FGM. Female genital mutilation. We’ve all heard of this third world horror–the removal of a girl’s outer sexual organs, including the clitoris and labia, as well as the closure of the vulva–but what if it isn’t such a “third world” horror, after all?
FGM is growing in popularity within the United States. According to a study released by the African Women’s Health Center at the beginning of this year, over 500,000 girls and women in the United States are at risk of or have undergone FGM. In 2006 it was made illegal in the United States, but that doesn’t mean it’s over with. If anything, as more and more survivors of the practice speak out, it seems to be becoming more and more prevalent.
Around two weeks ago, Blake Lively introduced us via Instagram to Jaha Dukureh, a survivor of FGM originally from Gambia, who now resides in Atlanta and takes pride in calling herself a Georgia peach. Dukureh underwent FGM when she was only a week old, and has dedicated her life to ending the practice declared to be a violation of human rights by the United Nations and the World Health Organization. Last year, Dukureh explained, “FGM is not something that is happening in a far away place. It is happening to girls here in America. When these kids are being sent back they are told they are going to meet their families. Often the parents are not to blame, they take their kids back home and it can be done without your permission—you go out and come back to a mutilated child.”
Dukureh has since founded her campaign, Safe Hands for Girls, along with other FGM survivors in the Atlanta area. She aims to destroy the negative stigma surrounding FGM, as well as raise money and awareness to help survivors and girls at risk of many different forms of violence against women. A year prior to pledging allegiance to the United States and becoming an official citizen of the country on November 3, 2015, Dukureh stepped up and asked the government for better data and studies on FGM within the United States. She says, “In Washington, they don’t want to talk about vaginas, they don’t want to hear about this issue and they don’t want to address it. Sometimes, I feel, is Washington afraid to tackle FGM? Are they scared of it?”
Seeing as the last study before Dukureh’s campaign took place in 1997, I think it’s safe to say that Washington is afraid of vaginas. From the Republican party’s desire to strip women’s rights through controlling their reproductive rights to the controversy over whether or not to continue funding Planned Parenthood, recently, our government has not been very pro-women. This does not sit well with Jaha Dukureh, and it should not sit well with you, either.
“Slavery ended because someone stood up. Foot binding used to be a thing in China, but they were able to end it in ten years because they stood up and said they wanted to end…It takes one person to stand up. Then other survivors come and speak about their experience, and that number will continue to grow,” Dukureh says.
While it is important not to speak over those who have been through FGM, we can all stand up in raising awareness to this issue. “It’s going to take a collective effort. This is not just a one person issue. It’s not a one country issue. It’s an issue for humanity and it affects us all in one way or another.”