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Evidence Shows That Illegal Female Genital Cutting Is a Growing Phenomenon in US

Up to 200,000 American girls and women are at risk, many of them sent abroad to undergo the procedure.

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“From a human rights perspective, subjecting minors to cutting should not be allowed for either girls and boys, period. I don’t distinguish between the sexes,” she said.

Fuambai Ahmadu, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Chicago offered similar insight, although her own story is unique. After growing up in the United States, she returned home to Sierra Leone at the age of 21 to willingly undergo FGC in an initiation ceremony.

“My experience is rare," she told AlterNet. "My parents were African immigrants and interested in preserving our culture and traditions whilst providing me with an education in the United States.  When I returned to Sierra Leone, I was greeted by a supportive, embracing feminist society of women in my community. The practice was celebrated and girls were pampered and spoiled prior to the cutting. It was an opportunity for me to join a larger movement and I wanted to go through this experience because of the notion of empowerment.“

When asked her opinion on the consent issue, Ahmadu said, "Why do African girls have to give consent, when males circumcised at birth do not? Why are we singling out and stigmatizing African girls? I have a problem with the fact that we are treating these girls differently in a negative way. As a result, these girls are internalizing this negativity and believing that they are inadequate whereas once before, this procedure marked their sexuality and empowered them sexually. The standard of consent should be applied equally across the board and not just to Africans."

Ahmadu’s perspective rarely rears its head in human rights discussions, as we generally only hear about girls who are subjected to FGC against their wishes or who suffer irreparable harm. Her story highlights the need for more empirical data specific to particular ethnic groups and regions in order to obtain a better understanding of the procedure and more accurate representation of the groups exposed to FGC.

Still, the severe physical pain some young girls experience while undergoing FGC, specifically when enduring Type III FGC, cannot be denied. This category, called infibulation, involves the removal of all the external female genitalia and the sealing or narrowing of the vaginal opening, with a small hole left for urination and menstruation. Often performed with glass or razor blades in extreme cases, many women experience acute physical, sexual and psychological complications as a result.

So how do we protect girls in the U.S. and abroad who may be at risk of a similar fate? In January 2013, President Obama introduced legislation criminalizing the transport of girls abroad to undergo FGM, which finally brought the United States in line with international standards to end the practice. However, U.S. policy has focused largely on prohibitive legislation rather than enforcement, with no prosecutions under federal laws and only one criminal case under state law.

Perhaps the answer lies in working with local community groups that have a clearer understanding of the cultural complexities and are better equipped to challenge questionable FGC practices by engaging with women affected by the practice. Such efforts would assist in working toward the protection of human rights for women and girls both in our own country and abroad.

Jodie Gummow is a senior fellow and staff writer at AlterNet.


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