From Ayaan’s vision of a future where women and girls are free to live lives of their own choosing, the AHA Foundation was born almost 10 years ago. Ayaan Hirsi Ali founded the AHA Foundation to protect women and girls from honor violence that shames, hurts or kills thousands of women and girls in the US each year and puts millions more at risk. Her passion, courage and leadership have led the AHA Foundation to become the preeminent organization working to end honor violence, while enabling survivors of these crimes to thrive.
In 2016, the AHA Foundation continued to fulfill its core mission while activating new initiatives to strengthen outcomes now and in the future through:
In 2016, the AHA Foundation’s programs actively worked to:
Honor violence is a form of abuse that shames, hurts, or kills thousands of women and girls each year, and leaves millions more at risk. Honor violence is often condoned by families and communities, and may involve several perpetrators within these groups, making the violence particularly difficult to identify and stop. The vast majority of honor violence crimes are not detected nor reported, leaving the victims to suffer in isolation and feel they are devoid of options. A girl at risk may have very little warning that she will be in harm’s way. Her family may be planning to marry her off to a stranger against her will, or she may be exposed to physical and psychological abuse due to her behavior being perceived as unacceptable. Each case of honor violence is unique and requires a tailored approach to ensure a girl’s safety.
The AHA Foundation works with victims and individuals at risk of honor violence to determine an appropriate approach and to connect those in need with counseling and other necessary services. To date, the AHA Foundation has helped almost 200 women and girls find safety in situations of honor violence.
One woman the AHA Foundation helped find safety in 2016 is *Sarah, and her husband, who reached out because Sarah was terrified of becoming the victim of an honor killing. Sarah had refused to let her parents choose a husband for her and instead married the man she fell in love with. Ever since her wedding, Sarah and her husband had been tormented by her parents. Sarah went into hiding to try to stay safe, but even so, her parents were able to find the couple, using private detectives to track them down. With the help of the AHA Foundation, Sarah and her husband were able to move far away from her family, and to take steps that would shield their new location from being once again discovered by her parents.
[*name and all identifying details have been changed to protect her identity]
“I understand the importance of addressing honor violence in the U.S. Not to do so undermines our democracy.”
-AHA Foundation Donor
In 2016, there was a marked increase seen in those seeking help from abroad, with a particular uptick in requests from dissidents at risk. Specifically, there has been a 140% increase in help requests received between the months of May and October in 2016 as compared to those months in 2015. Given laws severely curtailing free speech and the rights of women in many of the countries of origin of those reaching out for help, the danger these dissidents face is both real and immediate, with many of those contacting the Foundation fearing for their physical safety. In some cases, this also exists at the intersection of other gender-based concerns such as honor violence or female genital mutilation (FGM).
This winter, the AHA Foundation launched a new online resource available to individuals at risk of honor violence, a Know Your Rights brochure, to educate and empower individuals facing honor violence, letting them know about their rights, and what they can do to protect themselves. This brochure was introduced with a free webinar designed for persons facing honor violence as well as child protection professionals, law enforcement, educators and others who may encounter women and girls at risk of honor violence and forced marriage.
In 2015, the AHA Foundation partnered with Crisis Text Line to launch the first ever US helpline for women and girls facing situations of honor violence and forced marriage. We know this free helpline is making a difference because we have heard from individuals that they used it to find shelter to escape violent situations. The honor violence helpline also provides a unique mechanism for gathering better data on both the prevalence and types of honor violence occurring in the United States.
This year the AHA Foundation began to collect messages of support for girls at risk of honor violence. Placed prominently on the website where girls reaching out for help will see, these message are meant to be a small beacon of hope for those feeling helpless and afraid. To date we have received 30 messages from supporters, collected with the hope that this small gesture will show the girls at risk that they are not alone and to give them encouragement to continue fighting.
“When I read Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s book Infidel, it was a clear message to me that at last someone from the inside who had lived this life and experienced this treatment first hand was willing to step up and speak about what was going on. Her story was stunning. This is when I first became involved with the AHA Foundation. I choose to support this organization as opposed to others working on the same issues because I choose to support Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I have so much admiration for her fortitude, intelligence, and commitment to helping others.
