In 2018, we lost the ability to try perpetrators using the federal law meant to protect girls from the heinous crime of FGM after a judge ruled it unconstitutional. Since then, AHA Foundation has been on the front line working with members of both parties in the Senate and House of Representatives to help reaffirm this ban. Thanks to our efforts and the work of our partners, the ban passed unanimously in the House of Representatives and in the Senate, and was signed by President Trump on January 5, 2021. This bill represents what can be accomplished through bipartisan efforts and reaffirms our commitment to ensure politics do not dictate the protection of women and girls throughout the U.S.
In an incredibly difficult year, the little girls in our country who are vulnerable to this painful practice were not forgotten. The STOP FGM Act is a strong bill that makes it clear that in this country, we do not tolerate this practice, and we will not stand idly by as girls are cut.
Oh my gosh. That is FABULOUS!!! Thank goodness people are listening and acting to protect us. I’m overjoyed!! Best Christmas gift!!!
I’m pleased that we’ve finally reached agreement on language to enhance penalties for female genital mutilation, a truly horrible practice. I introduced legislation on this subject last year, and I thank my colleagues in the House who worked with me on this issue. The law that passed will send a strong message that Congress condemns the violent and disgusting butchery of young girls and women in this country.
As we’re wrapping up this Congress, it’s certainly encouraging to see that we’ve made progress in eliminating the horrific practice of female genital mutilation (FGM). FGM is an uncomfortable issue to discuss, but we must continue calling attention to it and educating ourselves on the signs so that we are equipped to protect young girls from this excruciating practice.
The STOP FGM Act of 2020 will finally offer young women and girls stronger protection from the horror of female genital mutilation. No girl should ever have to face this in her lifetime. The bipartisan nature of this legislation shows that when it comes to the safety of young girls, politics shouldn’t matter.
FGM is a cultural norm that legitimizes and reinforces harmful attitudes about women and girls and their place in society and inhibits a girl’s right of self-determination over her reproductive and sexual health. Passing this legislation is a step towards the elimination of gender inequality.
I was so thankful to hear that Congress has passed a federal law banning FGM. This will be life-changing for girls that are at risk in this country, and for moms wanting to protect girls from this practice within their communities but didn’t have anything to help them in that fight to protect them. FGM/C can be life-changing for anyone that endures it, can negatively impact a victims life in so many ways, I am filled with so much joy for so many girls that will be saved because of this law.
I’m thrilled with the passage of this critical and long-awaited FGM bill!!!! My thanks and gratitude go to the AHA Foundation for your relentless policy and program initiatives to help make this happen!!! It will help protect the many girls who are at risk of being cut and will help advance abandonment efforts!
Engaged in ongoing discussions with House Judiciary Committee staff, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and political advocacy organizations to secure bipartisan support for the STOP FGM Act of 2020, a bill that upholds the constitutionality of the federal anti-FGM law.
Consulted with our pro bono attorney at White & Case, LLP regarding amendments needed to strengthen the federal anti-FGM law and offered recommendations to the House Judiciary Committee.
AHA again led the charge to enact anti-FGM legislation in all 50 states around the country. In the first few months of the year, we laid the groundwork to pass FGM bans in the remaining 15 states and the District of Columbia, which lacked a ban in the beginning of 2020.
Our ambitious goals were hampered when legislators’ attentions were appropriately turned towards fighting the pandemic and racial justice issues. However, the advocacy momentum we cultivated in previous years, which accelerated in the first few months of this year, set the stage for success in 2020.
When the pandemic hit, we ceased our trips to legislators and reached out to them via emails and video conference calls, instead of advocating in person. While the means of communication had to change, we stayed consistent in our strategy to fight for and secure bipartisan support for the bans in each state. As a result, in five states, we galvanized political support and helped pass anti-FGM laws in the midst of the pandemic lockdown. Almost 18,000 girls are protected with these recently passed laws.
