The recent rise in political polarization has made 2019 a challenging year for the movement to end female genital mutilation (FGM), child and forced marriage, and honor violence in the U.S. Despite the setbacks, we are encouraged by the progress we have made and are deeply grateful to our loyal donors who made these accomplishments possible.
The fight to end FGM faced a stunning setback this year—at the end of the first federal prosecution of an alleged FGM practitioner, the survivors were robbed of justice, and the federal anti-FGM law was left in limbo. Much of the momentum for state anti-FGM legislation we have seen this year is a direct response to disapointments at the federal level.
AHA Foundation played a leading role in the historic number of anti-FGM laws passed in 2019, bringing the total number of states that have yet to ban the practice down to 15. These victories reaffirmed AHA Foundation’s place as a national leader in the effort to ban FGM and proved crucial in laying the groundwork for our bold, new campaign: Ban FGM in the U.S. by 2020.
This year, AHA Foundation also made a highly-anticipated leap into realizing our Founder’s vision for combating Islamism, a dangerous ideology that threatens the Western civilization. We hosted a seminar that brought together activists, ex Muslims, and Muslim reformers to discuss the use of soft power to effectuate change.
Hand in hand with our supporters, we weathered the crises that plagued this year. At a time when justice seemed difficult to find, we have been reminded time and again that the voices of survivors and advocates alike have been heard. We are deeply grateful to our donors who made sure we were able to take a stand each time and keep fighting.
Child marriage and FGM remain critical issues in the U.S. AHA Foundation is dedicated to protecting the freedom and security of those who face these abuses and our advocacy work is intended to spur lawmakers into action.
Female genital mutilation is not something that just goes away. It is something a person will carry with them every day in some way… If it’s never talked about, it’s not going to end. Silence keeps the practice going until it is exposed to the light.
In 2018, the presiding judge in United States v. Nargarwala, the first federal prosecution of an alleged FGM practitioner, deemed the federal anti-FGM law unconstitutional and key charges against the defendants were consequently dismissed. When the Department of Justice refused to defend the constitutionality of the federal law, it seemed the movement to combat FGM would be brought to its knees.
Throughout the year, we supported efforts of congressional leaders attempting to restore the federal anti-FGM law and pushed for a bill that would fix its purported constitutional issues.
Despite barriers posed by political discord, we are determined to foster cooperation and consensus between members of both the Republican and Democratic parties. Our bipartisan approach comes with challenges, but we are confident that we can bridge the divide by stressing a joint responsibility to protect our girls from this human rights abuse.
This year, AHA Foundation saw record legislative achievements and an increased interest among state lawmakers in ending FGM in the U.S. The disappointments from Nagarwala drove much of the momentum behind state-level legislative initiatives and fueled the realization that no girl is safe until this practice is banned in all 50 states.
AHA Foundation remains at the helm of this nationwide effort. We worked in five of the seven states that passed FGM bans in 2019 and assumed a critical role by providing testimony, informational briefings, and statutory consultation.
Two states, Utah and Arkansas, based their bills directly on our model bill and now have some of the strongest legislative defenses against FGM in the country. Likewise, Tennessee used our recommended provisions and as a result, significantly increased the strength of its FGM ban.
Some people may think 551 girls is just a small number, but to me it was an alarming number and I knew I had to make a change.
I reached out to the AHA Foundation and they have helped come along side me and support me as far as meeting with legislators and raising awareness of what this is and what our goal is: to end this all together.
Ban FGM in The U.S. By 2020
Developments at the federal level have inspired AHA Foundation’s newest campaign: Ban FGM in the U.S. by 2020. Throughout the year, we laid the groundwork for this effort—one designed to pass laws in the remaining 15 states that have failed to criminalize FGM.
To assist with this initiative, we developed a legislative toolkit that offers guidelines to lawmakers and advocates. It is a comprehensive resource for those who wish to strengthen existing legislation or pass anti-FGM bans in states that currently lack anti-FGM laws.
Collaboration with The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)
AHA Foundation is working with American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a membership organization of state legislators and policy stakeholders, to promote our Ban FGM by 2020 campaign.
In cooperation with ALEC leadership, AHA Foundation has:
Secured the adoption of our model FGM bill as the basis of ALEC’s official model policy.
Conducted a December 2019 ALEC seminar where legislators from all states that lack FGM laws were brought in for a hands-on, in-depth workshop, with the ultimate goal of passing our model bill during the 2020 legislative session.
