The Strengthening the Opposition to Female Genital Mutilation Act of 2020, or STOP FGM Act of 2020, became law in January 2021 and gave vulnerable young women and girls more vital protection from the pain and lifelong consequences of female genital mutilation (FGM). 

This bipartisan legislation increased federal penalties for committing this heinous practice, expanded the scope of punishable offenses, and required government agencies to submit an annual report to Congress about the estimated number of U.S. women and girls who have undergone or are at risk of FGM in the United States. Young women have been kept safer due to this law, but much more must be done in our states.

FGM is the partial or total removal of female external genitalia for non-medical reasons, as defined by the World Health Organization. FGM has no health benefits; it is traumatic for young girls to undergo, and it is nota practice condoned by any major religion. It is estimated that 513,000 women and girls have experienced or are at risk of FGM in the United States.

FGM is an intolerable violation of the human rights of young women and girls. Clearly, this is violence against women at its worst, and all states must have strong anti-FGM laws. This would clearly signal that this practice has no place in our society. It is critical for encouraging immigrant communities, which may have come to the United States from countries where FGM was culturally required, to reject these traditions.

State laws are also necessary to bridge gaps that federal legislation cannot fill, including mandated education and outreach for communities and professionals, and civil remedies that allow survivors the opportunity to stand up for themselves in a court of law if they so choose. State laws will helpstart a necessary conversation within communities and families about the harms of the practice and why it has been banned.

Inexcusably today, 10 states are choosing to ignore this threat. The following states do not have legislation on the books seeking to protect young women and girls from this crime: Alabama, Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, Nebraska, Washington state, and the District of Columbia. That leaves 37,000 women and girls potentially affected in states that have failed to act.

Our nation’s capital, in particular, is a disappointment. There was early progress when city council members were considering a comprehensive anti-FGM bill, but judging from recent inaction, the willingness to protect young women and girls in the District of Columbia has abated. With an estimated 3,800 individuals at risk in the District and more than 50,000 in the D.C. metropolitan area, a real need exists to call out FGM as an illegal act and end the practice.

Action in just three places — Connecticut, Washington state and Washington, D.C. — would account for 85 percent of those women and girls left vulnerable. Each has previously introduced anti-FGM legislation, and for various reasons, each of those efforts has failed.

Momentum in state legislatures may have stalled after the passage of the STOP FGM Act of 2020, but young women and girls are still at risk. FGM still exists in the United States, and it is inexcusable to make our girls vulnerable to this human rights abuse. As the United Nations 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign begins, those in the United States must accept there is work to be done here at home and get to it.