Today, February 6, is the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Female Genital Mutilation is a horrific crime of violence against women and girls and can cause extreme and long-term physical and psychological effects. There must be Zero Tolerance for this crime!
The CDC estimates that at least 513,000 women and girls in the United States have suffered or are at risk of becoming victims of FGM. There are an estimated 200 million women and girls across the globe who are victims of this crime.
Here at the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW), we are working hard to raise awareness about this violent crime and the danger to girls in our local communities.
OVW and KARAMAH: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights conducted an Interactive Expert Panel via webinar on Thursday, February 14. Click here to view the recording: https://www.justice.gov/ovw/video/female-genital-mutilation-and-cutting-intersections-domestic-violence-and-sexual-assault.
This expert panel informed OVW grantees and all those working to end violence against women about FGM and the ways it intersects with domestic and sexual violence. We heard from three current OVW grantees with first-hand expertise in recognizing FGM and responding to survivors. You will learn how to refer victims for the appropriate services and help and what other organizations have told OVW what they are seeing in their work and view questions asked of the panelists.
I had the privilege to meet with one of the grantees whose work we will be highlighting in the panel: Nisaa African Family Services in Des Moines, Iowa. That visit profoundly impacted me and I can never forget the strength of these women in spite of the suffering they experienced.
Nisaa provides culturally specific services for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence to African-diaspora communities in Iowa. In their work, they come face to face with the reality of FGM. They explained how FGM is unfortunately a strong cultural tradition in many African communities. For these African-diaspora communities, FGM is an important rite of passage and a cultural ritual. Nisaa’s Executive Director, Hibo Jama, explained it to me this way: “Telling these African communities to stop practicing FGM would be like telling Americans to stop celebrating Thanksgiving.”
The women from Nisaa emphasized to me that FGM is NOT a religious practice, but it is cultural. They spoke from their own experiences of observing it practiced across religious lines, by communities that are majority Christian and others that are majority Muslim.
Nisaa staff also explained that the people practicing FGM are often not educated on the health risks that come with this practice. FGM affects women for their entire lifetime; it affects both menstruation and childbearing, and can have life-threatening complications. One woman tearfully shared how her young niece has to miss school for two days every month because of injuries she sustained. Tragically, it is often women who support and perpetuate FGM. Where can these young girls turn when their own mothers and grandmothers support this devastating practice?
But in the face of all this, the staff at Nisaa are fighters. They are fighting FGM on the frontlines in their communities every day as they care for survivors. To create lasting community change, Nisaa holds a weekly peer group of 6-10 women, each of whom was identified as a gatekeeper or respected leader, to talk about FGM, discuss and work through their beliefs about FGM, and inform them of the serious harms of FGM. They have seen women in this group change their opinions about FGM from supporting the practice to vowing that they will never have their own daughters or granddaughters cut the way they were.
Please stand with OVW today to demand zero tolerance for FGM both here and around the world, and join us February 14 to learn more and share your insights during our interactive expert panel!