Invited a U.S.-born FGM survivor to attend and speak at the ALEC annual meeting. While there, she had the opportunity to share her story and call on lawmakers for urgent action to prevent this abuse from taking place in their respective states.
AHA Foundation was the first to identify and alert authorities about loopholes in U.S. immigration law that have facilitated thousands of child marriages in the U.S.
Early in 2019, this effort culminated in the release of an investigative report by the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that confirmed our suspicions: 8,686 petitions involving minors were approved, and girls were the younger party in 95% of such cases.
Throughout this year, we actively advocated for legislation that will finally set a minimum age to sponsor or receive spousal or fiancé(e) immigration benefits.
Insert here: Tweet by Sen. Johnson (to be done by Marijana)
This year, AHA Foundation:
Advised U.S. Senators Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) on legislation that would set a minimum marital age of 18 for visa applications.
Provided Sen. Johnson’s office with title recommendations and draft language for the bill that highlighted the child protection aims of this initiative.
Met with House Judiciary Committee staff and conducted ongoing bipartisan outreach among federal legislators to garner support for Sen. Johnson’s bill and its companion bill in the House of Representatives.
AHA Foundation has been advocating for every state to set a baseline age of 18 for marriage. To date only two, Delaware and New Jersey, have outlawed marriage before 18 —this scant number is a testament to the uphill battle we still face. Though challenges lie ahead, we remain dedicated to ending child marriage in the U.S. by our 2030 goal.
This year, AHA Foundation:
Provided in-person and written testimony in support of SB 231 and written testimony for the partner bill, HB 855; both bills would outlaw child marriage in the state.
Met with dozens of lawmakers and provided written testimony to encourage support of a child marriage ban. The bill passed in the Senate and awaits a hearing in the House Ways and Means Committee to continue its progress towards passage.
Engaged state lawmakers to encourage the passage of a child marriage bill as the state reaches the completion of its 2019 legislative session.
Participated in a press conference and protest held by our sister organization, Unchained at Last, in support of bills HB360 and SB81 that would ban child marriage in the state of Pennsylvania. Both the House and Senate unanimously voted to pass their respective versions of the same bill, and one of the chambers must now act for this legislation to move forward.
|AHA Foundation Written Testimony|
|FGM Bills||Child Marriage Bills|
The U.S. Virgin Islands
[GRAPHIC TO SHOW NUMBERS TO DATE
21 Campuses, 23 Fellows, 15 Events, 400,000+ Reached To Date
Our college campus program Critical Thinking Fellowship (CTF) defends freedom of speech by promoting and encouraging critical thinking in higher education and amplifying the voices of ex-Muslims and Muslim reformers. Student fellows also use the fellowship to advocate for the rights of women and protections against FGM, honor violence, and child and forced marriage.
[IMAGE] After facing repeated attempts at being banned from speaking on U.S. college campuses, our founder was thrilled to address students at the Pepperdine School of Public Policy for an event titled The (Transformative) Power of Women. She described coming-of-age in a fundamentalist Muslim household, and stressed the importance of girls’ education. She also emphasized the need to confront ideas and cultures that continue to oppress women and girls.
Instead of apologizing for who we are and what we’ve achieved, I think we should not only celebrate it but aggressively, and intensely, and assertively promote it. Even if that brings us accusations of racism, imperialism, Euro-centrism, whatever else, [these] are the tools that are used to shut us up. I just refuse to shut up.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, AHA Foundation Founder
I would like to take a minute to thank the donors who provide financial support for the program. Thank you for allowing me to bring meaningful discussions to my college campuses. Also, thank you not only for showing me the potential I have to impact my community but also for allowing me to discover my true passions.
Adriana, American University, Fellow 2018 – 2019
I’ve always had a passion for human rights—especially women’s rights— and when I heard about FGM, it nauseated me to the point where I couldn’t sit back and do nothing.
Grace, Vassar College, Fellow 2017 – 2019
Without access to funds, vetted speakers, and support, it can be extremely difficult for students to invite quality speakers to campus. CTF is an amazing opportunity to access a full package of support from professionals.
Andy, Portland State University, Fellow 2017 – 2018
I would like each donor to know that there is a dedicated group of students across North America working to help end harmful cultural practices, promoting civil dialogue and confronting extremism.
