Mariya Receives Human Rights Storytellers Award

The Muslim American Leadership Alliance (MALA), a civic and community organization committed to promoting individual freedom and diversity, and to celebrating Muslim American heritage, honored Sahiyo Co-founder, Mariya Taher with the first annual MALA Human Rights Storytellers Award. This award recognizes Mariya and Sahiyo’s outstanding contribution to defending human rights through storytelling, in particular, working to protect women’s bodies from cutting – and bringing together women who have been cut on a journey of healing and empowerment. The award was given in recognition of the U.S. Sahiyo Stories project and the Human Rights Storytellers Award was presented to Mariya at MALA’s Third Annual Gala at the Chicago History Museum on November 6, 2018.

Read more at MALA’s Third Annual Gala Honors Leaders, Storytellers.

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Female Genital Cutting is an International Issue

By Brionna Wiggins

Upon hearing about female genital cutting and what it entails, it seems that one of the first facts you hear about it has to do with its prevalence in Africa and the Middle East. While it is true that these continents have a high prevalence (which has been decreasing according to a recent study by BMJ Global Health), it may contribute to the misconception that these are the only places in the world where females undergo FGC. Unfortunately, this is not the case. This practice reaches Asia, Europe, North America, South America, and Australia. Its presence on multiple continents leads FGC to be an international issue that needs to end with the support of all the nations involved.

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Map Courtsey of Orchid Project
As part of my senior project, I have been bestowed the opportunity to do volunteer work with Sahiyo. They work specifically with the Dawoodi Bohra community, whose members mainly reside in India, Pakistan, Yemen and East Africa. FGC is also prevalent in countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia. There have even been reports in Colombia, South America. This puts FGC on every continent in the world!

As previously mentioned, FGC occurs among diaspora communities. When families from countries that practice FGC move into new areas, they inevitably bring along the instilled need to continue the social norm. This leads to FGC being present in ‘receiving countries’, which can include places bordering practicing countries. Despite the handful of receiving countries that ban and criminalize FGC, the practice is still inflicted on girls in an effort to maintain their cultural identity. However, diaspora community members may send their daughters to their home country for ‘vacation cutting’. FGC is not a practice that is restricted by borders. Decades ago, FGC was practiced in some of the same countries that worked to prevent it.

In Victorian Era England, FGC ushered its way into the medical field as a cure for nervous diseases, masturbation, and any other infliction that doctors/surgeons related to the female organs. Gynecological surgeon Isaac Baker Brown popularized the idea of using clitoridectomy, or removal of the clitoris, as a solution for ailments in medical circles. After some time, Isaac Brown and those who followed this method were eventually condemned. Yet, it was not so readily removed from American medical textbooks. Doctors in the U.S. also continued with this treatment to cure female ailments and the last documentation of this practice dates as far back as 1947. It is the year Renee Bergstrom received a clitoridectomy at the age of three in “white, midwest America” (The Guardian). People with good intentions may harm others irreparably, even the ones who trust them the most.

While the practitioners may mean well, it still doesn’t excuse the continual physical and psychological harm of women and young girls. These mistakes have been made before, and are still being made by participating societies and people who perpetuate the practice. With FGC being so close to home, the problem cannot be ignored any longer as someone else’s problem. This practice affects women and girls on every continent. It must be dealt with using the full support of every global citizen to end the practice of FGC for the sake of women and men. You can help advocate against it too. Research is crucial in understanding a multifaceted issue such as this to ensure and reaffirm what you’re advocating for. That’s when you can volunteer your time or voice to organizations working to end FGC and keep up to date on the topic. Also, you can inquire about the laws in your state if they regulate or have anything in place pertaining to the practice. If there’s not a law already, then you can advocate for one being created.

 

More on Brionna:

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Brionna is currently a high school senior in the District of Columbia. She likes drawing, helping others, and being able to contribute to great causes.

Five things you need to know about the controversial court ruling on FGM/C in USA: Sahiyo explains

by Sahiyo

On November 20, 2018, United States District Judge Bernard Friedman ruled that the US Federal Law banning Female Genital Cutting (FGC, also known as Female Genital Mutilation or FGM) is unconstitutional. With this ruling, the judge dismissed key charges of FGM against two Michigan doctors and six other people accused of practicing genital cutting on several minor girls.