-Karen Boone, AHA Foundation Donor
To stop honor violence, law enforcement and service providers must first be aware that these crimes do indeed happen in the United States, and have the ability to recognize the distinct characteristics. Through eight years of training frontline professionals, we know that even those who are most likely to encounter victims are seldom equipped to protect them. A report commissioned by the US Department of Justice on honor violence in the US confirms as much, recommending training of law enforcement, educators, and service providers as a key next step in protecting women and girls from honor violence in the US. Training professionals how to identify and correctly handle cases of honor violence can mean the difference between freedom and a lifetime of rape and servitude in a forced marriage, or even the difference between life and death, for a girl facing honor violence.
We have long understood this need, which is why at the AHA Foundation we have trained more than 2,500 frontline professionals on how to protect women and girls from honor violence. Through these trainings the AHA Foundation is making the United States a safer place to be a woman or girl.
In 2016, the AHA Foundation launched an innovative e-learning facility that provides relevant, no-cost trainings for service providers who work with women and girls who have experienced honor violence or who are at risk for gender-based violence and abuse. This e-learning facility includes dynamic presentations that can be accessed and completed at the student’s discretion. Professionals who successfully complete the e-learning training modules receive course certification.
More than half a million girls in the US have undergone or are at risk of being subjected to FGM according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With this in mind, in 2016, the AHA Foundation introduced a new training curriculum for professionals working on the frontlines against FGM. This training teaches service providers how to work in a culturally-sensitive manner with FGM victims, at-risk girls, families, and communities to protect girls from undergoing this dangerous procedure.
The FGM training, currently available as a course in AHA’s e-learning facility, was launched during a free webinar led by Stephanie Baric, AHA’s Senior Advisor. It included guest speakers Wondimu Yirga, anti-FGM activist and advocate originally from Ethiopia, and Hilary Burrage, sociologist, author of two books on FGM, and consultant on FGM for The Guardian.
A major focus at the AHA Foundation is bringing live trainings to those professionals most likely to be in contact with women and girls who are victims or at risk of honor violence. The first live training of 2016 for the AHA Foundation was at the Intersections of Human Trafficking Conference hosted by My Sister’s House, a domestic violence organization in Sacramento, California. There, AHA’s Interim Executive Director, Amanda Parker, explained how forced marriage and human trafficking cases can overlap and why it is important for professionals from both fields who work with the victims to be aware of this intersection. More than 300 professionals who work with victims of human trafficking joined the conference.
In August of 2016, Parker led a training on honor violence and forced marriage to 20 social service providers participating in the Institute on Violence, Abuse and Trauma’s 21st International Summit in San Diego, California.
Parker also co-led a training in Philadelphia on forced and child marriage to 50 law enforcement professionals and other frontline service providers at the National Center for Victims of Crime’s National Training Institute. In this training, Amanda Parker shared an AHA case study; a survivor who had been rescued after being taken overseas by her family for a forced marriage, and how that case could have played out differently had the young woman been a citizen of the UK or Canada, where there are more developed laws and protections available for victims of forced marriage.
“The prevalence of honor violence and honor killings in the US will only increase, unless we act now. We have a duty to protect these young women and to be a voice for them. Most importantly, it is the right thing to do.”
-Detective Chris Boughey, Violent Crimes Unit, Peoria PD
As an Officer Liaison for the AHA Foundation, and as an outspoken advocate driven by his personal experience as lead investigator in the Noor Almaleki honor killing, Detective Chris Boughey of the Peoria Police Department continues to be a critical voice in the fight against honor violence. Most recently Detective Boughey led a training for the Ventura and Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office, using the AHA Foundation Honor Violence and Forced Marriage Training Curriculum.
A critical aspect in protecting women and girls from honor violence in the US is having policies in place that serve as a deterrent to those who would practice these harmful traditions, and as a strong message that these acts are not tolerated in the United States. To date, we’ve had great success advocating for appropriate legislation, advancing 11 bills that make this a safer place to be a woman or a girl.
Although there is a federal law banning the practice, only 24 states currently have legislation which outlaws FGM, including nine out of the 15 states recently highlighted by the Population Reference Bureau as having the highest number of girls at risk of FGM in the country. At the AHA Foundation, one of our key policy initiatives is to ensure that all women and girls in the US have adequate legal protections to keep them from having to endure FGM. In 2016, the AHA Foundation provided policy proposals which would mandate training for law enforcement on addressing FGM, and would provide services and support to victims, at the request of the office of Sen. Grassley (R-IA).