More than 600* girls protected
Kicking off the year as the first state, Vermont was able to continue the wave from 2019 and become the 36th state with anti-FGM legislation, right before the pandemic struck.
More than 1,800* girls protected
The work to pass an anti-FGM bill in Kentucky was tireless. Countless in-person meetings were held with key Kentucky legislators and with Jenny, a local survivor who testified alongside us before the 2020 legislative session even started, and paved the way for comprehensive legislation to pass early this year.
When Jenny approached AHA Foundation to share her story, she had one major goal: ban FGM in Kentucky and ensure that a strong law was put in place, so no one ever had to endure the pain she did.
Touched by Jenny’s testimony, legislators were awakened to the very real problem of FGM in the commonwealth, prompting them to stay in the statehouse until they passed the bill through committee—even though parts of the statehouse were already closed on the day of Jenny’s testimony due to the COVID-19 lockdown in March.
Based on our research and experience with anti-FGM bills in other states, we advised Kentucky legislators on how to develop a bill that not only criminalizes FGM in the commonwealth, but also empowers survivors to stand up for themselves in a court of law and provides education and outreach programs. We are privileged to work with Jenny and other survivors to make a difference for women and girls.
More than 400* girls protected
In February of this year, Wyoming unanimously passed an anti-FGM bill into legislation. This process began at the 46th American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) annual meeting in August of 2019 when we met Representative Laursen and alerted him about the urgent need to ban FGM in his state.
Rep. Laursen set the tone for the passage of the bill when he insisted on a bipartisan team, seeking out co-sponsors from the other side of the aisle from the very start. AHA Foundation supported his efforts by providing draft bill text, strategizing together on how to avoid potential hurdles, and acting as a sounding board as questions arose.
More than 14,000* girls protected
Deborah Benson of the Massachusetts Women’s Bar Association and AHA Foundation, alongside survivors and other advocates, have been hard at work on this state’s FGM ban for more than seven years. Most of the work over the years was focused on raising awareness among legislators about FGM taking place in the U.S., to make sure they know that Massachusetts is not an exception.
Together, we pressured Massachusetts legislators by making them aware of the states that had passed anti-FGM bills, some even during the pandemic, and reminding them that they no longer had a federal law to lean on and use as an excuse to avoid the passage of a state law. Finally, in September of this year, the state legislature unanimously passed a comprehensive bill outlawing FGM.
More than 500* girls protected
Idaho strengthened their existing anti-FGM ban to make it illegal to take a girl outside the state for the procedure or for a guardian to give consent for a minor to undergo FGM. We consulted with the bill sponsor on her planned changes and opposed a separate bill that would have gutted the existing anti-FGM ban.
Throughout 2020, we have supported legislation introduced by Senator Ron Johnson that, if passed, would close a dangerous loophole in federal law we identified and warned about in 2017. This loophole allows for a minor of any age to sponsor a spousal visa or to come to the U.S. on a marriage-based petition. An investigative report released in 2019 by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee showed that 8,686 petitions for marriage-based visas involving minors were approved, and, 95% of the time, girls were the younger party involved.
The U.S. still has a long way to go in the fight to ban child marriage. Before this year, only two states, Delaware and New Jersey, banned all marriages under the age of 18 or the age of majority. However, despite the difficulties of the pandemic, two more states took a stand against this abuse and completely outlawed child marriage.
When the COVID-19 pandemic took hold of the nation, state legislators began to rightfully turn their attention towards providing aid to their communities. Despite this hurdle, AHA assisted state Representative Jesse Topper’s efforts to push through a ban on child marriage as part of a COVID relief bill that was passed in May. Bill sponsors’ commitment to protect women and girls in their state, their ingenuity during this difficult time and the groundwork we had laid, together with fellow advocates, enabled the passage of the child marriage ban during days when the only legislation allowed to progress was related to the pandemic.
Only a few days after Pennsylvania’s initiative, Minnesota followed in suit to become the fourth state in the U.S. to outright ban child marriage.
