Why Won’t Massachusetts Pass A Law Against Female Genital Cutting?

Today, FGM/C is banned under federal law, yet, only 26 states in the U.S. have laws against it. Massachusetts is not one of them. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, it is estimated that over half a million girls and women in the United States are at risk. Massachusetts ranks 12th in the nation for at-risk populations with an estimated 14,591 women and girls. Since 2012, the Massachusetts Women’s Bar Association has tried to advocate over and over again for a state law criminalizing FGM/C. Yet, to this day, no law has been put into place. The current bills, S.788, and H.2333 have been sent to a committee for study and most likely will not move forward either.

Photo 2

In an effort to raise more awareness on the issue and to prompt community action to encourage Massachusetts state legislature to pass such a law, Mariya Taher, Aisha Yusuf (both survivors of FGM/C) and Hanna Stern (an advocate against FGM/C), started a change.org petition calling on Governor Charlie Baker, Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo, and President of the Senate Harriette Chandler, to take action and protect all girls in Massachusetts, as FGM/C is nearly always carried out on minors, is a violation of the rights of children, and reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes that constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women.

Massachusetts needs a bill that unequivocally reiterates that female genital mutilation/cutting is a form of violence. There are laws against domestic violence and sexual assault. We need a law against FGM/C as well.

Read more:

Learn which U.S. states have FGM/C laws.

Indian Supreme Court Offers Hope for Petition Against FGC, While Government Denies its Prevalence

On July 10, judges of the Supreme Court of India observed that the “bodily integrity of a woman” cannot be violated while hearing a petition about Female Genital Cutting. The Court made this observation while hearing the arguments of a petition filed by the Dawoodi Bohra Women’s Association for Religious Freedom, which claims that FGC, as practiced by the Bohra community, is not “FGM” but “circumcision”, and is an essential religious practice that they have the constitutional right to follow.

In response to these arguments, made by DBWRF’s lawyer, Abhishek Singhvi, Justice Chandrachud said, “Why should the bodily integrity of a woman be subject to some external authority? One’s genitals is (sic) an extremely private affair.” The judges also observed that the practice cannot be imposed on those who do not want it.

This is not the final verdict of the Court, and the hearings in the case on FGC in India will continue.


On June 27, India’s Ministry for Women and Child Development denied the prevalence of Female Genital Cutting in the country – it’s second U-turn on the issue in the past 13 months. This denial came after a perception poll by Thomson Reuters Foundation ranked India as the most dangerous country in the world for women, based on a variety of parameters that included the practice of FGC. The Indian government responded to this poll by issuing a press release refuting and dismissing its methodology. In the press release, the Government also stated that “Female Genital Mutilation” is “not practiced in India”.

This is clearly at odds with the stand that the Central Government took in the Supreme Court just two months ago when it stated that FGC is “already an offence” under Indian law and asked the Court for guidelines on how to tackle the challenge of FGC.

This is not the first time that the government has made contradictory statements about FGC. Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi had first publicly acknowledged the practice of FGC in India, and the need to ban it, in May 2017. In December 2017, however, the Government dismissed the testimonies of several women who have spoken out about their FGC experiences by claiming, in the Supreme Court, that there is no “official data” to support the existence of FGC in India.

Such flip-flops leave FGC survivors in the lurch, unsure of whether their government is likely to support the end of a practice that continues to harm so many women and girls in India.

Read more:

Sahiyo comment – An appeal to Maneka Gandhi: Stop the flip-flops on Female Genital Cutting

The problem with the Indian Government denying the existence of Female Genital Mutilation in India: Priya Goswami

Sign Sahiyo’s petition asking the United Nations for more investment towards research and advocacy on Female Genital Cutting in Asia.

