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Hubert Prolongeau

Undoing FGM. Pierre Foldes, the Surgeon Who Restores the Clitoris

About the author ...

Hubert Prolongeau, journalist for Le Nouvel Observateur, essayist and novelist, has published more than twenty books that treat a broad range of themes. His non-fiction includes La vie quotidienne en Colombie au temps du cartel de Medellin (Hachette, 1992) [Daily Life in Colombia in the Era of the Medellin Cartel]; Une mort africaine. Le SIDA au quotidienne (Seuil, 1995) [An African Death. Living with AIDS]; and La Cage aux Fous (Librio, 2002) [The Asylum] in which the writer feigns insanity to gain admission to a psychiatric hospital. There, under cover, he chronicles what he observes and experiences. His award-winning fiction includes Le baiser de Judas (Grasset, 2004) [Judas’ Kiss] which won the literary prize Jean d’Heurs for a historical novel. His work has also been recognized with the prestigious 2005 Prix des éditeurs; the original of the present volume won the Prix France Télévision. Also known for his detective fiction, he first published La Colombe blanche [The White Dove] in 1998 about a Moroccan law student in search of his father in Tangiers. Another laudable project, of special interest to UnCUT/VOICES' publisher whose University of Paris MA thesis focused on Denis Diderot, is a trilogy begun in 1998 and concluded in 2012 in which Denis Diderot and his partner d'Alembert, editors of the landmark L'Encyclopédie [Encyclopedia] become ensnared in a criminal plot to halt publication of the volumes.

Contents include a Foreword by Bernard Kouchner, a Postscript by Pierre Foldes, and chapters about Foldes' initial discovery of clitoral restoration, testimony by patients celebrating successful interventions, and a focus on Egypt based on extensive interviews with medical professionals and imams. Translator Tobe Levin has also provided an Afterword.


Readings with Hubert Prolongeau from Undoing FGM. Pierre Foldes, the Surgeon Who Restores the Clitoris. On International Women’s Day at Harvard University, The W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. Cambridge, MA. 8 March 2012.  

Left to right, back row: Dr. Hal Weaver, Dale Smoak, Dr. Jasmine DeCock. Front row, l to r: Susan McLucas, Director, Healthy Tomorrow/Sini Sanuman; Hubert Prolongeau; Dr. Abby Wolf, Executive Director of the Hutchins Center; Dr. Tobe Levin von Gleichen; Dr. Mariane Sarkis; Dr. Krishna Lewis.

about Undoing FGM


“One hundred and thirty million excised women inhabit the globe. These massive statistics mask human realities: torment breaks these victims one by one. Pierre Foldes took their hurt in both hands, nesting their stammered complaints in his heart. Like most physicians, he could simply have eased their pain and kept his mouth shut. But he began to think outside the box, at no little cost to himself, and became an activist. To have invented the surgical technique that repairs excision, fine. But to try to prevent excision, that was far riskier. For reasons both medical and humanitarian, Pierre Foldes chose to put himself on the line. This is what Hubert Prolongeau tells us, narrating not only an unadorned tale of admiration but a beautiful book, written by a master’s pen, useful and convincing.”   

  From the Preface by Bernard Kouchner, former Foreign Minister of France and founder of Doctors without Borders

“In Burkina Faso, when Madame Issatou, pregnant and in pain, consulted Dr. Foldes, he found her vulva obstructed. Knowing the danger to delivery of an excision scar, he tried reading up on treatment but found nothing. The medical establishment had studiously ignored the clitoris as though our culture, too, had ‘excised’ it. Thanks and encouraged by grateful patients whose sensitivity he learned to bring back, he now advocates against genital wounding.”

