2021 Annual Report: Heroes in Action

Heroes in Action

Table of Contents


George Zarubin, Executive Director

George Zarubin, Executive Director

My daughter and I love superhero movies. We race to the theater whenever a new film is released—Spiderman, Wonder Woman, Black Panther, Shang-Chi. These characters all have flaws and challenges to overcome, yet are always fighting for those who have been unjustly wronged. During the COVID pandemic, I think we have all felt the need for superheroes—whether fictional or real.

In our work at AHA Foundation, we are fighting for the survivors and girls at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM), honor violence, forced marriage and child marriage. Our founder Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who has dealt with many of these challenges herself and overcome them, is one of my superheroes. And she continues to try to make the world a better place—by calling out these abuses against girls and women, by directing attention to the underlying cultural causes, namely, the flawed ideology of political Islam, and by working to inspire and activate college students to join the fight against these dangerous practices.


Advocated for the federal anti-FGM ban that was ultimately signed into law by then-President Trump.
Spearheaded efforts that resulted in Indiana banning FGM due to our role as the national leader in anti-FGM advocacy.
Aided state-level efforts that resulted in two states banning child marriage.
Conducted training for frontline professionals on addressing and responding to FGM in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Organized six events with fellows on campuses across the country defending free speech and promoting critical thinking and women’s rights, with event recordings reaching around 800,000 people in over 50 countries worldwide to date.
Ayaan was published in world-renowned journals and magazines, featured on popular podcasts, launched her own podcast, and appeared in broadcast television interviews, panels, and discussions to promote AHA Foundation’s core issues and her latest book, Prey.
Established a Global Advisory Council made up of advocates, experts, and leaders united by the common goal of combatting Islamism.




A Historic Victory in the Battle to End FGM in the U.S. 

Congress passed the STOP FGM Act of 2020 on December 16 2021 and then-President Trump signed it into law on January 5 2021.

After more than two years in legal limbo, the federal ban against FGM in the U.S. was reestablished on January 5, 2021, when then-President Trump signed the STOP FGM Act of 2020 into law. This was one of the biggest ever legislative wins for AHA Foundation and all those who are committed to protecting women and girls from FGM in the U.S. It was also a testament to the power of bipartisan efforts; the legislation shows just what can be achieved when many organizations and legislators on all sides come together to defend women’s rights.

The federal law is now one of the biggest shields protecting thousands of women and girls from undergoing FGM. Still, we can and need to do more.

Heroes in the Fight Against FGM – Survivors, Advocates, and Legislators React to the STOP FGM Act of 2020


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.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, FGM survivor and AHA Foundation founder


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. I am filled with so much joy for so many girls that will be saved because of this law.

Jenny, FGM survivor and advocate from Kentucky


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.


Senator Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee


It’s certainly encouraging to see that we’ve made progress in eliminating the horrific practice of female genital mutilation. 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.

Senator Joni Ernst, Iowa



Disappointment at the Federal Level as Promising Legislation Stalls

Throughout 2021, we continued to support the Protecting Children Through Eliminating Visa Loopholes Act, which would make 18 the minimum age for receiving marriage-related immigration benefits. The bill was designed to close the 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. 

Although the bill was re-introduced by Representative Scott Perry in May, there has been no movement on the bill since then. This is disappointing, but AHA Foundation will keep pushing to get the legislation passed as quickly as possible, to protect women and girls from this abhorrent abuse. As our Director of Policy and Program Development Brooke Bumgarner put it: “one case of forced or child marriage is one too many.”


In the Battle to End Child Marriage, AHA Foundation Won’t Accept Compromise

This year has proven to be pivotal in the fight to end child and forced marriage: more states introduced legislation seeking to end this human rights violation than ever before. Working with our allies to educate legislators on the issue, AHA Foundation emphasized that protecting girls from this appalling practice must be an urgent issue for every state that still does not have legislation to stop this abuse. Before this year, only four states outlawed child marriage completely. We are proud to have supported 11 brightline bills (bills that would make the minimum marriage age 18, with no exceptions) in 2021. As a result, two more states were added to the list of states that ban all marriage under the age of 18, but clearly the fight is only just beginning. AHA Foundation will not rest until every single state bans child marriage without exception.

Heroes’ Voices – Breaking the Silence, Demanding Action Against Child Marriage

AHA Foundation amplifies the voices of survivors, advocates, legislators, and those at risk of child marriage because breaking the silence surrounding this barbaric practice happening in the U.S. is the first step in ending it. This work is even more important now, as we emerge from the pandemic that caused these abuses to become even more hidden from the public eye.