Khatna and the law, Part 1: Legislative Framework on Female Genital Cutting in Egypt

By Bhavya Singh

Since the recognition of the presence of Female Genital Cutting (FGC) in parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East, efforts have been made to eliminate it in these areas. At the international level, elimination of Female Genital Mutilation is a part of Sustainable Development Goal number five, which seeks to achieve gender equality. Organisations like WHO, UNICEF and UNFPA have worked for greater involvement of the international community to advocate against FGC. These efforts include creation or reformation of laws at the national level to counteract the issue. Legislation at the national level, however can be a complex issue as this practice is very deeply entrenched in the social fabric of the communities in which it occurs. Countries which have criminalised FGC continue to face problems, as punishment alone is not enough of a deterrent in a community where FGC is connected to tradition. In other countries, the implementation of the law has not been successful and has not seen prosecutions occuring. Communities themselves have resisted the effort to ban the practice, often arguing with officials who arrest those involved with carrying FGC out.

According to the UN, FGC has reduced by 24% since 2001, however, at the same time if FGM continues at the same pace it currently occurs, around 68 million girls around the world will be affected by it by 2030. Thus legislative efforts have not been effective deterrents in most countries.

To further understand the legislative framework regarding the issue, this blog series will explore the laws in place in countries affected by FGC in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

In Africa, FGC is criminalised in 18 of the 28 countries it is reportedly practiced in. Criminalisation is only the first step in ending the problem. This fact is illustrated by the situation in Egypt where a law prohibiting FGC has been in place since 2008, but only two cases regarding FGC related deaths have been reported in the years following. According to 28 Too Many the law in Egypt is mentioned in Article 242-bis and Article 242-bis(A) of Law No. 58 of 1937 promulgating the Penal Code. The penalties for violation of the law include:

  • Article 242-bis – the performance of FGC is punishable with imprisonment for between five and seven years.
  • Article 242-bis – where the performance of FGC results in permanent disability or death, the punishment is increased to ‘aggravated’ imprisonment for between three and fifteen years.
  • Article 242-bis(A) – anyone who requests FGC is punishable with imprisonment from one to three years if the mutilation is carried out.

In 2016, an amendment upgraded the performance of FGC from misdemeanour to felony. Where a charge of misdemeanour earlier meant a penalty ranging from three months to five years, it now ranges from five to seven years. The provisions of the previous law had gaping holes, including exempting genital injuries with sufficient medical justification. As a result, FGC moved from hidden corners into medical hands. According to 28 Too Many, 78.4% of incidences of FGC are done my health professionals. The widely covered death of Soheir al-Batea brought this issue to light. A thirteen-year-old, she died at the hands of Dr. Raslan Fadl who performed the procedure. What is surprising here is the fact that despite existence of the law against FGC since 2008, Dr. Fadl is the only health professional to have been implicated for the crime. (See ‘A Small Nick or Cut, they say…’ by Priya Goswami)

This, more than anything, makes it clear that the existence of law is not enough to end FGC The need to conform to societal norms is so strong that people are ready to break the law for its sake. Also, in many communities, honour and pride are strongly associated with notions of women’s purity. Female circumcision, which it is often also referred to, is falsely propagated as a marker of purity, which makes FGC difficult to erase, as people value honour over a women’s safety, comfort or hygiene. Another reason why change is challenging is because the harbingers of change are often considered ‘outsiders’ instead of part of the community. The attempt at reform by these ‘outsiders’ is often viewed as propaganda against the community rather than upliftment of the community and concern for its community’s wellbeing.

What will help, is the inversion of societal notions. If FGC is seen as honourable, people should be made to see the reasons why it is quite the opposite, so it can be dissociated from honour. If FGC is seen to be a requirement for marriage, it needs to be seen as a deterrent instead. If FGC is seen as religiously sanctioned, people need to be made aware how it is not. The long-term solution involves changing the mindset such that FGC is recognised as harmful.. As seen in this blog’s case scenario, penalising an act that much of a  society does not think a criminal offense in itself will not lead to the desired solution.

About Bhavya Singh: Bhavya Singh

Bhavya is 19 year old law student who has a deep interest in human rights and political theory. She is the happiest when extremely busy and wants to use her law degree to help as many people as she can. Always willing to talk about fashion and sitcoms, her other two passions, and she is hungry for new experiences and challenges to be thrown at her.