Feats and frustrations: 2019 developments in the battle against FGM

A major setback at the federal level after the Department of Justice declines to appeal the recent U.S. v. Nagarwala ruling, while state-level victories show a push to ban FGM across the nation.

The months leading in to 2019 have brought both progress and disappointment. With an immense sense of hope and gratitude, we are excited to report a number of legislative successes in our effort to ban FGM in all 50 states. Recent developments at the federal level, however, have tempered our enthusiasm and have compelled us to deliver a critical message – in the battle against FGM, there are still many hurdles to overcome. It is imperative that we find courage in our triumphs and remain undeterred in the face of new challenges. We are asking our supporters to join us and take action in this fight.

The impact of our legislative and policy outreach is unmistakable. Already this year, Arkansas, Idaho, and Utah, have all passed and signed into law female genital mutilation (FGM) criminalization bills. This brings the number of states with anti-FGM legislation to 31.

For over a decade, AHA Foundation has worked persistently to pass comprehensive laws that would ban FGM around the country.

Both Arkansas and Utah based their bills on our model legislation and in each state, we worked closely and consistently with lawmakers throughout the legislative process. In Idaho, we worked with a dedicated AHA Foundation board member to educate and advise numerous legislators and community organizations on the importance and urgency of passing an FGM ban.

Though we celebrate these victories, there is still much work to do. We are deeply saddened to receive news this week that the U.S. Attorney General declined to challenge the most recent decision in the pivotal case United States v. Nagarwala. This was the first prosecution of an FGM practitioner under the federal anti-FGM law that was passed by Congress over 20 years ago. The case was dismissed on constitutional grounds in late 2018 by a district court judge who asserted that the ability to criminalize FGM rested with the states rather than federal authorities. Up to this point, an appeal was still possible.

AHA Foundation updated supporters as the trial progressed and worked with a talented team at White & Case to file an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief in support of the law after defense lawyers challenged its constitutionality. A successful prosecution of this case was critical not only in setting a legal precedent to protect at-risk women and girls, but also in sending a strong message that FGM will not be tolerated in the U.S.

We are disappointed and dismayed at the latest setback, but we are not discouraged. AHA Foundation will still undertake efforts to garner support for the federal anti-FGM ban, and we are calling on our supporters to do the same.

Your voice can make a difference. Contact your federal lawmakers and demand that Congressional action be taken to affirm the legitimacy and constitutionality of the federal FGM ban.

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This setback at the federal level further emphasizes why it’s critical that states take measures to protect women and girls at risk of FGM. Over a dozen states have proposed bills this year that would either ban FGM or strengthen existing anti-FGM laws. Our team is tracking the progress of each bill daily and continues to work with legislators, community groups, and professional organizations in an effort to yield even more breakthroughs in the months to come.

More than 91,000 girls in 19 states are at risk of FGM and not yet protected by state anti-FGM laws. Of the 31 states that have criminalized FGM, only three were assigned A-grades from AHA Foundation’s “State Grading Scale,” which measures the strengths and weaknesses of each state’s code. This means that most states that have passed FGM bans should work to strengthen existing laws and provide increased protections for girls and women.

The legislative successes that we have witnessed since the start of this year are truly remarkable. None of these successes or continued efforts are possible without your help. Renew your support for 2019.

Thanks to you, nearly 3,000 women and girls at risk of FGM in Utah, Arkansas, and Idaho are now better protected by laws in their state. Help us protect girls in the remaining 19 states have yet to criminalize the procedure.

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