Mohamed, University of Rochester, Fellow 2018 – Present
Each year, fellows like myself are taught about not only the importance of advocacy for enlightenment values, but how that advocacy can translate into physical change through anything from mobilization to legislative reform.
Noam, York University, Fellow 2018 – Present
[IMAGE] In August, CTF hosted their annual summer training for student fellows in Washington, D.C. The training gathered 14 student fellows from top North American universities to hear from AHA Foundation staff and guest speakers, Dr. Muhammad Fraser-Rahim of Quilliam and human rights activist Masih Alinejad.
After her bestselling book “Heretic” came out in 2015, Ayaan imagined making her vision a reality, one where voices of activists, Muslim reformers and ex-Muslims are connected and amplified in the fight against Islamism, a dangerous ideology that threatens the Western civilization.
AHA Foundation took the first leap toward this vision by hosting the Coalescing Networks to Combat Islamist Ideologies Seminar with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in October this year. At the conclusion of the seminar, attendees felt like they were no longer lone voices, shouting into the wind, but rather, more connected to each other, focusing not on their differences, but on their shared goals and values. This affirmation will propel these brave visionaries to stand arm in arm to raise their voices together, even louder, to promote human rights and modern ideas.[IMAGE]
Add a quote from Ayaan here from the event:
These activists (Muslim reformers and ex-Muslims) …these people are all shouting at the wind and the idea was, how do we bring them together? ….[W]e are threatened, we have financial constraints, we have personal constraints, we are usually deplatformed, so we are not only speaking to the vision that we want to realize but we are also speaking to the experiences we’ve had…
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, at the Coalescing Networks to Combat Islamist Ideologies Seminar
AHA Foundation is dedicated to shedding light on human rights abuses by bringing the stories of survivors and at-risk individuals to the forefront of public awareness. Alerting the general public through media engagement is pivotal in making progress and breathing life into the ideas that our founder has fought so tenaciously to defend. Through our outreach, hundreds of thousands across the globe have been informed on the issues of FGM, child and forced marriage, and the need to defend Western values.
This year AHA Foundation was featured by a number of outlets including:
The Louisville Courier-Journal, Part of the USA Today Network
Called for an FGM ban in Kentucky by co-authoring an op-ed with Kentucky Senator Julie Raque Adams and a survivor who resides in the state.
“Every day I am reminded of the emotional and physical consequences of being cut. Though I can’t change what happened to me, there is something that drives my passion to get an anti-FGM bill passed in Kentucky: my daughters. Unfortunately, I have family members who still subscribe to this practice, and believe it must be performed to control the sexuality of women and girls. As long as there is no law banning FGM in Kentucky, my daughters remain at risk of being subjected to the trauma of this practice.” – Jenny, FGM Survivor
Human Monsters Podcast
Condemned the outcome of Nagarwala and discussed the need for federal protections for girls at risk.
Nightside with Dan Rea
Shared information about the child marriage visa loophole that has enabled thousands of child marriages in the U.S. and emphasized the urgent need for legislative action.
KUTV, CBS News Affiliate
Spoke about FGM and the effort by Utah state lawmakers to ban the practice within their borders.
Alerted the public about child marriage in the U.S. on two separate occasions.
“Just like most of America, legislators are surprised that child marriage is an issue in the U.S. and in their respective states,” said Amanda Parker, a senior policy expert at the AHA Foundation, a women’s rights group founded by activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali. “If they don’t realize that it’s something that it is happening in their state, they’re not going to focus on it.”
Womenace to Society
Appeared twice this year, once to alert about the dangers and reality of FGM in the U.S., and a second time to bring awareness to child marriage in the U.S.
The Immigration and Human Rights Law Review
Alerted about child marriage, its physical and psychological traumas, and the visa loophole that has enabled thousands of child marriages in the U.S.
Discussed the mental and physical health consequences of FGM, its prevalence across the globe, and the cultural facets of FGM.
“the CDC estimates there are 513,000 women and girl in the US who have gone through FGM or who are at risk of the procedure. That is and should be shocking to most Americans. That there are half of a million women and girls in this country.” – Amanda Parker
Good Morning Cleveland, ABC News 5
Featured in recognition of the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
Wyoming Public Radio, NPR Affiliate
Discussed the uptick in FGM criminalization in the U.S. and the lack of protective laws among Western states.
Wall Street Journal
In her op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, titled “Can Ilhan Omar Overcome Her Prejudice?”, our founder, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, addressed the problem of Islamist anti-Semitism.
