“Oh a circumcision for your daughter. Of the genitals.”
“Yes, a circumcision”.
Now the doctor finally understood what this was all about. Outside we were already about to turn off the microphones – we expected him to turn down the request immediately. But no:
Suddenly he says abruptly, “this is not that easy in Vienna”.
Then the secretary interferes, “Isn’t it illegal?”
“It is not really prohibited, but not really permitted either”, the doctor replies. “You can do it privately. May be somebody will do that.”
A short break, “I don’t do this myself”, says the doctor, “but I know somebody, another doctor”. He turns around to his secretary, “could you get me the number of Dr. H.”
Then he turns again to Theresa. “In Austria this surgery is a problem. They don’t like it here. They say it was bad for women. They believe that it is an African tradition. I have had women from Egypt here who wanted to have it done too. I sent them to somebody else as well.” The secretary interferes again: but isn’t it prohibited? But the doctor just replies succinctly, “ah, if they only cut a little, it is going to be ok. Give her the number.” Theresa thanks them and leaves.
Again: no consternation. No effort to talk her out of it. The doctor – a licensed gynaecologist in Vienna – even provided her with the address of a colleague and it wasn’t the first time that he sent women to somebody else.
We call Dr. H. Theresa explains briefly her “wish” to him: “My daughter gets married. I want to have her circumcised, in accordance with the traditional method. The doctor hesitated. Then he added, “I don’t talk about such things on the phone. You have to come here. Give me your number and I will call you back”. He speaks in a dry manner.
Theresa gives him her mobile phone number and after a while the telephone rings. We schedule an appointment. “Come with your daughter.”
“How much money shall I take along?”
“I don’t discuss these things over the phone”, the doctor replies.
Then he hangs up.
The next few telephone calls are more positive experiences. “This is illegal! Give me your name, I will report you!” blustered a reputable cosmetic surgeon. Not a very effective reaction in a case of emergency. But at least an adequate one.
A few days later “Theresa” has her appointment at the practice of the recommended doctor. Again it is in a council estate in one of the poorer districts of Vienna. She brings along her “daughter” – a 19 year old girl from Nigeria who may easily be mistaken as a 17 year old. She has to remain standing in the treatment room, only Theresa is offered a chair. She explains her request, “I want my daughter to be circumcised.” “Does she want that?” the doctor asks after he understood what this was about. “Yes. It is because of her wedding.” Without taking a look at the “daughter” he continues to ask: Who is her future husband? Why does she want that? Is she still a virgin? And finally he refuses to do it, “We don’t do that. It is not correct.” But instead of trying to convince Theresa not to do it, he advises her, “You have to go to a hospital. You need anaesthetics for that. Without it she cannot be circumcised.” And he writes down the name of a well-known Viennese hospital. “Try there. Perhaps they will do it for you.”
This is where we break off our experiment. We have heard enough: hardly a single gynaecologist in the whole capital reacted appropriately to our fictitious request. Most of them consider it evidently to be legitimate to circumcise an underage girl. The three doctors Flora went to see at least would not have carried out the procedure themselves – but they were prepared to refer her on.
Soon coming: the newest edition of “Desert Children”!
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