WHY WON’T MASSACHUSETTS PASS A LAW TO STOP Female Genital Cutting/Mutilation (FGM/C)?

Mariya Taher
Posted July 3, 2018 from United States

Hi everyone,

I wanted to share an op-ed I wrote for the Fair Observer. I work with the Massachusetts FGM Task Force on passing legislation in our state that would allow for education and outreach, provide civil remedies to survivors, and criminalize FGM/C. Right now NO law exists in our state. In the U.S. overall, only 26 states have a state law. There is an overall federal USA law, but because of different jurisdictional priorities, we need both state and federal laws in the U.S.

Here is a link to the article and I'm pasting it below as well.

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Why Won’t Massachusetts Pass a Law to Stop FGM?

They are still not listening to us. The bills and our stories sit on a desk, unheard, undiscussed and, worst of all, silenced.

Since 2012, the Massachusetts Women’s Bar Association has been advocating for a state law that would protect girls from female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM/C). Yet to this day, no law has been put in place. It is estimated that over half a million girls and women in the United States are at risk of having some or all of their perfectly healthy external genitalia removed for non-medical purposes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranks Massachusetts 12th in the nation in terms of the number of women and girls who have undergone or are at risk of undergoing FGM/C.

I live in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and I am one of those women.

Growing up in a Dawoodi Bohra community, a religious sect within the Ismaili branch of Shia Islam, I was told it was a sensitive topic, one reserved to be spoken about by women only. I thought FGM/C was normal, and I understood that I was not supposed to mention it in large gatherings or to those outside the Bohra community. What we did was special. It was tradition. It was called khatna.

Not until high school did I connect the dots and understand that khatna was female genital mutilation. After doing research on FGM/C online, it dawned on me that what I had been brought up to believe was a religious or cultural practice was in actuality violence and because I was seven when someone cut off that piece of my clitoral hood, that it was child abuse.

In graduate school for social work, I carried out a research project to better understand how and why it continues in the United States. Most women I interviewed said it was used to control their sexuality. Nowadays, I hear from proponents of FGM/C that it is done for health and hygienic reasons, though there is no proof it brings any health benefits. In fact, FGM/C can cause physical harm including pain, bleeding, shock, tetanus, genital sores, and long-lasting psychological harm including sexual disorders, fear of sexual intimacy, nightmares and post-traumatic stress disorder.

My research helped me to understand that FGM/C was a tradition that for generations had been normalized and passed on. Over time, communities had learned to minimize the harm, and in doing so had unintentionally sanctioned violence in the name of culture or religion. It is imperative that we unlearn these toxic lessons.

This past year, the #MeToo movement encouraged women to openly talk about sexual harassment and assault that was a result of their gender. The ripple effect led to Time magazine crowning the #MeToo movement person of the year for 2017. I too tapped into the power of women’s stories and collected dozens from women living in the US who underwent FGM/C so that we could collectively submit testimony to the Massachusetts Joint Committee on the judiciary proving that girls need protection here.

But even after all these women, including myself, have bravely shared our stories, and after law enforcement, two attorneys generals, six district attorneys, legal and medical professionals, child advocates and community groups stated their support for An Act to Protect Girls from Genital Mutilation — sponsored by State Senator Harriette L. Chandler during a hearing at the Massachusetts State house in October — the bill was sent to study, meaning most likely it will not move forward.

They are still not listening to us. The bills and our stories sit on a desk, unheard, undiscussed and, worst of all, silenced.

Massachusetts is considered to be a progressive state with respect to reproductive rights, anti-discrimination laws, and equality issues. Our state is one of only 17 nationwide with public funding for abortion and one of only 20 states to prohibit discrimination in employment on the basis of sexual orientation. Yet I’ve been told that the reason the act will not move forward is that Massachusetts legislators lack the political will to recognize FGM/C as violence. The skeptic in me wonders if re-election has anything to do with their “political will.” There is a fear, a misconception that by passing this bill and saying FGM/C is illegal, we would be targeting existing vulnerable communities because FGM/C happens to Muslims, to immigrants, to those communities already targeted by the Trump administration.

My childhood comes back to me. The lessons of silence, of feigning ignorance, of keeping entrenched this violence, of passing it off as a cultural tradition. The Massachusetts legislature unknowingly teaches the same lessons. Like in my childhood, I am getting the sense that because cutting of a girl’s genitalia is connected to her religion and culture, we must tread carefully, we must not classify it as harm. We must ignore and keep quiet about the physical and psychological trauma that happens because this is tradition.