However, in the same ruling, Judge Friedman acknowledged that the practice of cutting a female’s genitalia is “despicable”.

The ruling came as a shock to survivors of FGC and human rights activists advocating to end FGC, not just in the USA but all over the world. But there is more to this complex and controversial court ruling than the news headlines suggest. In order to better understand the ruling and its implications for communities that practice FGC, read Sahiyo’s comprehensive explainer below:

What is the US District Judge’s ruling on Female Genital Cutting all about?

In April 2017, the US federal government prosecuted Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, Dr. Fakhruddin Attar and his wife Farida Attar — all members of Michigan’s Farmington Hills Dawoodi Bohra mosque — for subjecting two minor girls from Minnesota to FGC. Subsequently, five other women from the Dawoodi Bohra community were prosecuted for performing FGC on at least nine girls in the Michigan area. This historic case was the first time that anyone had been charged under the US federal law prohibiting FGC — a law that had been introduced by the federal government back in 1996.

To understand the US District Court’s ruling in this case on November 20, it is important to understand the federal nature of the US government and its criminal justice system. Under federalism, some laws can be passed by Congress — the federal or central government — and are applicable to all states in the country. Some other laws can only come under the jurisdiction of individual state governments, and cannot apply to the whole country.

In his ruling in the FGC case, Judge Friedman of the federal-level district court stated that “as despicable as this practice may be”, FGC is technically a “local criminal activity”, and Congress (the federal government) does not have jurisdictional authority to regulate it. Even though the federal law against FGC has been in place since 1996, he stated that it is “unconstitutional.”       

Why is this ruling controversial?

The district judge states that the crime of FGC should be regulated by individual states. But the US does not actually have laws against FGC in every single state. At the moment, only 27 out of 50 US states have a state law banning FGC. There is currently a state law in Michigan banning FGC, but the law only came into effect in 2017 after the federal case involving Dr Nagarwala and Dr Attar came to light. The doctors cannot be prosecuted retrospectively under this state law.

Judge Friedman’s ruling declares the federal law against FGC to be unconstitutional based on a technicality. However, the ruling is controversial on at least two fronts.

First, prosecutors and other human rights advocates argue that FGC cannot be considered just a local criminal activity, because it often involves transporting minors across state borders to get their genitals cut by doctors who are paid to perform the ritual. In this case, for instance, two minor girls were transported from Minnesota to Michigan to get FGC done by Dr Nagarwala. Therefore, the federal law banning FGC — which Congress had passed in 1996 under the “Commerce Clause” — should be applicable in this case. Judge Friedman’s ruling does not consider this aspect.

Second, this ruling is insensitive to survivors of FGC and sends out a dangerous message to women from FGC-practicing communities: that their lives and bodies can be put at risk on the grounds of questionable technicalities.

Does this ruling put more girls at risk of being cut?

For the time being, yes: this ruling can put girls at risk of being but. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that 513,000 women and girls have experienced or are at risk of FGC in the United States. And this figure is an underestimation. Many women and girls at risk live in one of the 23 States which have not passed laws against FGC.

Since the ruling puts the onus of regulating FGC only to individual states, many of these girls are at risk of being transported from states that have laws banning FGC to states that currently do not have laws banning FGC, so that they can be cut with impunity. Only 11 of the 27 States with anti-FGC laws have specific provisions banning the transportation of a child out of the State to perform FGC.

Since the US is a strong country with a high degree of influence on global cultures, this ruling also ends up unintentionally condoning genital cutting for FGC-practicing communities all over the world. We are already seeing this in the global Dawoodi Bohra community, where supporters of Female Genital Cutting have taken to social media to celebrate their “victory” in the US FGC case, and to claim that they will continue cutting girls.

Is this the end of the case, or can the ruling be appealed?

This District Court ruling is not the end of the case. This is a lower court decision which can and almost certainly will be appealed by prosecutors from the US Government, and it is possible that over time, this case will be taken to the Supreme Court.

Additionally, two charges remain against Dr Nagarwala, including conspiracy to travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct, and obstruction of justice. Her trial is set to begin in April 2019.

What is the way forward now, for those of us working to end FGC?

Laws are an important deterrent against FGC, and help to reinforce the fact that cutting female genitals is a human rights violation. In light of Judge Friedman’s ruling, activists and communities in the United States should now urge their elected representatives to pass laws banning FGC in every single state of the country. As a global leader in human rights, the US should also do this to set a precedent in many Asian countries where there are currently no laws against FGC.

