Help Eradicate Female Genital Mutilation


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Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is an extremely dangerous, inhumane, and medically unnecessary procedure that affects nearly 170,000 girls and women in the United States, and 140 million around the world. FGM is currently illegal in this country under federal law, but Congress must do more to ensure this barbaric destruction of female genitalia -- which can lead to death -- is permanently and completely eradicated. U.S. Reps. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.) and Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) have recently introduced the Girls Protection Act (H.R. 5137) which would make it a crime to transport minors outside the U.S. for the purpose of performing FGM.

E-mail your members of Congress today and urge them to support this important legislation. Insist that they advocate for the passage of the Girls Protection Act (H.R. 5137).

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Background

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a horrendous, excruciating, and life-threatening practice forced upon women and girls around the world, including countries such as Canada and the United States. FGM destroys the genitalia to conform to outrageous notions of chastity; indeed, part of FGM's purpose is to prevent women from engaging in "illicit" sexual behavior. FGM often renders women incapacitated for routine urinary functions, and can severely limit or destroy their capacity to feel sexual pleasure. It can lead to severe infections, which can cause death if left untreated.

FGM is a practice that takes place in parts of Africa, some Asian and Middle Eastern countries, and in certain communities within North America and Europe. The procedure is customary in several cultures, and is perpetuated by a mixture of cultural, social, and religious beliefs. FGM is systematically forced upon women and girls anytime between infancy and marriage under varying justifications, including the enhancement of sexual pleasure for men and the preservation of family honor. NOW and other organizations, including Equality Now and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), believe that the practice is meant to limit women's sexual pleasure and to maintain women's second class status.

FGM comes in many forms which vary depending upon the type and extent of genital cutting inflicted upon each girl. The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified four major types of FGM, which include partial or total removal of the clitoris, partial or total removal of the labia minora and/or majora, the narrowing of the vaginal opening by the creation of a covering "seal" (a process known as infibulation), and any other harmful procedure done for non-medical purposes, including pricking, piercing, scraping, and cauterizing the genitals.

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FGM procedures vary, but in some communities a variety of crude instruments are used, including knives, broken glass, and sharp stones. When the procedure is done outside of a medical setting, anesthesia is rarely used. The use of non-surgical instruments greatly increases the risk of complications due to infection. Infections caused by FGM can lead to death if not treated. This inhumane practice must be stopped in the United States and around the world.

FGM results in both long-term and short-term consequences. Short-term consequences include bleeding, post-operative shock, and damage to other organs. Long-term consequences include bladder infections, excessive scar tissue, urinary problems, and childbearing problems, including newborn and maternal death.

All forms of FGM imposed on minors are illegal under federal law (18 U.S.C. 116). Further, the practice has been condemned by human rights groups around the world. The U.N. has determined that human rights, including the right to non-discrimination, should be paramount in medical decisions regarding genital practices. Furthermore, the U.N. and its various agencies have repeatedly emphasized the intolerability of FGM.

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Despite widespread prohibition of FGM, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a policy statement in late April that encouraged pediatricians to use a form of FGM consisting of "nicking the clitoris" in order to promote "cultural sensitivity." This policy was immediately condemned by women's organizations, and the AAP has since rescinded the policy and instead come out against any and all forms of FGM. The AAP had claimed that the so-called milder form of FGM should be practiced to prevent families from transporting girls out of the U.S. for the purpose of inflicting more severe forms of FGM on their daughters. While the transportation of girls for the purpose of FGM is a legitimate concern, the proper solution to this egregious problem is federal action criminalizing transportation. There is evidence from European countries that laws prohibiting this transportation have been effective in combating FGM.

The bodies of girls and women should not be used as a bargaining chip to appease groups who support the use of FGM. Congress should make transportation for FGM purposes a federal crime. The passage of the Girls Protection Act (H.R. 5137) would prohibit this transportation, and is crucial to strengthening U.S. commitment to ending FGM.

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Additional Resources:

Read NOW's letter to the American Academy of Pediatrics on so-called "nicking"