The Washington Post has written an excellent piece on female genital mutilation and how immigrant women in the U.S. are coping with this devastating and horrific 2000 year old tradition.
The stories stretch back to villages in North and West Africa, where tribal traditions include various rites to protect family honor. For generations, mothers there have passed on the practice of genital circumcision to their daughters, believing it will make them respectable and chaste for marriage.
The stories leap to present-day America, where foreign-born victims of forced circumcision have been allowed to apply for political asylum since a landmark immigration ruling in 1996, but where, in the past year, some immigration courts have been trying to narrow the grounds on which they can receive legal sanctuary.
Only a few hundred women have sought or won such asylum claims. A handful live quietly in the Washington area, working in hospitals and offices and beauty salons. All carry deep physical and mental wounds.
“I was 7. They put a large fabric on the floor. There were about 50 other girls there, too. The people danced and beat drums. The grown-ups held me down. My mother was screaming, but they beat her and held her away. Then they cut me and I was bleeding. It hurt and I was crying and bleeding and crawling. I crawled for a whole week.”
One African-born Tahirih client described how relatives accused her of bringing a curse on the family by refusing to circumcise her daughter, then tried to kidnap the girl and exorcize her to remove the curse. Another client said the day her husband died, his tribe planned to force her to marry his brother and circumcise her daughter. She said she barely escaped with help from relatives.
Even when such women obtain legal sanctuary in the United States, experts say they often feel isolated and depressed — separated from the families and cultures that raised them, and unable to find confidantes in a new foreign society.