Onward and Upward: The Fight Goes On

Despite the great victories AHA Foundation achieved this year in New York and Rhode Island, child marriage is still legal in 44 states and the District of Columbia. This is unacceptable. There were nearly a dozen other strong bills introduced in 2021 and, inspired by our victories this year, we plan to continue the fight into 2022 and beyond, until every girl is safe from this abuse.



Breaking the Barriers to Free Speech and Critical Thinking on College Campuses

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.

CTF fellows organized six major events throughout North American college campuses this year. Due to the pandemic, these were mostly online. Virtual events were not only cost-effective, but the flexibility afforded by them allowed for more diverse speakers and greater audience reach. 

To date, CTF event recordings have a viewership of around 800,000 people, spanning over 50 countries worldwide, from France and Spain to Russia, China, Somalia, and Saudi Arabia. This is a testament to the power and appeal of the ideas of our founder, Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Overall, the Critical Thinking Fellowship has not only adapted to but thrived in face of challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.

CTF Training Programs

This year, CTF conducted two training programs for ten new and seven existing fellows. Our virtual winter training program featured prominent speakers including the women’s rights activists Masih Alinejad and Yasmine Mohammed, who escaped a forced marriage to a member of al-Qaeda and has since rallied against Islamists’ treatment of women.

We were happy to be able to complete our summer training program in person, at the historic Driskill Hotel in Austin, Texas. Throughout the weekend of July 30th, 17 of our campus fellows heard from past speakers, learned the basics of event planning, networked with other student leaders, and workshopped event ideas. Fellows learned from and engaged with experts who are on the frontlines of the fight for free speech and critical thinking, including human rights activist and founder of Ideas Beyond Borders Faisal Saeed Al Mutar and founder of Unchained at Last Fraidy Reiss, as well as AHA Foundation program experts.

By completing these trainings, our fellows showed that they are more than ready to start organizing events on their campuses to promote ideological diversity, activate college students, and inspire a movement of young people who believe in liberty for all.

CTF continues to recruit and onboard new fellows, including our first European fellow, as part of an experimental expansion to reach international colleges and universities.

Photos from our 2021 CTF summer training program at the historic Driskill Hotel, Texas.




To strengthen and magnify the work of our Coalescing Networks to Combat Islamist Ideologies program, launched in the Fall of 2019, AHA Foundation set up the Global Advisory Council this year. This council is made up of advocates, experts, and leaders from different backgrounds who are united by a common mission: to rid the world of Islamism, promote Enlightenment values, and combat extremism. The Global Advisory Council is the first of its kind and it aims to play a leading role in the global fight against extremism whose inauguration we hope will mark a turning point in the battle to defend Enlightenment values.

In December 2021, we held a virtual Working Group Meeting bringing together anti-Islamism advocates and activists, including Muslim reformers and ex-Muslims, to agree on core principles, branding, and strategy, and to plan a launch conference in 2022. 



In Books, Podcasts, and on TV, Ayaan Speaks Out on the Issues at the Heart of AHA Foundation’s Work

ahaAt the start of this year, Ayaan released her newest book, Prey: Immigration, Islam, and the Erosion of Women’s Rights. In turn, Ayaan’s appearances in the media grew significantly and she used those to raise awareness about issues AHA Foundation is fighting. Prey was reviewed by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, New Ideal, Areo Magazine, and The Jerusalem Post. It received acclaim from journalists including Megyn Kelly who wrote: “empathetic and authoritative, Ayaan Hirsi Ali demonstrates why we cannot let political correctness and apathy overwhelm our duty to protect women’s rights,” and from former Secretary of State and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Henry Kissinger, saying, “Prey warns us that if we do not rethink our philosophy for protecting women and children, we risk losing one of Western civilization’s most precious assets: the rule of law.”


Ayaan’s new podcast debuted in February through Apple Podcasts. Since then, Ayaan has interviewed more than 30 public figures. In many of these podcasts, Ayaan and her guests discuss issues AHA Foundation fights on:

In the first episode, Ayaan talked about threats to freedom of speech with world-renowned neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris.
With sociologist Ruud Koopmans, Ayaan discussed the dangers of fundamentalism.
With Detective Chris Boughey, Ayaan shed light on honor violence in the U.S.

