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Friday, September 18, 2020

GAMBIAN ACTIVIST TESTIFIES BEFORE U.S. CONGRESS ON FGM

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Jaha was reportedly circumcised as a one-week-old baby —just as it has been a tradition in her family in The Gambia. Fifteen years later, when she was taken to the United States for an arranged marriage, she was taken to a New York City doctor who worked closely with African communities, in order to be “reopened” for her husband. 

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“Now that I think back,” Dukureh explained, “that’s what pisses me off. The fact that I was 15—you saw how young I was, you didn’t say anything, you didn’t do anything.” 

She said that was why she called on the US Congress to implement a nationwide programme that trains authorities across all sectors—from education, to public health, to law enforcement—to watch for warning signs that girls might be pressured into the practice of FGM.

FGM is illegal in the US, yet activists estimate that hundreds of thousands of girls are at risk of being cut each year. Now living in Atlanta with her second husband, Jaha has made it her life work to ensure that young girls won’t go through the same practice that hurt her and killed her half-sister. 

The procedure, seen as a rite of passage and believed to discourage premarital sexual activity, removes part or all of the genitalia on young girls. It can lead to a lifetime of painful medical conditions and even death, and for years has been decried as a human-rights abuse by the international community.

As immigrant communities grow the United States, activists say the number of American girls has only been increasing since the last known study—done nearly 15 years ago—which estimated that nearly 230,000 young women annually were at risk of FGM in the US. 

Yesterday, Dukureh, along with representatives Joe Crowley of New York and Sheila Jackson-Lee of Texas, presented a petition letter with nearly 200,000 signatures to 50 members of Congress, and will hold meetings with the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education.

Dukureh has a simple question for U.S. authorities: How many girls in America are at risk of undergoing the same painful practice she went through? She and all those backing the petition are requesting that President Obama and these departments commission a report about the prevalence of FGM in the US and implement a programme to train authority figures across the country to detect and halt the practice through state laws, hotlines, and umbrella coalitions.

Before starting her now-viral petition in February, Dukureh, who founded ‘Safe Hands for Girls’, wasn’t aware of how widespread the practice is on US soil. “We’ve had calls from girls saying this doesn’t only happen on vacation, we get cut right here in the USA; they have cut us in Minnesota, they have cut us in Claxton, Georgia.”

FGM has been illegal on US soil since 1996, and last year President Obama passed legislation that made transporting girls out of the US for FGM punishable by five years in jail. But activists say the procedure has just gone deeply underground and is still clandestinely carried out on girls across the country.

 

By Sanna Camara

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