Due to challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, many states around the country passed bills allowing for marriage certificates to be issued online. In states that had not banned marriage below the age of majority, these bills, however, allowed for the possible exploitation of girls in the form of child marriages.
If you are aware of child marriages and don’t do anything as a legislator then you are just as guilty as the perpetrator.
In order to spread awareness on the issue, we spoke with three survivors of child marriage and shared their testimonies across social media, in our newsletter and on our website to alert the public about children at high risk of forced marriage.
During the last half of 2020, we took steps to ensure that next year sees increased progress on both the state and federal level. While we work to identify bill sponsors in states that lack FGM or child marriage bans, we have asked our supporters who have relationships with legislators to help our efforts by making connections. Through this approach, we’ve identified new bill sponsors in Nebraska, Indiana and New Mexico, with other states in discussion.
Our bipartisan approach to passing legislation to protect women and girls has been at the center of our legislative strategy and even though it poses challenges in some states, we believe that a bipartisan approach to defending the rights of the most vulnerable is the only way forward.
Our campus fellowship program, Critical Thinking Fellowship (CTF), defends freedom of speech, and promotes Enlightenment values and women’s rights in colleges and in public debate. This is achieved through the efforts of our CTF fellows who continue to break the barriers to open dialogue, free speech and critical thinking at 14 universities, including schools like Stanford, Columbia, University of Pennsylvania and Notre Dame. Despite the upheaval in school environments and the switch to virtual learning, the CTF made a seamless transition to digital events in 2020, reaching more than 590,000 people.
To strengthen collaboration among the fellows, the CTF holds an annual in-person summer training where the fellows meet and discuss the ideas, issues and principles that brought them all together. This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this event took place virtually, and despite various challenges, was once again a success. The fellows not only had the valuable opportunity to speak and bond amongst themselves, but also to hear from experts—guest speakers, survivors and advocates such as Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, former Wall Street Journal writer Asra Nomani, forced marriage survivor Yasmine Mohammad, and our Senior Director Amanda Parker.
Harvard University: Make America Dinner Again (MADA) Roundtable Discussion – February 22, 2020
Film Screening at The University of Pennsylvania: Islam and the Future of Tolerance – February 26, 2020
Surviving Child Marriage in the United States: Yes, it happens here too. Legally. – October 7, 2020
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: How One Woman Turned Her Pain into Advocacy – November 5, 2020
I realized my work through CTF was making a difference when I spoke with a friend who attended my first webinar event "Surviving Child Marriage in the United States. Yes, It Happens Here Too. Legally." She is currently studying to be a teacher and appreciated information on how to identify signs of child marriage as an educator. The stories provided by survivors empowered her to be better prepared to protect her future students from child marriage. If I could talk directly to a donor who is funding the CTF program, I would tell them how deeply impacted the audience was by the event I held for my campus. The problem is not that people are apathetic, it's that people don't know that FGM, child marriage, and honor violence all happen in their country, in their community. Support from donors is so important so that college students can access the information they need to become passionate about these issues and make a difference. Thank you CTF donors for making this possible!
CTF has helped amplify my voice by granting me resources and funding to put together great events on my campus that otherwise would not have been possible. From selecting event speakers and curating topics, to moderating a discussion, I have developed a sense of pride in bringing important conversations to a greater audience.
Being part of an event that raises awareness about FGM, child marriage and other human rights violations and empowers survivors to share their story and be heard is one of the most inspiring aspects of being a fellow. I would recommend the CTF program to other students because it empowers passionate students to engage in activism on their campus and community and make a change.
The CTF program gave me the tools, resources and confidence to plan one of the most successful human rights initiatives on my campus.
What makes the CTF program so different from other organizations/programs is the effort they put into their fellows through the resources and training they provide.
I would say that the CTF program changed my life. Because of the funding that makes the CTF program possible, I was able to make a substantial impact on my campus.
