A major part of our work at AHA Foundation is to end female genital mutilation (FGM) in the U.S. But even as we work to ensure the passage of laws criminalizing FGM, we realize that far too many survivors have gone without justice for far too long. So we partnered with two law firms, White & Case LLP and Reed Smith LLP, to break new ground in the fight against FGM. We are proud to announce, in honor of the International Day for Zero Tolerance of FGM, that alongside our partners we have created the first-ever legal guides for survivors of FGM in the U.S. These guides are available for free on our website and we hope they help survivors understand the legal routes available to them in their search for justice.
So far we have produced 8 guides, for California, Michigan, Minnesota, Texas, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and New York—states that collectively house around 50% of all those living with the effects or at risk of FGM—and more are on the way. You can access them here.
Below, you can read a message from AHA’s Executive Director George Zarubin about the guides. Elsewhere, we also interview Adijatu Kamara, a lawyer at Reed Smith who helped work on the guides: see here.
February 6 marks the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). At AHA Foundation, zero tolerance is one of our guiding lights. We fight for the day that no girl anywhere in the U.S. suffers because of this dangerous, traumatizing, and unnecessary procedure. And make no mistake: FGM is a problem in the U.S. Though widely believed to be only an issue in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, around half a million girls in the U.S. are at risk of or have suffered through FGM.
Unfortunately, the total eradication of FGM in the U.S. is still some way off. So far, we have won many victories in this fight but have also faced many setbacks. The 1996 federal law against FGM lay dormant for 20 years before being found unconstitutional in 2018. It took nearly 3 more years before this law was reaffirmed: Congress passed the STOP FGM Act in December 2020, and then-President Trump signed it into law in January 2021.
But despite this milestone achievement, the case which kickstarted the legal battle over the federal law in the first place proved a disappointment. What remained of the criminal case against Jumiana Nagarwala, a doctor who allegedly performed FGM on 9 young girls in a clinic near Detroit, was dismissed in September 2021. Though we were stunned and dismayed by the dismissal, we remain resolute. A battle was lost, but the war will be won eventually, even if the path is not straight or easy—as the past few years have amply shown.
We hope that the survivors’ legal guides we have created with White & Case and Reed Smith will help those who have had FGM inflicted upon them to navigate the legal thicket in their respective states so that they can receive justice for what was done to them.
That is why AHA Foundation has teamed up with two law firms to help those who have survived the procedure find justice for what they have been through: White & Case LLP and Reed Smith LLP. You can read our interview with Adijatu Kamara of Reed Smith here. Both firms donated hundreds of pro bono hours to help us in this task, which shows how committed they are to defending the rights of women and girls—just like AHA Foundation.
We hope that the survivors’ legal guides we have created with White & Case and Reed Smith will help those who have had FGM inflicted upon them to navigate the legal thicket in their respective states so that they can receive justice for what was done to them. The legal guides advise the survivors on how to fight/seek legal remedies in both criminal and civil courts. We have made 8 guides so far, for California, Michigan, Minnesota, Texas, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and New York—states that collectively house around 50% of all those living with the effects or at risk of FGM—and more are on the way.
And this is just the beginning. Along with our partners at White & Case and Reed Smith, we will not rest until FGM victims in the U.S. have received justice. I want to pay tribute to both firms here, particularly Sam Hershey and his colleagues at White & Case and Adijatu Kamara and her colleagues at Reed Smith, without whom this task would have been impossible. Their work will help thousands of survivors of FGM, and they should be proud.
Millions of girls are turning their eyes to us with hope for the happy, healthy lives to which all children are entitled. For their sake, we can no longer look away.
I also hope that these guides will help to raise awareness across the country. America can no longer pretend that fighting FGM is fighting someone else’s battle. Rather, we must all educate ourselves, lawyers and non-lawyers alike, about what we can do to end this horrific practice. Millions of girls are turning their eyes to us with hope for the happy, healthy lives to which all children are entitled. For their sake, we can no longer look away.
To the survivors of FGM, I want to express my admiration for your strength and resilience in the face of true horror. I hope that these guides will help you find justice. Truly, it is for you, and all the women and girls who are at risk of or have suffered through dangerous practices, that all of us at AHA Foundation fight every day, alongside partners like White & Case and Reed Smith. Rest assured that we will continue to stand with you until justice is secured and the rights of women and girls are protected all across the U.S. Only when we have liberty for all will we consider our work done.