“In my experience it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to unlearn hate without coming to terms with how you learned to hate. Most Americans are familiar with the classic Western flavors of anti-Semitism: the Christian, European, white-supremacist and Communist types. But little attention has been paid to the special case of Muslim anti-Semitism. That is a pity because today it is anti-Semitism’s most zealous, most potent and most underestimated form.”
Made a statement to the Detroit News regarding the groundbreaking trial United States v. Nagarwala.
“The defendants in this case had the victims shipped from Minnesota to Michigan, and the only way of holding them accountable for FGM was the federal statute…[the court ruling] sends the message that the authorities are not serious about protecting girls, especially those in immigrant communities, from this form of abuse.”
[GRAPHIC # OF GIRLS HELPED CUMULATIVELY]
Our direct aid services to at-risk individuals remains one of the most crucial aspects of AHA Foundation’s work.
In 2019, through our helpline, our team offered support to 38 women and girls seeking assistance. Most cases involved individuals facing the threat of forced marriage, FGM, or honor violence. By the end of 2019, our organization will have helped up to 350 individuals in need of support.
These numbers represent only a tiny fraction of those still living in fear of these practices.
“What do I say to girls who find themselves in a context where they do not have control? I would develop the strength of mind that you get up every morning, pull yourself by your bootstraps every morning; you have to think life is worth living; what you are developing with a strength of mind is a strength of character, because for those of us who are lucky to overcome that adversity we then have to come to the conclusion not to think of ourselves as victims but to think of ourselves as victors.
Women and girls deserve to live lives of dignity and affirmation, free from fear of abuse. This year, we empowered medical staff, psychologists, police officers, and other professionals likely to encounter women and girls in danger with the information they need for culturally competent and effective responses.
“I think the real issue for survivors of FGC in the U.S. is that medical professionals are not familiar with the practice and its consequences. Women often feel judged and shamed by American practitioners’ reactions to and ignorance about FGC.”
Traveled to Boise, Idaho to train, educate, and advocate for laws banning FGM and child marriage. We gave three presentations to frontline professionals and influential residents of Boise at the Faces of Hope Victim Center, including the Lt. Governor and the First Lady of Idaho.
Provided FGM education to over 200 medical professionals with the Central District Health Department and the Family Medicine Residency of Idaho.
New York, NY:
Called for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment and condemned the Department of Justice’s refusal to defend the federal FGM ban alongside activists and elected officials at a press conference with U.S. Representative Carolyn Maloney.
Participated in the 3D International Expert Meeting on Management and Prevention of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting where experts from around the globe shared their expertise, research, and best practices approach to FGM.
Educated a group of 100 young women from around the world about FGM and other gender-based abuses at the Women2Women International Leadership Program.
San Diego, California:
Trained therapists, school psychologists, and other professionals likely to encounter women and girls at risk of FGM at the Institute on Violence, Trauma and Abuse annual conference.
Washington, D.C:Called for bipartisan cooperation to end child and forced marriage and FGM on a bipartisan panel for International Women’s Day on Capitol Hill hosted by Concerned Women for America.
Educated attendees at a World Bank luncheon to encourage the use of the international financial institution’s influence to combat child marriage.
Roelina Berst and her late husband Charles Berst of Los Angeles, California, have been supporting the work of AHA Foundation and its founder, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, for almost ten years now. Together, they attended a book signing where they met Ayaan. After Charles passed this year, Roelina made a gift to AHA in loving memory of her husband.
Having roots in the Netherlands, Roelina felt connected to Ayaan and has admired her bravery to speak out against harmful cultural practices.
If I had to describe Ayaan in a few words they would be: brilliant, brave, and fearless. I am captivated by her mind and soul and her courage to speak up even when it’s difficult. Her bravery to speak out against these harmful practices like FGM and child marriage, even in her youth, is riveting and inspiring to all. I am so proud to support her Foundation and their mission to end these practices in the U.S., and look forward to supporting them for many years to come.
Ever since Ayaan Hirsi Ali appeared on the political scene in Holland all these years ago she was daily in the [Dutch] news. I was astonished by the single-minded determination with which she pursued her agenda…. People like Ayaan don’t fit in normal patterns but there have to be people like that.
I read several of her books, realized all that she has been through and hugely admired her courage. About seven years ago I decided to donate [each] year for the rest of my days. I am now 82 years old but I hope to be able to continue my contribution for a few more years.
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