Feminism

FGM: Not Just a Third World Problem

FGM and You

Ok, lets be honest here folks. How many of you know about the crisis that is FGM (Female genital mutilation)? And it’s okay if you don’t. Being a middle class American means that you can live you life without much thought being given to genital mutilation abroad. But that is changing. The amount of girls in the United States that are at risk of FGM has more than doubled in the past ten years.

FGM has recently come back into the spotlight of national media as Dr. Raslan Fadl, an Egyptian physician, was found guilty of performing this barbaric procedure. A 13 year old girl named Soheir al Batea died in June 2013 after having the procedure performed by ‘Doctor’ Fadl. He had initially been acquitted of the crime last November, but Egypt’s Justice Minister was unhappy with the decision. This is momentous as Fadl will be the first person ever prosecuted for genital cutting in Egypt, although it was outlawed over 8 years ago. Fadl was sentenced to the maximum sentence of TWO YEARS IN PRISON and his clinic suspended for ONE YEAR. So even if the law is implemented to the fullest, this is the harshest punishment it can yield. Soheir’s father was also sentenced for three months house arrest for ordering the procedure to be performed. The United Kingdom also had its first FGM trial this year, indicting Dr. Dhanuson Dharmasena, who was accused of illegally performing FGM on a woman days after she had given birth. He was acquitted of all charges just recently.

The first question I always have when reading these stories concerning FGM is ‘why’? So to get there, I am going to give you a quick history of the subject. The biggest myth surrounding FGM is that it is an Islamic practice. This is UNTRUE; FGM occurs is many Muslim majority states, but is a social convention that predates religion and is performed by both Muslims and Christians in Africa. This of course doesn’t stop proponents from using religion as their reasoning. The UN has estimated that 125 million women worldwide have been victims of the practice in some way, including 91% of Egypt’s female population. In these societies, FGM is seen as the appropriate way to prepare a girl for adulthood and marriage by ridding her of her ‘unclean’ sexual parts to discourage any illicit behavior before marriage. There are many types of FGM, an estimated 80% of women who are victims have had either their clitoris prepuce removed, along with the clitoris and/or outer lips. But there is also a type that is characterized by the removal of all external genitalia and then the remaining outer lips being sewn back to together. This most severe type is usually practiced in the Horn of Africa and affects about 15% of all victims. The procedure is usually performed before puberty, between the ages of 4-8, without any anesthetic and often with unhygienic tools.

According to a recent study, more than half a million girls in the US are at risk of or have already been victims of FGM, either domestically or abroad. The increase in immigrants from the Middle East and Africa have caused the spike in numbers. The states with the highest number of girls at risk are California (56,872), New York (48,418), and Minnesota (44,293). Due to the influx in immigration, medical professionals, social workers, and police officers in the US must continue with their education and training in the area and stay alert to what their perceive to be possible cases or people at risk. FGM has been outlawed in the US since 1996, but an amendment banning ‘vacation cutting’ (parents taking their daughters abroad to have the practice performed) wasn’t passed until 2012. The first case and conviction in the US was only in 2006, of an Ethiopian immigrant named Khalid Adem for mutilating his daughter. Due to the secrecy within these groups that cutting is performed, it is too often a crime that goes unpunished. Last week, coinciding with the UN’s Zero Tolerance Day, Reps Joe Crowley (D-NY) and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) introduced legislation, HR 783, backed by the group Equality Now that would create a national strategy to protect girls from FGM in the US. Rep Crowley is the same man who helped pass the 2012 law banning ‘vacation cutting’. The new bill will establish a hotline for girls, establish a national public education campaign, and reeducation aimed at teachers, law enforcement, and medical professionals.

So this is not just a problem in the developing world; this affects women all over the globe, even in the United States. So now that we have all of this information what can we do?

  1. Help raise awareness about this tortuous crime
  2. Lobby for policies to criminalize the practice (such as HR 783)
  3. Donate to charities within the region fighting this evil
  4. Advocate for victims rights and the prosecution of the criminals responsible
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