With journalist Flemming Rose, Ayaan talked about free speech and blasphemy.
With journalist Nicholas Kristof, Ayaan discussed child marriage in the U.S.
With ex-Muslim Yasmine Mohammed, Ayaan spoke about the dangers of Islamism.

Ayaan in the Media: 2021 Highlights

On February 12, Ayaan discussed ideas from her new book Prey in a webinar hosted by the California Commonwealth Club with writer Bari Weiss.
On February 22, Ayaan appeared on The Jordan B Peterson Podcast to discuss Prey.
In March, Ayaan was on Condoleezza Rice’s Women’s Leadership and National Security panel broadcast on C-SPAN.
On March 2, Ayaan was interviewed by Joe Rogan on The Joe Rogan Experience, Spotify’s most-listened-to podcast; she described how her life experiences have shaped her views on free speech, women’s rights, and Islam.
On July 1, Ayaan discussed Prey in an event organized by the Hoover Institute’s Uncommon Knowledge series.
In July, Ayaan spoke at Freedom Fest 2021, giving a talk on the ‘clash of civilizations’ and participating in a debate on the global war against radical Islam.
In August, Ayaan filmed an infographic-style video for PragerU entitled “What Radical Islam and the Woke Have in Common.” In just a month since its posting, it had already been viewed 2 million times.
In August, Ayaan appeared on The Megyn Kelly Show to discuss Afghanistan and more.

Ayaan’s Published Articles

In June, Ayaan became a regular contributor for UnHerd, a London-based publication that focuses on free-thinking and has so far contributed over a dozen columns. Also this year, her essays were published in The Spectator, Areo Magazine, The Telegraph, the New York Post, The Dispatch, Fox News, The Hoover Digest, and The Wall Street Journal. In many of her articles, Ayaan addressed issues that AHA Foundation fights on. Some highlights include:

Why is child marriage legal in the West?’ in UnHerd.
How the West Has Turned a Blind Eye to the Exploitation of Women and Children’ in The Dispatch.
Safeguarding Freedom of Speech Will Require an Active Approach’ in Areo Magazine.


Despite continued disruption due to the pandemic, AHA Foundation has adapted its services and continued its essential work on the frontlines, both virtually and in person throughout 2021.


Direct Aid for Women and Girls at Risk

To date, AHA Foundation has helped over 360 individuals dealing with FGM, forced marriage, and honor violence through our email-based direct assistance helpline. Our heroes at the helpline—a team of mental health professionals—helped individuals from many countries in 2021, including the U.S., Egypt, Sudan, Ghana, and Afghanistan. 

Our helpline’s case manager, Egypt Leithman, outlines the vital work the team does: “We have provided assistance in fleeing from dangerous circumstances, relocating to safer spaces [and] helping to meet basic necessities, providing advocacy tools for survivors, and so much more.”

We are always honored to be part of the journey of the women and girls we work with, and will continue to act as a vital resource. 

As Egypt says: “I have had the privilege of interacting with the women and girls we have served and they have made clear how important our work was to their lives. Women and girls often confide that Ayaan’s story of bravery and courage has empowered them to reach out for help.”


Presentations, Outreach, and Other Programmatic Work

AHA Foundation Senior Director Amanda Parker presented virtually for a group of approximately 500 high school students at Menlo School in the Menlo Park area of California on the topic of FGM. She led a discussion on the reasons FGM is practiced, its prevalence in the U.S. and in California, and how youth can work to end the practice.
AHA Foundation also led a virtual presentation for the Hugoton Learning Academy, a middle and high school in Hugoton, Kansas, on harmful practices in the U.S. including honor violence, forced marriage, child marriage, and FGM. She also discussed with the students the steps they could take to join the fight against these human rights abuses.
AHA Foundation worked with gender-based violence researcher Sean Callaghan to produce sophisticated data analysis of FGM trends in the Salt Lake City metro area. Sean’s work continues to transform and strengthen our knowledge of FGM hotspots throughout the U.S. so that we can better identify and serve communities and individuals at risk of this abuse.
AHA Foundation conducted a training for social service professionals including counselors, social workers, and healthcare providers, outlining the information they need to support populations at risk of FGM in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The Department of Justice awarded a federal grant to AHA Foundation to conduct FGM training in Chicago over the next three years. This is our first federal grant.
The American Medical Association published our FGM awareness and prevention training on their continuing education website. This training is now available to medical professionals across the U.S.


