Did you know that female genital mutilation (FGM) is reported to have been practiced in the US as recently as 2010? The United States of America is many things, good and bad, but I held the belief that the majority of the people who want to live in the US of A, are people who want to further their success, and leave certain outdated traditions behind. It appears this is not the case.
In January 2016 the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study recounting their estimation of the number of girls and women who either have gone, or are at risk of going through FGM. The estimation is 513,000. Yes, that is five hundred and thirteen thousand girls and women in the US alone! Not only is this three times the amount of FGM cases reported in 1990 data, but it is also 6,000 more than data published in 2015.
The US government has passed laws against this practice both at the federal and state levels. Federal law makes it illegal to both perform this atrocious act of abuse in the US and to impose it on girls while on vacation abroad. It seems that people whose tradition dictates the practice of FGM, and who currently live in the US, decide to take their girls to their country of origin to perform said mutilation. Additionally, some reports note that 1) circumcisers have been brought to the US to perform this mutilation, and 2) American-licensed doctors may be performing this mutilation in the US as well.
The reason there is a law against this inhumane practice, is because someone decided to speak up about it.
Organizations like Equality Now and Safe Hands for Girls have been at the forefront of advocating for the immediate end to FGM. Equality Now can be said to be the catalyst that made the federal government pass the law in 1996 that bans FGM. In 1994 Equality Now launched a campaign to help a Togo native, Fauziya Kassindja get asylum in the US instead of being detained. Fauziya escaped her home at the age of 17 as she was going to undergo genital mutilation and be forced into marriage. She was granted asylum, which made it very apparent that FGM is a gender-base form of persecution for which women could seek asylum in the US.
Safe Hands for Girls was founded by Jaha Dukureh, herself a female genital mutilation survivor. She works tirelessly to bring attention to the matter in The Gambia and the US. Jaha was directly involved in the creation of the Girls’ Protection Act of 2010. This act makes it illegal to transport U.S. girls overseas for the performance of FGM.
Although she has saved more than 100 girls from this terrible and terrifying practice, Jaha continues to fight for girls everywhere that they may not be scarred; literally, mentally and emotionally.
Mimutie is an organization founded by Rose Njilo, a Maasai woman living in Tanzania. She is the perfect example for any of us who believe we are ordinary and ‘one’ in number and that our actions are insignificant to the whole. She, instead, decided to be extraordinary and make her life count not only for herself and her family, but for her community as well. Rose looked at Maasai communities and realized that the majority of people within them continue the practice of female genital mutilation out of tradition and ignorance. In fact, it is not only FGM that happens in Maasai communities, but also other forms of violence against girls and women. Most of the women with whom Rose spoke relayed that they believed it was normal to be treated as their men treat them. Domestic violence, verbal and emotional abuse, and the lack of freedom to own property are all norms for the women with whom Rose spoke.
The Tanzanian government has made it illegal to perform FGM, but this law is seldom reinforced, especially in remote villages like Arash; Rose’s pilot area for her organization’s work.
Through Mimutie, Rose Njilo is working to eradicate the practice of FGM throughout Tanzania by educating girls, teaching reproductive health, as well as establishing FGM as a gender-based violence within her community and country.
There are many stories like these. As with everything, once we start working toward something many things like it start popping up in our lives. If we start speaking out on this, I am certain we will find many other large and grassroots efforts by organizations and single individuals like you and me.
I’d like to leave you with a song that I hope you can listen to with the volume on high, and that you can watch the video. You may or may not be a fan of Beyonce Knowles, but she has been actively putting in effort to support people in the States and overseas, and this song is one of the songs for which she should be known. I Was Here.
Will I have been Here?
Will You have been Here?
Will we speak up?
“For a firsthand account of being subjected to FGM as a young girl, we highly recommend the Waris Dirie’s inspiring memoir, Desert Flower: The Extraordinary Journey of a Desert Nomad
In Yemen, Nujood Ali, a former child bride and an anti-child-marriage advocate, also speaks on behalf of the girls who are promised in marriage at shockingly young ages. To read about her, check out “I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced” for ages 15 and up at
To learn more about how girls and women are fighting back against oppression and transforming their communities, we highly recommend “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” and the accompanying documentary, for ages 13 and up.
For stories of both real-life and fictional girls and women confronting sexism and prejudice in a multitude of forms, visit our “Gender Discrimination” section.
And, for an excellent book full of ideas on how you can help change the lives of girls and women around the world, including helping to end FGHM and child marriage, check out “100 Under $100: One Hundred Tools for Empowering Global Women“