However, at Sahiyo, we believe that laws can be effective only when accompanied by social change movements on the ground. We therefore encourage everyone to engage in dialogue around FGC, to break the silence around this taboo topic, listen to women’s voices and recognise that FGC is harmful to girls and women.

 

To learn about the history of the Michigan case, click here

Read more at U.S. Court’s dismissal of FGM/C charge in Michigan case is disappointing but does not condone genital cutting.

Read the Amicus Brief for Dr. Nargawala hearing on November 6, 2018, submitted by Equality Now, WeSpeakOut, Sahiyo, And Safe Hands For Girls in support of the United States.

Read the U.S. End FGM/C Network Statement on Judge’s Decision in Michigan Case.

The Legal Side of Khatna or Female Genital Cutting

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By Priya Ahluwalia

Priya is a 22-year-old clinical psychology student at Tata Institute of Social Sciences – Mumbai. She is passionate about mental health, photography and writing. She is currently conducting research on the individual experience of khatna and its effects. Read her other articles in this series: Khatna Research in Mumbai.

Female Genital Cutting or khatna or khafz, as it is also called in the Bohra community, involves cutting or removal of the external female genitalia. Khatna has no known health benefits, but does have well-documented complications, which range from severe pain, excessive bleeding, and scar tissue to frequent infections.

The movement against khatna in India perhaps began in the early 1990s with Rehana Ghaidally’s paper, “All for Izzat”, which attempted to identify the key reasons for why khatna was performed in India. However, the movement only gained momentum in 2011, when the first online petition was filed against it anonymously. The online campaign triggered a barrage of women coming forward with their own stories of trauma caused by khatna. It further fueled both online petitions as well as an onground movement.

Within the Indian context of the Dawoodi Bohra community, the majority of the cases of khatna constitute Type 1, also referred to as clitoridectomy, which involves either partial or full removal of the clitoris, or the fold of skin known as the prepuce, covering it. Interestingly, there are many men and women who support khatna. From a psychological viewpoint, it may be rooted in the cognitive dissonance theory. Men and women of the Dawoodi Bohra community have been indoctrinated to believe that khatna is an essential religious obligation, and the will of God is not to be questioned. The online campaigns provide women in the Bohra community an alternative narrative, which may be in direct conflict with their existing beliefs. This conflict has created a lot of anxiety and conversations which have led to the movement gathering momentum, eventually catching the attention of the Indian government.

The uphill legal battle saw the government oscillating between supporting and opposing the movement. In May of 2017, the Ministry of Women and Child Development declared full support for survivors, deeming the practice a criminal offence with prosecution possible under the guidelines of POCSO (2012). The ministry requested the community to voluntarily take action to stop it. If it failed, the government would seek to implement a law to end it. In December of 2017, the ministry withdrew from its position, citing lack of empirical evidence despite proof from Sahiyo’s landmark study, which revealed that 80% of Bohri women globally have undergone khatna. Although the rejection from the government was disheartening, the momentum of the movement has not faltered. Organizations such as Sahiyo and WeSpeakOut continue to provide crucial support for survivors to rally in solidarity.

Several countries in Africa, as well as the United States and Australia, have made consistent and successful attempts to end female genital cutting. To understand how this has been possible, we must examine how the socio-economic structure of these countries has played an integral role in their success. Several of these countries may have high literacy rates, greater awareness of their rights and a more conducive environment for survivors to speak out.

The Bohra community aspect is crucial to understanding the Indian government’s hesitancy to pass a law. Although India is a signatory to several of the United Nations and World Health Organization conventions which view khatna as a human rights violation, it comes under the purview of existing Indian legislation, such as article 319 and 320 of the IPC and POCSO. No separate law has been passed against FGC until now. Things looked hopeful when the PIL filed against FGM/C was to be heard by the five-judge bench in the India Supreme Court. The decision initially seemed to swing in favor of banning the practice, as the judges referred to it as a violation of the rights of the girl child. The judges questioned how the violation of the “bodily integrity” of the child could be an essential practice of a religion, asserting that right to religious freedom does not negate other fundamental rights of the individual. Despite overwhelming support, the judges later backtracked, deferring to a constitutional bench to decide on the matters of religious rights and freedom. It was the most crushing setback for the movement.