One thing I really love about CTF is the ability to meet activists like Faisal Al Mutar and Masih Alinejad as well as passionate students from all over the country. It makes me feel like I am not alone in advocating for issues of human rights and free speech.
CTF also helps me fund events I otherwise could not hold, I know that this is only possible because of help from donors. 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.
In 2019, the Critical Thinking Fellowship at AHA Foundation has given me the unique opportunity to excel as a student leader and bring awareness to human rights on campus. By far, my favorite elements of the CTF program are the education, resources and network it cultivates.
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.
In light of recent terrorist attacks in Paris and Vienna, the conversations about the need for and urgency of combating the dangerous ideology of Islamism have been resurrected in the media. For AHA Foundation, our activism around combating Islamism has continued strong throughout the pandemic. Inspired by our founder’s vision, we unite and amplify voices, ideas and actions of Muslim reformers, ex-Muslims, scholars, activists and students working together toward a common goal. This year we continued to expand and strengthen this network through digital events and conference calls.
America’s Other Muslims: A Conversation Between Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Dr. Muhammad Fraser-Rahim
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former Muslim, advocate for a reformation of Islam and AHA Foundation founder, spoke in a webinar with Muhammad Fraser-Rahim, an American Muslim who has helped push back against radical Islam for the U.S. government and now Quilliam International.
In the webinar, the two discussed Fraser-Rahim’s newest book, “America’s Other Muslims: Imam W.D. Mohammed, Islamic Reform, and the Making of American Islam.” While about the book, the discussion, which featured questions from our CTF fellows, centered around the impact of W.D. Mohammed on Islamic reformation in communities that follow his teachings and the future of Islamic reform within the U.S.
Our founder, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, fiercely defended freedom of speech in the media in 2020. She gave interviews on BBC, Fox News, The Spectator, podcasts such as The Megyn Kelly Show, debated on Intelligence Squared and wrote for The Wall Street Journal and Philanthropy Roundtable. Ayaan alerted the public about the spread of dangerous ideologies such as cancel culture and identity politics, and how tolerance of these poses a threat to freedom of expression and our democracy.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Julie Bindel, an English radical feminist writer, argued for the motion that cancel culture is destroying our freedoms. Kehinde Andrews, a Professor of Black Studies in the School of Social Sciences at Birmingham City University, and Billy Bragg, an English singer-songwriter and political campaigner argued against the motion.
If I talk about what is happening to Muslim women…female genital mutilation, honor killings, and all the rest of it, I’m accused of Islamophobia. So they use a group stamp to put down, and cancel and silence the individual, and the individual rights, and individual human rights. The philosophy of Liberalism protects all of that. (about 50 minutes in)
In this interview, Ayaan raised the alarm against cancel culture while encouraging acceptance of others and tolerance of different viewpoints.
What we are seeing now is a culture of fear… If you don’t agree with me on, you name it, any kind of issue, then we’re going to cancel you, we’re going to start a campaign to ostracise you… I think that’s absolutely wrong.
Ayaan’s article “America’s Identity Crisis” was featured in the Fall 2020 edition and it focused on universities and identity politics. She called on society to embrace critical thinking and honest conversations to battle this ideology.
Identity Politics is a pathogen that developed in the petri dishes of university campuses. It was cultured, matured, and disseminated into the college-educated American population. And now it is spreading like a virus through our corporations, charities, and institutions.
Critical Thinking Fellowship fellow Krista Akiki penned an op-ed about the reality of honor-based violence in the United States. She points out the failures of Western feminism, and how various shortcomings of the feminist movement leave out the plight of thousands of women and girls.
It is crucial to acknowledge that female genital mutilation, honor killings, child marriage and other forms of gender-based violence, which are atrocious and traumatizing breaches to women’s dignity and threats to women’s safety, do not only happen in the distant rural communities of Arab or African nations with unstable political, economic and social environments. Female genital mutilation, child marriage and honor killings also happen here in the United States. Read that last sentence again. It happens over here too.