In all 50 US states, it is possible for a minor below the age of 18 to be married. In 2016, the AHA Foundation took a stand against the injustice of child marriage in the United States by providing written testimony in support of Unchained at Last’s New Jersey bill that would outlaw child marriage in the state with no exceptions. The Foundation also provided an opportunity for our New Jersey supporters to amplify these efforts by contacting their legislators to demand an end to child marriage. The New Jersey assembly voted overwhelmingly to pass this bill, it is now pending in the state senate
The AHA Foundation remains one of the most outspoken and articulate voices in the United States on ending violence against women and girls that stems from harmful traditional practices. In addition to our advocacy efforts, we spoke out in the following ways:
Public Service Announcements:
In 2016, the AHA Foundation raised awareness across the US placing pro bono PSA’s in 10 regional magazines including Texas Monthly Magazine, Los Angeles Magazine, Austin Way Magazine, Hamptons Magazine, Los Angeles Confidential, Ocean Drive Magazine, Boston Common Magazine, Michigan Avenue Magazine, Capitol File Magazine, and Gotham Magazine. The number of individuals reached through these PSA placements is more than 4 million.
Social Media Network:
The AHA Foundation engages followers through its website, emails and e-newsletters, Facebook and Twitter. In 2016, the AHA Foundation’s supporter network increased to more than 62,000 members. This represents an increase of 7% over our total network at the end of 2015.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali Received the Following Awards and Accolades:
• New York Historical Society’s Women in Public Life Award – Past honorees include Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, among other accomplished women.
“Ayaan Hirsi Ali has used her voice to become a champion for women and young girls who would have otherwise gone unheard.”
-Dr. Louise Mirrer, President and CEO of the New-York Historical Society
• The Christians and Jews United for Israel’s 11th Annual Genesis Award – The award highlights those who exemplify courageous leadership and an enduring love for Israel. Previous recipients include Lt. General (Ret.) William G. Boykin, Bret Stephens and Caroline Glick.
Conferences and Consultations:
The AHA Foundation has worked together with the US Department of State on many occasions, including being officially recognized in 2011 for our “support and guidance” in assisting victims of forced marriage. Early in 2016, the Foundation was again able to collaborate with the State Department by participating in a roundtable discussion they hosted on the topic of forced marriage.
In April 2016, Ayaan Hirsi Ali appeared at the Women in the World Summit held in New York City, billed as the “premier showcase for women of impact.” Speakers included Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards, International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde, Actress Meryl Streep, former First Lady Laura Bush and Journalist Megyn Kelly. Ayaan’s panel was titled “What is the Future for Women in Islam?” during which she argued for equality and the rights of women who have been unable to emancipate themselves from oppressive societies.
Amanda Parker participated in the Criminalization of Forced Marriage Consultation with other members of the Forced Marriage Working Group, a group of organizations and advocates fighting forced marriage in the US and working to protect women and girls at risk. During this consultation, members discussed the benefits and potential unintended consequences of criminalizing forced marriage in the United States.
In September, Stephanie Baric joined the Department of Justice’s FGM/C Strategies for Education, Prevention and Response roundtable discussion.
Amanda Parker and an AHA Program Associate participated in a “Chain-In” protest organized by sister organization Unchained at Last, dressed in bridal gowns with their arms chained together to symbolize the prison of forced marriage, with 35 other individuals to push legislators to pass legislation to end child marriage in New Jersey. During the protest, Amanda gave a speech about child marriage, telling the story of a girl the AHA Foundation worked with to avoid a forced marriage. Both survivors and activists were present during the protest.
The AHA Foundation received an avalanche of support through #ReclaimHonor messages in response to the petition against honor violence in the US. These #ReclaimHonor messages show support for girls who suffer honor violence, forced marriage and FGM. The messages echo disappointment, confusion and a strong desire for action that is felt across the world about the state of women’s rights and global security in the 21st century. The AHA Foundation is honored to be an agent of change and lead this movement to end honor violence in the US.
Taking a Stand
As a leader in the fight against honor violence in the US, the AHA Foundation considers speaking out and taking a stand on issues affecting women and girls a vital responsibility. In 2016, the AHA Foundation voiced our opinion regarding the dangers of legalizing FGM in any form following a potentially harmful article featured in The Economist which condoned allowing less severe forms of the procedure to be performed, with the hopes that more severe forms would then be less prevalent.
“If all men said they would not marry a woman who was cut, that would be it. There would be no more FGM.”
