February 6th is the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Millions of young women and girls around the world are victims of or at risk for FGM. Female genital mutilation is the cutting or removal of these body parts of women for nonmedical purposes. The practice has no health benefits, but many harmful physical and psychological effects. It is hard to believe that it is happening in the United States, but it is and it must stop.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 510,000 women and girls in the United States have undergone female genital mutilation or are at risk. More than 200 million young women around the world have been subjected to this violence that occurs most commonly in Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Asia.
Those in the United States have reason for optimism as one year ago, former President Trump signed the Stop Female Genital Mutilation Act into law, after a bipartisan campaign propelled it through the U.S. Congress.
This law confirms the commercial nature of female genital mutilation and it provides for a strong penalty of 10 years for those who carry out this heinous procedure. It also mandates that female genital mutilation rates and risks must be monitored and reported on by federal agencies that can increase awareness and prevention.
Common sense would dictate that all 50 states have laws on the books banning female genital mutilation like the federal government. Sadly, that is not the case. According to the Ayaan Hirsi Ali (AHA) Foundation, there are still ten states that do not have anti-female genital mutilation laws in place. Shamefully, our nation’s capital also denies critical protections to young girls or women. As Ayaan Hirsi Ali has said, “There is no reason to tolerate human-rights violations in the United States. No religion, culture, or tradition can be invoked to justify violence against women and girls.”
The ten states without any protection against female genital mutilation are: Alaska, Hawaii, Nebraska, Montana, Alabama, Connecticut, Maine, New Mexico, Mississippi, and Washington.
These ten states are signaling there is acceptance for this human rights abuse within their borders which will incentivize people to cross state borders to have this barbaric practice performed. These ten states need to redirect their approach to protecting women and girls.
When Governor Ned Lamont of Connecticut took office three years ago, he established the first-ever Governor’s Council on Women and Girls. This group was tasked with providing a coordinated state response to issues that impact the lives of women, girls, their families and the state of Connecticut. Female genital mutilation should be next on this Council’s agenda.
In New Mexico, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham offers no protection from FGM to young women and girls living in her state. New Mexico is surrounded by states that have recognized this problem and taken robust action to stop it. Why do the young girls in New Mexico remain at risk?
According to data by the Population Reference Bureau, the D.C. metropolitan area has the second-highest concentration of women and girls affected by FGM in the country, estimated at over 50,000. What is being done in our nation’s capital about this? Nothing yet. This simply cannot stand.
Leaders in states without critical anti-FGM legislation should take a lesson from Indiana State Senator Liz Brown. Indiana was the most recent state to pass anti-FGM legislation in 2021. Senator Brown was able to pass very strong legislation without any opposition. She realized protecting women and girls isn’t a partisan issue and made her colleagues on both sides of the aisle understand the importance of these laws.
As Senator Brown said, “If you have the courage to introduce this legislation and get a hearing, you will be successful in getting it passed, because no one can oppose outlawing such a horrific practice.”
In addition to legislating this problem away, state leaders should work to identify communities where girls are at risk and then make resources available to train medical and law enforcement officials so they know how to identify the problem and respond to it appropriately.
One this day of awareness, let us recommit to making certain all fifty states adopt a zero tolerance for FGM. “One girl cut is one too many, so we need to do all we can, at every level, to stop the horror of FGM,” Amanda Parker, Senior Director of the AHA Foundation.
Click here to Demand Zero Tolerance for FGM in the United States