Ms. Hirsi Ali wrote an op-ed titled “What Islamists and ‘Wokeists’ Have in Common” connecting her experiences with being canceled in modern day Western society with tactics extreme Islamists use to radicalize youth.
It never occurred to me that free speech would come under threat in my newly adopted country. Even when I first encountered what has come to be known as “cancel culture”—in 2014 I was invited to receive an honorary degree at Brandeis University and then ungraciously disinvited—I didn’t fret too much. I was inclined to dismiss the alliance of campus leftists and Islamists as a lunatic fringe. But the power of the illiberal elements in the American left has grown, not just on campus but in the media and many corporations. They have inculcated in a generation of students an ideology that has much more in common with the intolerant doctrines of a religious cult than with the secular political thought I studied at Holland’s Leiden University.
In response to the beheading of Samuel Paty in France by an Islamist, Ayaan wrote an article titled “Can Macron stem the tide of Islamism in France?” She also contributed to a video interview with Andrew Neil about Islamism in France.
The battle of ideas against Islamism will, of necessity, be a long one and if he hopes to succeed Macron must ensure that French civil society and philanthropic foundations are fully engaged in this effort. He should disband subversive Islamist organizations that lay the ideological groundwork for violence, while calling on his fellow European leaders to do the same. It’s amazing how many of them, even now, prefer to avoid the topic.
Ayaan spoke with journalist Megyn Kelly about her life growing up in Somalia and the differences between her family’s interpretations of Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood, the organization she later joined in her teenage years. They touched on her journey of becoming a politician in Holland before settling in the United States, and her experience with being “cancelled.” Throughout the podcast, Ayaan advocated for Western Enlightenment thought and traditionally liberal values.
What made the Muslim Brotherhood very different, the Islam they were perpetuating was… Islam is political, you cannot separate it from the religion. If you say “I’m only going to be religious,” then you are a fake Muslim, that is what they would call us. So to be a real Muslim you had to embrace the political agenda of jihad, subjugating women, covering yourself head to toe, of preparing yourself for a life after death. That was an indoctrination in the sense if you asked questions, you were punished.
Ms. Hirsi Ali joined Assita Kanko, a Member of the European Parliament, FGM survivor, human rights activist and published author, to discuss European values versus Islamism in this podcast. Ayaan and Assita are immigrants from Somalia and Burkina Faso, respectively, and have turned their past experiences with Islamism and FGM into activism via politics and writing.
We are also living evidence of what education can do. [It] teaches you to not accept the domination of those who want to dominate you as an individual, and that freedom of talk is for everyone. But we need to have the courage to not only use words but to take action. (28:47)
Ayaan led a moving and intimate discussion about the reality of female genital mutilation with AHA’s Senior Director and a group of high school students enrolled in Menlo School’s Ethnic Studies class. The group learned about the reasons behind the practice, its prevalence globally and in the U.S. and actions they can take to end the practice and support peers impacted by FGM.
Although in-person trainings have been suspended for now, we have adapted them to work as online videoconferencing-based sessions. Through Zoom Webinars, we have the capability to host the same training sessions and presentations but with an audience that can attend from anywhere in the country.
The San Diego Conference:
In September, a conference where AHA Foundation typically leads a presentation each year in San Diego was held online instead. This was the sixth consecutive year AHA Foundation presented, with this year’s attendees comprised of social service professionals including counselors, social workers, and healthcare providers and outlined the information they need to support populations at risk of FGM.
Just prior to shelter at home orders going into effect, a team from AHA Foundation piloted a training of trainers program in Boise, Idaho. The program highlighted cooperation between frontline service providers as a critical strategy to prevent and address FGM within the community. Approximately 20 healthcare providers and other professionals likely to encounter individuals impacted by FGM attended the training.