Initially, I wondered what the hesitancy was in declaring khatna as a human rights violation. Later, I realized that the hesitancy was due to the political context and not the practice itself. Family and religion are the founding threads of our Indian community, and khatna is so intricately woven within these threads. Family and religion are our sources of identity, and since India is a collectivist society our ideas, beliefs in practices such as khatna are rooted in a collective experience, rather than an individual’s. Thus, attempting to end khatna risks unraveling the whole moral power structure of the country. Initially, it will begin with the Bohra community, but it may create a ripple effect across the country within other communities and religions. The moral thread of India is religion, and religion dictates our gender roles. If khatna is being questioned, we are unraveling this power structure by questioning the clergy’s teachings, and instead seeking the truth for ourselves by reading the religious scriptures whose access has unduly only been given to men for so long. Perhaps, with this newfound knowledge, our perception of the world will shift, leading to a destabilization of the existing structure and establishment of a new order with women in power. Change is just around the corner.

Although the law is the first concrete step toward ending khatna, it is also a double-edged sword with unintended consequences. The law has the potential to push the practice further underground. The more discreetly cutting is done, the more difficult it would become to track it. Furthermore, the law would bring into question the perpetrators of the crime. Is it parents, midwives, community as a whole, or religious leaders? What would be the quantum of punishment? Would the 7-year-old child be responsible for registering the complaint? Who would protect the child from further psychological harm?

Despite it all, I too believe law is essential in our work toward abandonment of khatna, since it may create awareness and generate conversation. But a law in itself will not stop khatna. Khatna will only end when we realize we are hurting our daughters. Once we realize that no religion, no God and no love is founded on pain, that is when the struggle against khatna will finally end.

 

Global Women P.E.A.C.E Foundation 5 K Walk Against FGM

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Each year, the Global Women P.E.A.C.E. Foundation hosts a 5K Walk Against FGM in Washington, D.C., and activists working to end FGC around the world come to participate. This year, the event was extended to 2-days and commenced with a Global Woman Awards ceremony on Friday, Oct 26th at the Milken Institute of George Washington University.  Two of the award recipients, included Maria Akhter and Severina Sangurikuri, two women who took part in the U.S. Sahiyo Stories project. They each received a Global Woman Awards from the Global Woman Peace Foundation in the categories of Student Ambassador and Survivor Activist respectively.

Here’s what Maria has to say about receiving her award:

I am thrilled, honored and humbled to receive the Global Woman Award in the Student Ambassador category from the Global Woman Peace Foundation. With boundless support from friends, family, and the hardworking activists in Sahiyo and other organizations working to end FGM/C, I’ve been able to turn my quiet interest in activism into a bold passion and lifelong commitment to a cause I hold near and dear to my heart. Receiving this award reinforces and challenges me to continue working in new ways to break the silence around FGM/C and end the practice for future generations.

The 5K Walk, scheduled for October 27th was at the last minute cancelled due to severe winds and rains. Yet, prior to the walk, people still gathered to listen to the guest speakers such as FGC survivor, Lola Oje from Nigeria who shared that she refuses to allow her beautiful daughter to be subjected to FGC. To learn more about the event, visit ‘A Mini United Nations Convenes in Washington, D.C.

California Thaal pe Charcha allowed me to share my experiences through storytelling

By Anonymous

I grew up in India, and when I moved to California a few years ago, I didn’t know anybody from the Bohra Jamaat (congregation). The Sahiyo ‘Thaal pe Charcha’ event came at a time in my life when I had been thinking a lot about sharing through storytelling. What a powerful tool it is to get people together and find ways to let go, heal and learn from our shared experiences. Sitting in a room full of Bohra women, sharing a meal in a thaal (a large circular steel dish), and exchanging laughs and a few cries too, I felt a strong sense of belonging. I soon learned that we all had very different upbringings outside of our Bohra lives, yet very similar experiences as women within the community.

My mother had her storytelling circle her group of women friends who met once a IMG_2198month at each other’s homes, shared a meal together and talked about their lives. She always came back from those gatherings with a glow on her face, as if a heavy burden had been lifted off her shoulders. She felt safe within that group, and the group was built on trust, love, respect, and compassion for each other.