--Hanny Lightfoot-Klein, author of the classic Prisoners of Ritual

Recommended for courses in Women’s Studies, Gynecology, Sexuality, Biography, Medical Anthropology, African, Diaspora and French Cultural Studies

Additional venues for readings:

Reading with Hubert Prolongeau from Undoing FGM. Pierre Foldes, the Surgeon Who Restores the Clitoris. Brandeis University. Sponsored by the Women’s Studies Research Center; Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism (Brandeis); Women’s and Gender Studies (Brandeis); Gender Working Group of the Heller School of Social Policy and Management (Brandeis); Amnesty International (Brandeis Chapter); Brandeis Student Union; Women’s Gender and Sexuality Program (Boston University); Our Bodies, Ourselves; Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights, Suffolk University; American Studies (Wheelock College); Africana Studies (Wellesley College); African and African American Studies (Brandeis). With gratitude to Mei-Mei Ellerman and Shula Reinharz. Waltham, MA.  7 March 2012.

Reading with Hubert Prolongeau from Undoing FGM. Pierre Foldes, the Surgeon Who Restores the Clitoris. Mt. Holyoke College. Sponsored by European Studies plus Departments of German and French. South Hadley, MA. 6 March 2012.  

Reading with Hubert Prolongeau from Undoing FGM. Pierre Foldes, the Surgeon Who Restores the Clitoris. University of Hartford. Hartford, CT. 5 March 2012.


Reading with Hubert Prolongeau from Undoing FGM. Pierre Foldes, the Surgeon Who Restores the Clitoris. Dataforce, Frankfurt am Main, Germany. 16 February 2012.


Reading with Hubert Prolongeau from Undoing FGM. Pierre Foldes, the Surgeon Who Restores the Clitoris. Dataforce, Frankfurt am Main, Germany. 16 February 2012.

Excerpt from the third chapter in Undoing FGM, "The first patient."

After conveying that her body hurt, Madame Issatou fell silent, and it was this that led Pierre Foldes to delve into FGM, not the desire to combat a curse or lead a crusade. A physician, he was there to provide relief; pain ignited his desire to confront a medical condition at the heart of the curative relationship. You go to the doctor because you don’t feel well, and he helps you as a wounded individual, not because he rejects your culture or traditions. “What really got me was the pain. In that part of the world, excision is normal, and what my patients came looking for wasn’t identity or the joys of sex, but simply an end to their physical suffering. I don’t think this has ever really been communicated.” The call to which he responded wherever he went -- “Please make the hurting stop” -- he hears in the Ouagadougou hospital as well.

“Lie back, please,” he tells Madame Issatou and then examines her. “The source of her problem looked like something I was familiar with.” Excision has two consequences: amputating the clitoris causes bleeding and an infection that will displace the stump, pushing it into an abnormal position, two or three centimeters above where it would have been before being buried under the scar. This scar and the new position will prevent sexual pleasure, as the visible part of the organ has disappeared. But excision rarely slices very deep: girls have a cushion of fat at the site and fight back. The idea that occurs to him while examining Madame Issatou’s mutilated vulva is quite simple: remove the scar to reveal healthy tissue beneath it. At that point, nothing about reconstruction: he would simply incise around the injured zone, keeping his distance, to find a retracted organ stuck to the bone and pry it loose. A really modest operation, it lasted half an hour under local anesthesia. Only later would he perfect a procedure that pierces the skin to liberate a clitoris.

All goes well. He manages to remove the distressing scar, finds behind it a clitoral stump and brings the structure back to its former position. Not difficult at all. Fistula surgery that he had practiced often in the days before meeting Madame Issatou is much more challenging. But at the time, he hadn’t yet realized the connection between obstetrical problems and FGM.

Laying aside his bistoury, the long, narrow-bladed knife used to repair fistula, he feels surprise at how easy it was. Several hours later, the nurse reports the disappearance of the patient’s pain. At her bedside, he finds her smiling, clearly relieved. “Thank you, doctor. I feel hardly anything now.” An everyday event but with a coda: re-examination reveals a clitoris. “Seeing it restored set me to thinking.”


Dr. Pierre Foldes


Dr. Pierre Foldes is second from the left at a Speak-Out on 4 September 2014 at the Women Safe Centre, Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Tobe Levin is in the front row fourth from the right. UnCUT/VOICES' author Jeanie Kortum (Stones) stands at the right.


Tobe Levin von Gleichen interviews Dr. Pierre Foldes in his office in St. Germain-en-Laye, April 2011.

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