Lisa Brett and Brooke Bumgarner, AHA’s Senior Consultant and Director of Policy and Program Development respectively, give an anti-FGM training in Salt Lake City, Utah.


With the gifts they gave us throughout 2021, they ensured our efforts did not skip a beat, despite the pandemic. Their cheers of support reminded us that our mission touches many hearts in the U.S. and beyond. They are our donors and supporters—the everyday heroes behind our work.


Reading Ayaan’s thoughtful book, Infidel, is what gave me confidence to disassociate from communities of literalists and choose healthier people of all cultures, faiths and no faiths.


Fatima Ali, ex-Muslim and women’s rights activist


I love and respect Ayaan Hirsi Ali so much. Many people in the Somali community hate her and threaten her, but she keeps fighting against FGM. She makes me want to raise awareness and empower individuals to share their stories and voices.


Sahara Ash, FGM survivor and advocate


By becoming involved with AHA Foundation, I wanted to give a voice to liberal values. I hope to make people aware that not all cultures have equally good ideas concerning women. Hiding behind the culture of diversity does not make harmful practices less dangerous.


Debra Coplan, AHA Foundation Board Member


Ayaan and AHA Foundation continue to recognize, address, and make impactful changes in the most crucial elements of our society—freedom to choose your destiny, freedom of bodily autonomy, and freedom to debate critical issues. Ayaan gracefully models the importance of fighting for these vital liberties.


George Vanderheiden, AHA Foundation donor


Our life-saving work against dangerous cultural practices, promoting free speech, and combating Islamism is all the more powerful thanks to collaborations with our partners and allies. We pay tribute to the following organizations and individuals for their contributions to our impact in 2021:

With Unchained at Last we have campaigned to outlaw child marriage across the country. This year, we worked with them to successfully ban this abuse in New York and Rhode Island. Their founder Fraidy Reiss has appeared at CTF events, discussing her own background of forced marriage and her campaigns to defend women and girls today.
Our friends at Ideas Beyond Borders (IBB), founded by Faisal Saeed Al Mutar, promulgate Enlightenment values across the world, and are, like us, dedicated to defeating Islamism by education and advocacy. With IBB, we empower students to think independently, promote free speech and women’s rights, and combat Islamism through our Critical Thinking Fellowship. Faisal also helped to train CTF fellows in Austin, Texas this summer.
With Heartland Health Centers (HHC) and Forma Psychological Services, AHA Foundation has pioneered a new program to provide frontline professionals in Chicago with training about FGM. This year, we received federal funding for three years for this program.
Apart from those we have named here and in the previous section, there are so many people and organizations we are honored to work with on these vital issues—but it’s impossible to name them all! So to everyone we have worked with this year, from legislators, survivors, advocates, and like-minded groups, consider this a personal THANK YOU from all of us at AHA Foundation.

Fraidy Reiss (foreground), founder of Unchained At Last, at a child marriage protest in New York, August.

Faisal and George with CTF Fellow Hanna Nour at the CTF summer training in Austin.


Heroes inspire action. So in 2022, the team at AHA Foundation looks forward to pushing forward with our heroes and partners and working with legislators in the remaining 10 states, plus the District of Columbia, which lack legislation to protect girls from FGM. At this time, legislators from D.C. and Mississippi have agreed to work with us to introduce versions of AHA’s model FGM bill. Meanwhile, we continue to push for brightline child marriage bills in the remaining 44 states and the District of Columbia, as well as in our federal spousal and fiancée visa laws, which are lacking protections for girls from forced marriage.

Exciting doors have also opened for AHA Foundation as a result of our being awarded a three-year federal grant to conduct FGM training in high-risk communities in Chicago. We will also be conducting FGM awareness and prevention trainings in Los Angeles and D.C.

We are especially inspired by our Fellows on campuses, who promoted taboo conversations about women’s rights and the threat of political Islam. In 2022, we hope to expand our campus program to multiple additional campuses, so that Ayaan’s voice and other activists like her can create dialogue at universities on topics that are seldom discussed.

In 2022, we will be celebrating the 15th anniversary of Ayaan’s work through AHA Foundation to change the lives of women and girls and to rally people around the banner of critical thinking and free speech. More than ever, we want to expand our reach, engage with our partners and cheer with our supporters, who have been so critical to our work. Every individual in these groups, from the AHA Foundation team and the speakers on our campus program to the counselors and advocates protecting girls and the folks who give their resources – every one of you is a HERO!

Be strong! Be constant! Help us continue with this noble fight! Onwards.