As one of the facilitators of the California Thaal pe Charcha event, I was hoping to create a similar space for all our participants. I knew it would be a challenge since this was the first time we were all meeting, and it takes time to build trust and friendship. But it was heartwarming to see everyone feel so comfortable right from the beginning. The rest of the afternoon was full of rich and insightful discussions about what it meant to grow up Bohra in California, the multiple lives and identities that a woman has to balance, what we value about the community, the pressures, daily challenges and barriers that women faced within the community.

Interactive activities throughout the afternoon allowed participants to share something unique about their lives, and think about what community and freedom meant to them. And just when we needed a break to take in a few deep breaths, and process everything that we had discussed, we were treated to a hot cup of ‘chai’ that warmed our hearts and minds!

We ended the afternoon with many questions, dreams, and hopes in our minds. And I think that is the magic of such gatherings. It pushes us outside our comfort zones but allows us a space to share, to feel important, to know that our voices, our thoughts, and perspectives are appreciated and heard, and most importantly, a reminder, that we are never alone.

I look forward to many more gatherings where we can learn and grow together.

Read more reflections on the Bay Area TPC here!

Examining Female Genital Cutting and Intersectionality

By a Bohra

The recent dropping of charges against Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, who is accused of performing female genital cutting on underage girls in the United States, on a constitutional technicality rather than perceived criminality, solidified my thinking about the relationship between power and oppression.   

This thought was first introduced to me by Irfan Engineer, the son of Asghar Ali Engineer, a prominent activist who engaged in a decades-long battle with the Bohra orthodoxy over community reform. Irfan, a successful activist in his own right, described to me the relationship between the Indian state and the Bohra clergy. As long as the clergy declared electoral allegiance to the government, the state would turn a blind eye to the clergy’s authoritarian rule over the Bohra community. This relationship was made visible by the government’s reversal of its support for a national law against FGC, shortly after Prime Minister Modi (dis)graced the stage at one of this year’s Bohra Ashura sermons.

Modi extolled the virtues of the economically and educationally advanced Bohras, who were allegedly setting a great example for their impoverished and persecuted Muslim countrymen. Seeing Modi on stage, Bohra Muslims could almost forget the carnage inflicted in Gujarat in 2002, and Modi’s rampant Islamophobia since. The Bohra community has probably been shielded from Islamophobic violence because of the clergy’s close relationship with the ruling right-wing BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) and its ideological parent, the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh).

Even I was willing to overlook the fact that the Indian government’s attempt at criminalising FGC was based more on criminalising Muslims rather than empowering women. Yet, I thought, maybe the ends will justify the means. I was wrong. Modi’s relationship with the Bohra clergy makes it clear that we cannot rely on the Indian government to end FGC in our community. Even if the Supreme Court rules in favour of criminalising FGC, we can be certain that the government will do nothing to enforce the ruling.

This violent relationship between the state and vulnerable women is not restricted to the Indian context. I am reminded of the first FGC case to be prosecuted in Australia, where three people were sent to jail after being proven guilty. An appeals court, however, acquitted them all after new evidence was released that showed that “the tip of the clitoris was still visible in each girl”. The reduction of the emotional, physical and ideological violence of FGC down to a visual assessment of a pinch of skin shows the weakness of even Western legal systems in protecting marginalised women. It is similar to the victim blaming that is still a routine in rape trials, and the inability of the state to protect women who report honour-based violence. Whether through negligence or structural misogyny, Western and non-Western governments have failed women.

If the government is not an ally, could I turn instead to ‘reformists’ within my own community?

I am in contact with certain Bohras who are not part of the mainstream community, and reject the leadership of the current clergy. They believe that the current leaders have deviated from the true message of the Imams,  and that we must educate ourselves by going back to the original sources of our tradition. I thought that this group of people (mostly men), espousing rationality and critical inquiry, would immediately be against FGC. I was wrong. The emphasis on going back to the original sources means that they accept, uncritically, the infamous book by Qadi Numan (Da’im Al Islam) that advocates for girls to be ‘circumcised’ once they are older than 7 years old. Any debate, often started by the few women in the WhatsApp group, about the necessity of this practice in our modern context, or even about the issue of consent, is shut down. I thought that a shared experience of living under a tyrannical religious clergy might force these men to be more critical of existing power structures and hear the voices of marginalised women. Once again, I was wrong. I learned that the patriarchy, embodied by these ‘reformist’ men, can never be leveraged to end violence against women.