But by giving this justification is the Massachusetts legislature not just “othering” the issue? Does it imply that girls living in Massachusetts do not need protection? Historically, FGM/C has been performed on girls of all ethnicities, religions, economic statuses, and education levels. Up until the 1950s, clitoridectomy was used to treat hysteria, mental illness, lesbianism and to stop masturbation. My friend Renee Bergstrom is one woman who submitted testimony that FGM/C was done to her in the Midwest, in Christian America, because at the age of three she touched herself.

I can’t help but wonder whether if FGM/C continued to be prevalent among white communities then Massachusetts would make it more of a priority to pass legislation to protect women. We should not and cannot sanction violence in the name of culture or religion. And we can’t protect all girls in Massachusetts unless we openly condemn female genital mutilation and recognize it for what it truly is — violence against girls.

By passing a law to ban female genital mutilation and cutting, the Massachusetts legislators would be telling us that they are listening to the women and girls living in their state and that they are dedicated to empowering women, especially young and vulnerable girls who might be at risk for undergoing FGM/C. I hope for that to happen.

*[If you would like to support passing a law banning FGM/C in Massachusetts, please consider signing this Change.org petition – Ban Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting in Massachusetts.]

Comments 50

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joyce nelly
Jul 03, 2018
Jul 03, 2018

Hello Mariya that is a really touching write up .I never knew genital mutilation was done that way also I thought it was only a thing done done in some African tribes .I hope the government listen to your plea and sign that bill.more grace

Mariya Taher
Jul 03, 2018
Jul 03, 2018

Thanks! There is such a huge misconception around who it happens to and an underrecognition that it really is a global problem. Thank you for your well-wishes and for reading my story.

Jill Langhus
Jul 03, 2018
Jul 03, 2018

Hi Mariya. Thanks for sharing your important story and campaign. I've signed and shared your petition on my social media. I hope it helps. Archaic, harmful practices such as these need to stop!!!

Mariya Taher
Jul 03, 2018
Jul 03, 2018

Thank you so much! Really appreciate the support.

Jill Langhus
Jul 03, 2018
Jul 03, 2018

You're welcome. Please keep us posted on the progress of this petition.

Jafreen Alamgir
Jul 03, 2018
Jul 03, 2018

Yes. it needs to stop. Thank you for sharing. :)

Mariya Taher
Jul 04, 2018
Jul 04, 2018

Thank you for reading!

Mercy Kusi
Jul 03, 2018
Jul 03, 2018

I'm appalled.I live in a third world country where FGM has been stopped in many communities thanks to series of sensitization campaigns.To say the least I couldn't have imagined that such a barbaric culture is still practised in parts of America.All I can say Dear Mariya is that you press on.Time will definitely drop the big news on your doorstep someday.You are on the right track

Mariya Taher
Jul 04, 2018
Jul 04, 2018

Thank you so much for your kind words and for reading my story! I would love to learn more about the campaigns that happened in your community that helped to stop FGC in your community.

Stephanie Mah
Jul 03, 2018
Jul 03, 2018

Hi Mariya. How are you doing. I thought FGM/C was only in Africa I never new it was every were. You are doing a great job. Continu sencetizing, one day your voice will be herad and FGM/C will be stop completely.

Mariya Taher
Jul 04, 2018
Jul 04, 2018

Thank you so much! It truly is remarkable how misrepresented the issue of FGC is. I do hope that more and more people will become aware and work towards ending harmful practices such as this one.

leila Kigha
Jul 04, 2018
Jul 04, 2018

Wow Mariya, this is some education. I never knew the scope of FGM was that wide. We cannot in the name of culture or religion put the lives of our girls at risk. It has to stop. I hope your voice will be heard.
Thank you for sharing

Mariya Taher
Jul 04, 2018
Jul 04, 2018

Agree! Thank you for reading!

Sister Zeph
Jul 04, 2018
Jul 04, 2018

Dear Mariya I am so surprised to know that it happens in USA too but thanks to you because if you would not write it I could never know this I am glad you are struggling a lot to stop FGM I sure soon Government will accept your suggestions and no woman will have to face it ever again

Mariya Taher
Jul 04, 2018
Jul 04, 2018

Thank you so much! One of the reasons I wrote the article is because i do believe it is such a misconception and understood that FGC is a global issue.

Obisakin Busayo
Jul 04, 2018
Jul 04, 2018

WOW! So sorry Mariya, I never know that this could be happening in US of all places despite the world outcry on this matter. I hope your government listens and stop this sin against humanity.
Wishing you all the best
Love
Busayo

Mariya Taher
Jul 04, 2018
Jul 04, 2018

Thank you so much! This definitely has to stop all over the globe!

Olubee
Jul 04, 2018
Jul 04, 2018

Hello Mariya, I have visited your website and signed the petition.Do not give up tough time do not last ,but tough people do.There will be light at the end of the tunnel.
Wish you success on this journey to stop FGM/C.

