It’s officially summer in the U.S. and that means it is “cutting season.” While some women begin prepping for bathing suit bodies, others fear the violent practice of female genital mutilation. The procedure involves the removal of the clitoris and/or the sewing up of the labia, sometimes until marriage, for non-medical reasons. Young girls across the country are being sent to their ancestral homelands for a “rite of passage” procedure to discourage premarital sexual activity.
In a letter to Attorney General Holder, Secretary Kerry, Secretary Sebelius, Secretary Duncan, Administrator Shah and Director Burwell, Congressman Joe Crowley, D-N.Y. urges the development of a comprehensive plan to implement the General Assembly resolution and the Girls Protection Act. Spearheading the anti-FGM movement are survivors like 24 year-old Jaha Dukureh, a Wells Fargo banker from Altanta. Dukureh has been speaking with congressional members for the last few days, spreading her story and urging for action against this brutal, archaic practice.
“[The Girls Protection Act] is about putting the law on the side of innocent girls. If one girl is subject to FGM, that is one too many,” Congressman Crowley said. “No girl should be forced to endure this practice that can have lasting, harmful effects — both physically and psychologically.”
Congressman Crowley and former Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack’s reintroduction of the Girls Protection Act, along with Durkeh’s petition letter that garnered over 212,000 signatures, have proliferated a campaign to publicize an epidemic faced by up to 140 million women and girls around the world. Currently, no new data exists for the U.S. beyond the 2000 U.S. census. This last count dramatically underestimates the number of women affected by FGM in the country at 228,000.
Durkeh advocates the Obama administration’s Department of Health and Human Services to commission data and analysis on the scale and severity of the problem in the U.S. It is the first step in developing a comprehensive strategic plan to eliminate FGM and support survivors. It must be understood as a U.S. problem rather than as a concern relegated to faraway lands. Although girls are often sent to Africa or the Middle East for the procedure, it also occurs on U.S. soil.
Because the issue remains sensitive and neglected, survivors and families are left with little access to education or support networks. “In London there are at least 15 specialist clinics, but in New York there are only a few hospitals where I can send clients,” laments Naima Abdullahi, a young activist who was subjected to FGM in Kenya at the age of nine. Naima, now pregnant, is struggling to find a gynecologist who both understands her plight and has the proper medical expertise: “Some don’t even know what FGM is.”
Unfortunately Naima’s struggle to find culturally competent care is not unique. Thousands of women throughout the country have undergone non-consensual processes in which they are stripped of their genitalia without anesthesia, medication, or even simply answers as to why they are being mistreated.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.