Let me be clear:
FGM is not just an African problem.
It is not just a third world problem.
It is not just something that happens ‘over there’.
It is happening right here in the United States.
In the United States alone, over 200,000 women and girls are at risk yearly for being victims of FGM. The crime is committed by either sending girls overseas or undercover on US soil. The shocking part? Very few states prosecute the parent/guardian of these girls or the mutilator performing the crime. Little to no legislative protection is offered to girls at risk of being sent abroad to be mutilated. In the name of cultural sensitivity, heads have been turned against victims who have been subjected to this crime, and there are little to no resources to provide care for survivors and safeguard those at risk.
FGM is the forced cutting of the genitals of young girls – often without anesthesia – for cultural (non-medical) reasons. FGM can cause bleeding, infection, a lifelong lack of sensation, infertility and even death for an untold number of women and young girls around the world and right here in the United States.
We have been speaking out and demanding that our government help us fight this brutal, life threatening abuse for decades. We have written petitions, staged protests, and made documentaries to highlight this growing problem. Leading women's rights organizations and anti-violence leadership have been implementing education, outreach, and awareness at its best: it is now time to shift our focus from being reactive to proactive, and become solution oriented in our efforts to ensure that no girl or woman ever undergoes such barbaric bodily violation in its most intimate form.
A much wider international involvement to stop FGM is needed now, one that involves monitoring legal frameworks that continue to support this practice. International, regional, and local efforts to end this practice must be put into action on a legislative level. Egypt’s recent failure of prosecuting the doctor who caused the death of the 13 year old girl in a botched mutilation surgery is a wake-up call to how we are allowing this abuse to continue systemically. According to surveys by Unicef, an estimated 91% of married Egyptian women aged between 15 and 49 have been subjected to FGM, 72% of them by doctors.
There is still a deep lack of accountability and repercussions for performing FGM against minors right here in the United States, as such cases are become more and more difficult to criminalize in defense of social, religious, or cultural excuses. Title 18 Code 116 of The Code of Laws of the United States of America codifies female genital mutilation to be an act of violence as a federal crime, however, there have been no prosecutions under § 116 to date.
Eradicating FGM is contingent upon the accountability and adherence of laws and legislation that protect girls susceptible to this practice in the United States. There must be a proactive policies introduced to law enforcement, social service organizations, schools, and healthcare institutions to handle cases of FGM. We need to push for a a no tolerance legislation to be passed that prosecutes parents if they do not prevent their daughters from being cut. The highest risk now is the increasing trend towards medicalizing this practice, which allows loopholes for healthcare providers who account for performing over 18% of FGM cases.
The last time The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) researched the prevalence of FGM was in 1997. Less than a handful of people have been prosecuted or penalized for carrying out FGM in the United States, yet the number of victims climbs higher. We have yet to even reveal the actual statistics and data on FGM due to lack of priority and funding. Research is just in the pipelines now, after decades of activism, outcry, and hundreds of thousands of cases that could have been preventable.
As President Obama said, we are at a historic crossroads where we can finally make “gender equality” “part of everything that we do” – and free millions of women and girls from male oppression, mutilation, subjugation and abuse. FGM is a horrific abuse that should not be tolerated in any society. No young girl should be subjected to a practice that will cause a lifetime of emotional and physical trauma. We owe more to our daughters, our sisters, and our communities.
It's almost 2015. Violent practices that are centuries old that deprave every ounce of humanity have no place in society today. Isn’t it about time to finally put an end to FGM in our history?
Zainab Zeb Khan is a human rights activist. She is featured in the groundbreaking documentary, Honor Diaries, and is the recipient of YWCA Metropolitan Chicago’s Outstanding Leader in Racial Justice 2014. She has worked on global campaigns and projects to eliminate violence against women.
Center for Disease Control
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National Center for Prosecution of Child Abuse