I learned that it is not worth compromising my core values in order to ally with fickle powers that do not center marginalised voices and their struggles. Real change can only happen from the ground up. This is why the work done by organisations such as Sahiyo is vital. By reaching out to individuals, and creating a space to share our stories, Sahiyo creates sustainable change within the community, and rebalances the power structures that exist within.

 

Inaugural screening of Sahiyo Stories in California

On October 19 in Oakland, California, Sahiyo, in collaboration with StoryCenter, Asian Women’s Shelter, Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence hosted a screening of Sahiyo Stories that included a behind the scenes short film documenting the women’s experiences in creating their digital stories.

Sahiyo Stories involved bringing together nine women from across the United States to create personalized digital stories that narrate experiences of female genital cutting (FGC). These nine women, who differ in race/ethnicity, age, and citizenship/residency status, each shared a story addressing a different challenge with FGM/C. Some women who had only recently discovered they had undergone FGM/C were grappling with its emotional and physical impacts, while others were invested in advocacy to prevent it from happening to more girls. The collection is woven together with a united sentiment and a joint hope that the videos will build a critical mass of voices from within FGM/C-practicing communities, calling for the harmful practice’s abandonment.

A panel discussion on female genital cutting followed the screening, and the greater connection FGC has to gender-based violence.

Female Genital Cutting charges dismissed but our work continues: Global reactions to Michigan case news

By Sahiyo

On November 20, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman dismissed the female genital cutting charges in the historic Michigan case involving girls from the Dawoodi Bohra sect, emphasizing that FGC should be regulated by states as a “local criminal activity.” Congress enacted the 22-year-old federal law banning FGC in 1996 — the law Judge Friedman has declared unconstitutional.

Charges were dropped against two Michigan doctors, Dr. Jumana Nagarwala and Dr. Fakhuruddin Attar, and six others accused of subjecting at least nine minor girls to FGC. However, Dr. Nagarwala, Dr. Attar and his wife, Farida, and a mother remain charged with conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding. Dr. Nagarwala is also charged with conspiracy to travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct.

In light of these developments, we would like to share the responses of many Bohras and other activists working to end FGC.

“What is so disappointing to me is that justice will be delayed in this case. There is a growing, global movement against khafz/FGC and we need positive judgments to send a strong message to our community that this practice is harmful and illegal. We must protect future generations of Bohra girls.”
~ Farzana Doctor, Canada  

“By declaring the federal ban on FGM/C unconstitutional, Judge Friedman opens the door for parents to do exactly what was done in this case — take their daughters from states that ban FGM/C to states that don’t so they can be cut.”
~ Umme Kulsoom Arif, USA

“The ruling on the jurisdiction of this case is giving some folks a perceived green light to proudly say that khatna/khafz/FGM/C is not illegal in the US after being afraid to say it out loud after Nagarwala was arrested. But people should understand that there are many state laws still in place (including in Michigan now) and the judge said that FGM/C is a ‘criminal activity’ so parents beware. This does not give you permission to cut your daughters. It will be a regrettable time in history if there is an uptick in the practice of FGM/C in the US because of this technicality in the jurisdiction of this case.”
~ Zehra Patwa, United States

“Shameful really! While 30 other countries have made FGM illegal, US, the supposed defender of human rights, has just shown the world what American justice is…women’s rights are not just not important for the federal court.”
~ Saleha, Canada

“Shocking judgment. But at the same time judgment gave us more spirit to work hard and achieve the desired goal to end FGC. To bring social change takes time but nothing is impossible. I’m sure through our collective efforts we will achieve our goal one day.”
~ Chandni Shiyal, India

“While on our climb towards the summit, we are going to face slips and stumbles but the climb must go on…..this judgement though disappointing is a mere stumble or slip….”
~ Fakhera, India

“This judgment is clearly based on a technicality of the federal versus the state jurisdiction. Irrespective, FGC still continues to be a violent act against 7-year old girls. Are we disappointed to hear this decision? Most certainly. However, it’s only a matter of time until people open their eyes and see the truth. Tradition without any logic can only hold its ground so long. Sati used to be tradition too, in this very land. Look where we are now.”
~ Alifya Thingna, India