Future Training Plans:
AHA Foundation has explored partnerships with professional associations such as the American Medical Association, the American Bar Association, and the American Public Health Association to scale up online trainings for the future. We hope to work with professional associations to provide easily-accessible, accredited trainings on addressing the problem of FGM.
Her [Ayaan’s] story and strength resonated with me and motivated me to do more about gender-based violence…We must stop putting women and girls at risk of these practices for the sake of political correctness. The overarching concern should be consent, and the victims are too young to consent to their victimization. Imagine being a child and being forced to marry a much older man!
Michael Cavallo, Massachusetts
Ayaan Hirsi Ali has been my hero for many years. Thank you for all you do. I have encouraged both of my two oldest granddaughters to read ‘Infidel.’ Hopefully, when I am gone and can’t share your message, they will share your message. Even better, I hope and pray, they will live in a world where FGM, forced marriage and honor killings are eradicated. What a wonderful world that would be.
Beth Powers, pictured with her granddaughter, Indiana
I remember talking to my family about FGM prevalence in the U.S. and my aunt guided me towards Ayaan. I watched her interview on Fox News where she was talking about FGM and how women were no longer protected in the United States.
It was probably then when I became adamant about helping to stop it. Thankfully, Ayaan and AHA Foundation do the hard work and really all I have to do is spread the word and help contribute financially.
I really felt like this was something that needed to end as soon as possible, and I was one of the people that could help do that. I was blessed to have some extra savings right now and I think that people in my age group are probably struggling, especially right now, to start their careers but I was in a fortunate situation where I knew I could help.
I really love AHA’s dedication to ending all barbaric practices. I hope that there will be a day when humanity can say that they don’t even remember a time when abuses like these used to flourish. There will be a day when we end FGM.
Jaclyn Soneff, Colorado
Rarely is there a book that truly changes one’s world view. ‘Infidel’ was one of those books for me. In 2014, I read Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s book and proceeded to buy three copies for my family as well as touting her amazing journey and intellect to anyone who would listen. Her strength, perseverance and advocacy for women’s and children’s rights is truly inspirational.
Nicole Vanderheiden, New Hampshire
2020 has been a hurricane of a year that I suspect will go down as a pivotal point in history. This hurricane will carry over into the beginning of 2021, and regrettably, there will be more hardships as a result. But we have learned many valuable lessons.
At AHA Foundation, we have found that we can work effectively with state legislators sponsoring bills to end FGM and child marriage without always traveling there to testify and educate politicians. We have learned that we can expand our campus program, the Critical Thinking Fellowship, through online trainings and that our webinars can reach even more students than our previous on-campus events. We have learned that we can build a large network of committed activists online, not only in person.
These discoveries have opened new frontiers for our work. In 2021, we will take all these lessons and apply them so that we can become even more efficient and productive in reaching our goals. Eleven states and the District of Columbia still need laws to ban FGM. We will work to get those laws passed. Laws to end child marriage still need to be passed in 46 states, the District of Columbia and in our federal visa criteria. But laws are only the first step.
Training medical providers and other professionals about how to identify these abuses, work towards their prevention, and respond appropriately are our next undertakings. We will continue to raise awareness and call for action on social media and we will be hosting webinars on FGM for the American Bar Association and the American Medical Association.
The Critical Thinking Fellowship Fellowship Program is growing faster despite the pandemic, and in 2021, we hope to double the number of fellows and exceed 1,000,000 views on social media platforms.
The vision we pursue and the programs we promote are not partisan. The COVID-19 crisis has not deterred us! The word for ‘crisis’ when written in Chinese is made up of two characters: danger and opportunity. AHA Foundation understands the danger in this crisis. Many more girls are at heightened risk! Debates on college campuses have been put on hold. The tragedies in Paris and Vienna demonstrate that extremists won’t stop during a pandemic.
But, we have seized many opportunities during 2020 and we are even better prepared to increase our work and expand our programs in 2021. Join with us by sharing your resources, writing to your legislators, sharing our vision and programmatic content online and by word of mouth! And thanks again for your support!