-Wondimu Yirga, anti-FGM activist and advocate who was engaged in AHA Foundation’s work in 2016
Throughout the history of the AHA Foundation, we have come down firmly on the side of outlawing and criminalizing acts that violate the human rights of the women and girls we serve. This year the Foundation continued that philosophy by explaining why we believe it should be a criminal offense to force another person into an unwanted marriage. This position is based upon the idea that in order to criminalize forced marriage in a responsible manner that minimizes harm and does the most to protect victims and those at risk, significant groundwork must first be laid, including following the examples set before us by the UK and Canada.
“I support AHA Foundation because as a gay man who grew up in a conservative Catholic environment, I understand the power of religion to cause real harm to its followers. You, at the foundation, are doing much needed work to protect those young victims of religious dogma who can’t protect themselves. The physical and psychological violence that religion can do to its own members as well as to others can be devastating and I would like to live in a world where that isn’t tolerated in any form. I would like to live in a world where human rights are protected over religious beliefs and the AHA Foundation really works towards that goal.”
–AHA Foundation Donor
The AHA Foundation will continue to build on the impact of its award-winning work and expand efforts to address cultural norms and behaviors that perpetuate abuse and discrimination. We know we need to reach more women and girls in crisis, and we have the strategy and infrastructure in place to do it. The AHA Foundation will also work to broaden the diversity of individuals served by adding additional groups whose human and civil rights are at risk to the scope of our work.
In 2017, the AHA Foundation will intensify efforts to ensure that women and girls facing honor violence are not left to suffer alone, that they know where to access help to get themselves out of suffocating and dangerous situations. We will increase the velocity of our frontline professional training program, working to quickly ramp up the number of law enforcement and other service providers who know precisely what to do when a woman or girl comes to them in fear of honor violence. We will also increase advertising to raise awareness for the honor violence and forced marriage crisis line to help reach those most in need.
Next year, the Foundation will also increase efforts to engage its grassroots network and strengthen relationships with supporters, community organizations and advocacy groups, giving this network ways to turn their advocacy into action, and to turn that action into a movement.
We will take our advocacy efforts to the next level by taking the fight to Capitol Hill, raising awareness among policymakers about the existence of honor violence in the United States and spurring them to take action to prevent it. We will continue to advocate for policies that protect the rights of women and girls, such as criminalizing female genital mutilation and forced marriage.
In the coming year, the Foundation plans to launch three brand new programs. The first is a college campus program, targeted at giving youth the tools to be champions of gender equality and human rights.
The second program being launched in the coming year is a participatory theater initiative, a program that uses theatrical tools to allow youth to discuss and reimagine gender norms within their communities.
Finally, the AHA Foundation plans to create new programming in response to the increased number of help requests received in the past year, and in anticipation of continued growth in these requests. In December alone, the Foundation received help requests from four dissident individuals in Pakistan, a country whose blasphemy laws provide a credible, legitimate and warranted fear of persecution, as well as a case from Egypt and one from Iran. These are in addition to the more traditional honor violence and forced marriage help requests that the Foundation continues to receive from individuals all over the world. Considering the fact that each case received is highly individualized in nature, and it is rare that any two cases require the same response, the AHA Foundation seeks to create a fund to aid its work in supporting dissidents in need. This fund will both support staff time spent responding to additional help requests, as well as ensure the availability of a small amount of emergency funding should a particular case ever necessitate its use.
“I often say there are many more ‘Ayaans’ out there, women seeking to bring positive change to their families and communities, if they are given the chance to pursue opportunities to achieve their aspirations. From Africa to the Middle East to the U.S., I have met many women and girls who understand that limits on their educational and employment opportunities, a denial of their right to choose their spouse, or the violence and abuse they face simply for being female is wrong. As we see in our work through the AHA Foundation, when empowered to live to their full potential, women become agents of change, shaping their families and communities in ways that further strengthen our society. I cannot think of a more effective way of countering extremism, promoting dialogue and driving global change and understanding.”
-Stephanie Baric, former AHA Foundation Executive Director
Just as Ayaan Hirsi Ali transcended violence, oppression and coercion rooted in traditional cultural beliefs, other women and girls experiencing these types of harmful practices can live freely with your continued support.
We encourage you to learn more about the AHA Foundation’s work at theahafoundation.org and join our conversations about issues related to gender-based violence and oppression on Facebook and Twitter at @AHAFoundation. Please encourage your friends and family to follow us as well.
Please support our lifesaving work.
Together, we can put an end to the horrifying and painful practices that are harming women and girls behind closed doors in American communities.