Pierre Foldès published an article in the Lancet [PDF], in which he described a approach whereby clitoral sensation could be restored in an operation that requires significantly less than an hour.

Foldès profiled 866 of the 2,938 patients he had operated on. A yr later, 821 reported a reduce in soreness and 430 knowledgeable their 1st orgasms. A lot of turned up soon after seeing the results on their own loved ones members. Although admitting surgery was only the original stage to recovery for mutilated girls, Foldès nevertheless declared his technique a accomplishment.

But his conclusions are not universally accepted. Some physicians say there is insufficient proof – Foldès’ final results were primarily based on a modest sample, examined with a self-devised scale of pleasure and ache. Critics argue that much more investigation wants to be done just before the approach becomes widespread.

A crew of authorities from University University hospital in London led by Professor Sarah Creighton published a response in the Lancet. “The campaign towards FGM could be undermined by a false proposition that the sick results can be reversed. Formation of a ‘neoglans’ are not able to restore the misplaced or damaged innervation,” the letter stated.

“We’re not saying do not feel about approaches to help ladies who have currently suffered terrible harm, but be honest about what you happen to be undertaking: [clitoral reconstruction] is cosmetic surgical treatment,” mentioned 1 medical professional – who admitted that the process could nonetheless assist some females by bolstering their self-image.

Ram Zongo, a 42-12 months-previous businesswoman from Ivory Coast, said she underwent the procedure in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, since fashions have been changing, and African males no longer wished ladies who had been “excised”.

“So far there hasn’t been any difference, but the medical doctors warned it is not each and every case where sensation is restored,” she said.

More wrangling in excess of a licence meant that the hospital has still not officially opened, but Clitoraid says it has efficiently operated on dozens of girls in an additional nearby clinic.

Amid these cheering when Rael gave his speech were members of Burkina Faso’s tiny but flourishing Raelian community. Souba, a chatty, unemployed man who had bought his wife with him, stated he saw no reason why Raelianism couldn’t be accommodated alongside Sufi Islam or Catholicism, the two religions that dominate Burkina Faso. “Whether or not it’s by the grace of God, or the grace of Rael, it does not matter. This is a continent that demands as several hospitals as achievable,” he said.

But nearby officials are concerned that vulnerable women could be pressured into joining the Raelians. “The operations they want to carry out are a good factor. But it is not correct to use healthcare concerns as a cover to convert vulnerable men and women,” René Segbo, the country’s health ministry spokesperson, said.

He stated that the group had failed to full the acceptable paperwork and that doubts remained more than their outpatient care. “As far as I’m concerned, they should not be operating,” he mentioned.

Extra reporting by Katie Mark and Julia Mills in Bobo-Dioulassou

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