February 6: Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation

February 6: Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation

I was floored when I heard Aida’s story. I had been working at Sanctuary for Families for a while and had heard many girls and women detail their experiences of female genital mutilation (FGM).  Most of them described being pinned down, screaming while dull instruments were used to remove their genitalia, and experiencing physical and emotional pain for years afterwards. But Aida was different; she was here, in New York, and she was about to undergo FGM. I couldn’t believe that this discriminatory form of violence threatened the safety, health, and human rights of girls who live in my community.

Unfortunately, Aida is not alone. The CDC estimates that 150,000–200,000 girls in the United States are at risk of undergoing FGM. These girls live all over the country, and they could be cut here or sent abroad for the purpose of FGM in what has become so common that it has its own name: “vacation cutting”.

Even more shocking, Aida’s guidance counselor knew all about the planned cutting, but believed that since this was a cultural matter, it was none of his business. What gave him the authority to weigh history and culture against Aida’s right to bodily integrity and sexual and reproductive health?  I want to know what he would have done if her parents had been threatening to cut off her nose or leg and not her sexual organs. Would he have asked for help?

Today, February 6, is International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation. This year, we can celebrate the recent United Nations General Assembly resolution calling for a global ban on FGM, as well as a new U.S. federal law that prohibits vacation cutting. Survivors, activists, and girls and women at risk across the country have said that they feel empowered by these tools, and they are wearing gold ribbons in solidarity and celebration today. But there is still work to be done.

Activists gather at Sanctuary for Families and wear gold ribbons in honor of the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation
Activists gather at Sanctuary for Families and wear gold ribbons in honor of the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation. 

Jaha, who is a survivor from The Gambia and a U.S.-based activist for girls’ and women’s rights, says:  “Now we must educate teachers and counselors at schools, and the doctors—we must tell them that FGM is impacting children in their communities, not just in other countries. It is happening to the kids that go to their schools and enter their hospitals. We must come together as a community and put an end to it.”

Today, let’s remember the violence against girls and women that is happening in our communities, behind closed doors and in silence, around the country. And let’s remember that zero tolerance requires all of us.

Photo Credit: Sanctuary for Families 

Archi Pyati
Archi Pyati
Chief of Policy
Tahirih Justice Center

As Chief of Policy, Archi oversees Tahirih Justice Center’s work to improve the laws that impact Tahirih’s clients and immigrant survivors of violence like them around the country. Learn More

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