“One of the most disheartening outcomes of this case is the lack of outrage among our elected officials. Two, recently elected, Muslim women representatives from Michigan and Minnesota (the two states involved) have failed to use their platforms to proactively address this issue. FGM is an issue that affects the safety of women and girls, and constituents in their communities. This decision (and the lack of public outrage) sends a signal to communities who practice FGM that there will be no accountability.”
~ Maryum Saifee, United States

“It’s a sad day for silent seven-year-old girls when there is no clear US law to protect what is truly theirs!”
~ Rashida Rangwala, United States

“I am so disheartened by this decision! It’s actually shocking. I thought at least USA law would give justice to innocent girls.”
~ Alifya Sulemanji, United States

“No little girl in this world should have to go through the trauma of female genital cutting. Cultures should not be empowered to take away the human rights of their members.”
~ Renee Bergstrom, United States

“I feel angry and deeply disappointed. This isn’t over but it’s incredibly discouraging to see our legal system disrespect and let down girls and women being violated in this country.”
~ Lara Kingstone, United States

“यह केस 23 US राज्यो में FGM कानून के अभाव में जीता गया है। यह एक ही टेक्निकल ग्राउंड है। अब यह केस अमेरिकन सुप्रीम कोर्ट में जाएगा। UN कानून के तहत अमेरिका बाध्य है। अब वहां सुप्रीम के आदेश पर फेडरल कानून बन सकता है। कोई भी संघर्स लंबा समय मांगता है कभी जीत कभी हार होती है। हरेक निष्फलता अगली सफलता का बेज़ (फाउंडेशन) बनता है। भारत के कोई राज्य में ऐसा FGM कानून नही है। मगर हम भी UN के सदश्य है। भारत मे भी ऐसा कानून आज नही तो कल बनेगा।”
~ Ibrahim Patel, India

“There are many practices which have been blindly followed from decades. Some of them have been changed, modified or amended in the course of time, with the advancement of research and scientific development. We are just trying to tell the world the actual fact that women undergo suffering with no fault of their own because of FGC.”
~ Insiya Ganjifrockwala, India

“Regardless of the impending appeal, this decision may inevitably embolden many to continue cutting girls. We should take this opportunity to continue to pressure our leaders to stand against FGC as a human rights violation, to bring awareness to the issue, and to protect our girls.”
~ Jenny Cordle, United States

“I would call this verdict as a legislative failure as no justice has been given to the child, and this gives a loophole to people in that country to keep practicing FGC.”
~ Insiya Lokhandwala, India

“It’s sad to note that technicalities can overshadow fundamental human rights. Hoping to strive for a mature treatment of this issue.”
~ Shabana Mashraki, India

“This is horrible! As a victim of FGC myself, I really wanted to see this doctor punished and her punishment to set a strong example for others in the community who practice FGC/ khatna thinking it’s the right thing to do. I feel like we women are never going to get justice for the wrongs done to us. What’s more, these wrongs will continue to go on and little girls will continue to be traumatized. It’s so frustrating and just makes me want to scream.”
~ Shabana Feroze, Bahrain

“I am shocked and deeply disappointed that a Federal judge in the USA has lifted the ban on FGM. It is so, so important that the USA as a world leader takes an unequivocal stand on this human rights issue afflicting women and the girl child.”
~ Zarina Patel, Kenya

“As I was reading, ‘Judge dismisses female genital mutilation charges in historic case.’ My blood was boiling. Where’s the justice for these women? What message is our federal government sending out to all doctors, mothers, and members who carry out this act? That it’s okay for them to violate girls without any real consequences. And what message are they sending out to our young girls? That their bodies are up for grabs? Or that what they’re going through doesn’t matter to us. Sad day to say the least!
~ Aisha Yusuf, United States

“I wasn’t sure what to expect from the  Michigan trial but I never dreamed it would get dismissed on a technicality about federal vs state jurisdiction! I don’t know enough about the law to know if the judge’s ruling was correct but I know I’m not going to let this setback keep me from fighting. Let’s all work together to get legislation passed in the 23 states that don’t yet have a law against FGM so this never has to happen again!”
~ Maryah Haidery, United States

Read more at U.S. Court’s dismissal of FGM/C charge in Michigan case is disappointing but does not condone genital cutting.

Read the Amicus Brief for Dr. Nargawala hearing on November 6, 2018, submitted by Equality Now, WeSpeakOut, Sahiyo, And Safe Hands For Girls in support of the United States.

Read the U.S. End FGM/C Network Statement on Judge’s Decision in Michigan Case.

