ENDING FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION IN THE U.S.
ENDING CHILD MARRIAGE IN THE U.S.
CRITICAL THINKING FELLOWSHIP
UNITING AND AMPLIFYING ACTIVISM AGAINST ISLAMISM
IMPACT THROUGH MEDIA CAMPAIGNS
DIRECT SERVICES, TRAININGS AND OUTREACH
HEROES WHO MAKE OUR WORK POSSIBLE - DONOR AND SUPPORTER REFLECTIONS
HEROES ON THE GROUND - A SHOUTOUT TO OUR PARTNERS AND ALLIES
AHA FOUNDATION EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR GEORGE ZARUBIN LOOKS AHEAD
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Despite the continued disruption caused by the pandemic, AHA Foundation has adapted and our efforts, building on the momentum created in previous years, have remained strong and relentless. Both in-person and virtually, we have been leading the push for strong legislation against FGM in various states.
More than 5000* girls protected
We fought alongside Senator Elizabeth Brown to pass a strong anti-FGM bill in Indiana. This law contains vital educational and outreach components and protects more than 5,000 women and girls at risk of, or living with, FGM. Senator Brown worked tirelessly to ensure no compromises were made that would weaken the bill and it was eventually passed unanimously: a feat almost unheard of in modern politics.
We supported and sought to strengthen legislation that was introduced in Mississippi; unfortunately, both the Senate and House bills died in committee.
We galvanized a survivor-led Coalition to End FGM/C in Connecticut. Although there was no progress in passing an anti-FGM bill this session, we will continue our efforts next year.
We strategized with Councilmember Mary Cheh, to introduce strong anti-FGM legislation, based on our model FGM bill, this session. If passed, the bill would protect almost 4,000 women and girls at risk of FGM in D.C.
Despite some successes at the state level this year, much work remains to be done. Only 10 states and the District of Columbia lack anti-FGM legislation. In 2022, we will continue important outreach in these states, with past sponsors as well as with new potential sponsors. We are urging legislators to step forward and introduce comprehensive anti-FGM bills that will not only criminalize the practice but will provide education and outreach to families, professionals and the community at large, and support for survivors.
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.”
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.
We accomplished a huge victory when New York became the sixth state to ban child marriage with no exceptions in August this year. This was one of AHA Foundation’s highest priorities in 2021 and has been in the works for many years. This law will protect thousands of children from being entered into child marriage. Tirelessly working with Unchained at Last and other members of the National Coalition to End Child Marriage, we held countless advocacy days to convince legislators to ban this dangerous practice immediately.
We contributed to another major victory in June when Rhode Island banned marriage under the age of 18 without exceptions. We were honored to attend the Governor’s signing of the bill in person after testifying virtually earlier in the year.
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.
Child marriage occurs right here in the U.S. at a rate that defies belief.
No child should be married off before they are a legal adult. No molester of children should be rewarded with the life of their victim. As adults, it is our job to protect the innocence of our children. We have to do better.
While we were waiting for our bus at the Greyhound station, we saw her relatives pull up and we ran into the ladies’ room. We were both violently grabbed by the neck and dragged out after two sets of locked doors were kicked in.
What was equally upsetting about the whole situation is that not one bystander at the bus station called the police as we were thrown screaming into the back of a windowless van. We were both put in a corner for hours while the perpetrators ‘went to get their guns’—all for enabling a child bride to escape.
In my work at AHA Foundation, I meet child marriage survivors who work tirelessly with us to make sure that what happened to them, does not happen to other girls. In a recent call with Michigan legislators, one child marriage survivor finished telling her story by saying, ‘I just wonder where all the girls [that were married as children] are now and what’s happened to them…’ Years of inaction have negatively impacted countless girls, and left thousands more at risk. Let’s make sure they aren’t left behind any longer.
One of the biggest reasons child marriage hasn’t been banned more universally is because people are largely unaware that it occurs. Education and advocacy are key in banning child marriage on a larger scale.
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.
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.
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.
How Can We End Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)? A survivor’s perspective featuring Nimco Ali.
Free Speech and Minority Rights: Perspectives of a Danish Blasphemer and an American Homosexual featuring Flemming Rose and Jonathan Rauch.
FGM/C The Hidden Practice That Changes Lives featuring F.A. Cole, Mariya Taher, Amanda Parker, and Dr. Lori Frasier.
Child Marriage in California featuring Fraidy Reiss and Amanda Parker.
Women as Agents of Change Against the Forced Hijab featuring Faisal Saeed Al Mutar and Masih Alinejad.
The Battle for Free Speech in the 21st Century featuring Flemming Rose
Speech restrictions are often used by authoritarian governments to imprison dissidents, and many people take it for granted that authoritarianism could never happen here. I hoped that starting a discussion might be a good way of challenging a climate where free speech is being censored for sensitivity.
I would like to express my deep gratitude to AHA Foundation’s supporters! Your support equips us with the necessary tools to promote issues that are not discussed in mainstream media. Because of your help, we are one step closer to having liberty for all!
With what I believe to be the evaporation of political heterodoxy and urgent human rights violations in Afghanistan, China, and around the world, I fear as a country we are losing our muscle. We see inaction as noble, a safe-space from making mistakes. I feel I must do something. I am honored and inspired to serve as a fellow for this foundation.
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.
At 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 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:
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
AHA Foundation is proud to be a leader in a national alliance to defend the rights of women and girls from the abuse of child and forced marriage. We are proud to be allied with:
Unchained At Last
The National Coalition to End Child Marriage, where AHA Foundation sits on the steering committee.
The New York Coalition
The Michigan Coalition
The Massachusetts Coalition
The Connecticut Coalition
The Illinois Coalition
The Vermont Coalition
The Connecticut Coalition
AHA Foundation is also a member of the Girls Not Brides U.S. Partnership to End Child Marriage.
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.