Mariya Taher
Jul 04, 2018
Jul 04, 2018

Thank you so much! Everyone's support means so much.

Olubee
Jul 04, 2018
Jul 04, 2018

You are welcome

AGNES TUMASANG
Jul 05, 2018
Jul 05, 2018

GREAT WORK MY SISTER KEEP ON PUSHING IT WILL ONE DAY PASS

Mariya Taher
Jul 05, 2018
Jul 05, 2018
Adanna
Jul 05, 2018
Jul 05, 2018

Hi Mariya,

Thank you for sharing your story.

It is sad that this is still happening in the world. I admire your strength and I want you not to give up.

Keep pressing on sister!

Love,
Adanna

Mariya Taher
Jul 05, 2018
Jul 05, 2018
Adanna
Jul 05, 2018
Jul 05, 2018

Done Mariya :)

Mariya Taher
Jul 05, 2018
Jul 05, 2018

Thank you! =)

Ngala Nadege
Jul 05, 2018
Jul 05, 2018

OMG...I didn't really know that FGM is going on in the US.thanks for sharing Sister.

Mariya Taher
Jul 05, 2018
Jul 05, 2018
SIMON MUREU
Jul 05, 2018
Jul 05, 2018

Thank you for the good work and push it on.We are having this problem in kenya among the MAASAI AND POKOT ,TURKANA among many.a lot is being done but still

Mariya Taher
Jul 06, 2018
Jul 06, 2018

I have heard about it occurring in Kenya as well. Glad to hear there is work being done there. There is also I know a big Indian community in Kenya and the Bohra Indian community in Kenya do practice it there too, but at present, I think there is little awareness of them doing so. If you are able to, please do support this petition - https://www.change.org/p/ban-female-genital-mutilation-cutting-in-massac...

Rosylyne Nabaala
Jul 06, 2018
Jul 06, 2018

Thank you for sharing and I believe our unity is our strength we will be out of the bond age soon.

Mariya Taher
Jul 06, 2018
Jul 06, 2018
kyla
Jul 06, 2018
Jul 06, 2018

Hi Mariya, I was surprised to hear that some areas of the US are not yet willing to make this illegal. I have signed your petition and I hope that the increased awareness you are creating will help you get this change through. No girl should have to experience this.

Mariya Taher
Jul 07, 2018
Jul 07, 2018

Thank you! I really do appreciate the support.

Chinyere Okoh
Jul 07, 2018
Jul 07, 2018

Hello Mariya.

Thank you for sharing such a touching story. Persistence is the key. When voices arise, change will come. Hold on and never give up. You have our support

Mariya Taher
Jul 09, 2018
Jul 09, 2018
Chinyere Okoh
Jul 12, 2018
Jul 12, 2018

Done....

Tarke Edith
Jul 08, 2018
Jul 08, 2018

Hi Mariya thank you for your continuous fight against FGM dear don't give up the fight l believe that one day the government will hear us

Mariya Taher
Jul 09, 2018
Jul 09, 2018

Thank you! And you're right we definitely have to keep on believing that the day will come when they do hear us.

Beth Lacey
Jul 10, 2018
Jul 10, 2018

Please keep us posted on your work.
Beth

Mariya Taher
Jul 10, 2018
Jul 10, 2018
Sally maforchi Mboumien
Jul 22, 2018
Jul 22, 2018

We should never be discouraged by the nonchalance of the legislators because they usually ignore the facts. Press for change always so long as it is the right thing to do. Keep up the good fight

Mariya Taher
Jul 30, 2018
Jul 30, 2018
Bim Adegbite
Jul 26, 2018
Jul 26, 2018

Thanks for sharing this story. Truly unaware that this continues in our so called civilized society. This law should pass and will pass because of people like you who stand firm against violence of any form against women or girls. You would think this will be an easy win but some things continue to fly under the radar till someone dares to challenge and expose. Please keep up the fight!

Mariya Taher
Jul 30, 2018
Jul 30, 2018
Bim Adegbite
Aug 03, 2018
Aug 03, 2018

yes! I've signed the petition.

Mariya Taher
Aug 04, 2018
Aug 04, 2018

Thank you!

carolepng
Oct 10, 2018
Oct 10, 2018

Wow! I'm so sorry that this is happening - something that is known in the 3rd world countries but not there... :( Have signed petition. Hope ban takes place! Thank you for sharing.

Bara'atu Nasidi
Jan 17
Jan 17

this is a very touching and sad story because it goes to show women still have a long way to go but we cannot afford to stay silent,please keep on pushing because I believe that your hardwork will not go in vein,one day you will achieve your goal.

Mariya Taher
Jan 18
Jan 18

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