 

U.S. Court’s dismissal of FGM/C charge in Michigan case is disappointing, but does not condone genital cutting

By Mariya Taher
Co-founder, Sahiyo

I was sitting in my office, reading a blog post submitted to Sahiyo by a woman doing research on Female Genital Cutting in India, when I received a phone call. I answered it, not thinking twice, not knowing that what I was to hear next would leave me dumbstruck.

The call was from a news reporter, who wanted my reactions to the latest news about the United States’ first legal case on Female Genital Cutting (FGC) — the Michigan case involving two doctors and six others brought up on federal charges of performing FGC on nine minor girls in the U.S. I hadn’t heard of the latest news yet. And then, the reporter dropped a bombshell.

It turns out, a U.S. District Judge has dismissed the FGC charges in the case and declared the federal legislation banning and criminalizing Female Genital Cutting in the U.S since 1997 as unconstitutional!

My immediate reaction was, “That’s crazy.” Then my mind shifted to what had happened to me on October 19th, at the inaugural screening of Sahiyo Stories, a collection of digital stories created by U.S. women who have undergone FGC or who have loved ones who have undergone it. After those videos were shown at the screening, a couple walked in, joined the audience, and began to counter the stories of the survivors. They stated that FGC was harmless, that the survivors sharing their stories must only be trying to get attention. I worry that because of what this U.S. District Judge has ruled, what happened at that screening of Sahiyo Stories, might become all too common when survivors share their FGC stories in the hope of preventing harm to future generations of girls.

As stated in the Detroit Free Press by Tresa Baldas

The U.S. District Judge concluded that “as despicable as this practice may be,” Congress did not have the authority to pass the 22-year-old federal law that criminalizes female genital mutilation, and that FGM is for the states to regulate. FGM is banned worldwide and has been outlawed in more than 30 countries, though the U.S. statute had never been tested before this case.

There is no doubt that the decision will be appealed by the government, but this response worries me because without the law, what can we point to, when parents and families are trying to do the right thing and not succumb to the community pressure they face in having their daughter undergo FGC? And at Sahiyo, we do hear from these parents. We hear from parents who tell us they have spared their daughters as well as parents who regret not doing more to protect their daughters, but felt pressured by the community, by members of their families, believing that they had to get it done. That social pressure is real and threatening and at Sahiyo we understand the fear of being ostracised from your family or your community for speaking against what others believe is a religious necessity.

This decision also concerns me because it will be used by proponents of FGC to further suggest that they are justified in pursuing FGC because FGC has been proven harmless. Even though, the fact remains, that this is not at all what the Judge has said in his decision to rule the FGC federal law unconstitutional. To the contrary, the decision made by the Judge clearly recognizes that FGC is a terrible crime.

What the Judge has stated is the following:

“As laudable as the prohibition of a particular type of abuse of girls may be … federalism concerns deprive Congress of the power to enact this statute,” Friedman wrote in his 28-page opinion, noting: “Congress overstepped its bounds by legislating to prohibit FGM … FGM is a ‘local criminal activity’ which, in keeping with long-standing tradition and our federal system of government, is for the states to regulate, not Congress.”

The Judge has ruled that the issue of FGC falls under state law jurisdiction (intrastate) versus federal (interstate). In other words, the judge’s ruling opens up a jurisdiction question and NOT a question on whether FGC is harmful or not.

If “local criminal activity” must be regulated by the state, then it goes to show just how vital it will be for all states in the U.S. to pass laws banning FGC. Currently, only 27 states in the U.S. have such laws. Massachusetts, the state I live in, does not. (See petition ‘Ban FGM/C in MA’).

Even when laws are passed, I believe that it will be important to remember that FGC will most likely still continue just as other forms of gender-based violence such as domestic violence and sexual assault unfortunately continue despite the presence of laws against them. FGC also continues because as a social norm entrenched in the culture, this harmful practice has been touted as a religious or cultural practice that is needed to control women’s sexuality.

This reality points to the importance of education and community engagement to help create social change within communities and amongst groups where FGC might be happening.

To that end, Sahiyo will continue to organize and participate in community events to educate our friends, family and community about the harms of FGC and why it should be abandoned.

Learn more about FGC in the U.S.

If you would like to write about your views on the Judge’s ruling or the Michigan case in general, send a write-up to info@sahiyo.com