When Abid heard about a court decision declaring a federal ban on female genital mutilation unconstitutional, he knew firsthand how dangerous that would be. As the brother of an FGM survivor, he knows how damaging the procedure is — and how many girls across the U.S. are at risk. Now he’s calling on his home state of Washington to keep girls safe by instituting a ban against FGM.
Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice decided to drop the appeal on a Detroit ruling that overturned the federal ban on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). For girls at risk of FGM, this federal ruling has put them in great jeopardy. Supporters of FGM are now empowered to think that if the federal law is not upheld, then the practice must not be wrong. And in states without anti-FGM legislation, the absence of a federal ban leaves women and girls at even greater risk.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, an estimated 513,000 women and girls have undergone or are at risk of FGM in the United States. For me, these cases aren’t just data points. My sister is a survivor of FGM. When I was eleven and she was seven, we traveled on our own to visit our aunt in India over the summer. What I thought was a routine summer vacation turned out to be a horror story for my sister. Our aunt cut my little sister in her basement clinic. I later learned that my aunt carried this out without our parents’ consent and to this day, believes she did the right thing.
I learned about my sister’s experience when she shared her story in the Guardian a few years ago. Before then, I didn’t know much about FGM. I had no idea it was happening in this country let alone in my community. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ definition, FGM is a human rights abuse, form of gender-based violence and child abuse. And in my sister’s words: FGM destroyed her childhood, shattered her self-confidence, and is something she will never fully recover from.
By breaking her silence and courageously sharing her story, my sister has become part of a movement to end FGM not just in the US, but all around the world. As her brother, I stand alongside her and the many survivors on the frontlines of this movement. They should not be shouldering this burden on their own. We need more allies, including men and boys, to speak up.
Right now, we have the power to send a powerful message that FGM has no place in this country. I am writing to urge Washington state legislators to pass a law banning FGM in the state of Washington, as well as provide the resources needed to support FGM survivors and educate communities (healthcare providers, religious leaders, school teachers, and policymakers) around the devastating consequences of FGM. We need a holistic approach where prosecution is not the end goal, but a pathway to prevention.
I want no girl in the United States to endure what my sister went through. Washington is at risk of becoming an FGM destination state where girls are transported from states that have succeeded in criminalizing FGM. We need to close the federal loophole on FGM in the United States by lobbying for anti-FGM legislation at the state level: starting with my home state of Washington. Please join me in the fight to pass a law in Washington that criminalizes FGM.