Kenya Takes Aim at Female Genital Mutilation, Why Doesn’t the U.S.?

This week, Kenya took aim at female genital mutilation (FGM) with two critical steps.  Separately, a group of Maasai men and a group of Muslim leaders have taken a stand against this harmful practice.  These two groups are particularly invaluable in eliminating this violent procedure due to the influence they hold over the key players.
Many tribal communities in Africa still wrongly believe that FGM is an integral part of being a good and faithful Muslim.  This practice, while mentioned in the texts of Islam, is not sanctioned by the religion and is instead a cultural practice.  Due to the misconception held by many rural communities, it is crucial that Muslim leadership speak out to inform the public that it is not a practice that is sanctioned by Islam.  This week, in Kenya, Muslim clerics are doing just that.
Another key player in the fight against FGM has to be men.  One primary reason for female circumcision is for the girl in question to be seen as “marriageable.”  In many African communities, presenting a dowry to the girl’s father as a “bride price” is still common and is viewed as an important source of revenue for the family.  If the men in the community further the stigma against women who are uncircumcised by refusing to marry anyone who has not undergone the procedure, the parents of female children will have financial motivation to have their girls cut.  Finding a “good marriage” for their daughters is also seen as providing for her future stability and welfare.  For these reasons, we were particularly excited to hear about the men of the Maasai tribe speaking out against the practice.  If men shift the stigma so that the women who are more desirable for marriage are the ones who have not been cut, families will be motivated both financially and by the welfare of their daughters, to abstain from this barbaric practice.
While strides are being made in Kenya, so far, the United States is seeing no such progress.  Though there is a federal law prohibiting FGM, there are only state laws against this brutal act in 19 states.  Additionally, and perhaps most frightening, is it is not illegal to take your daughter overseas to have the procedure done in another country.  Let us be clear, it is legal to take your daughter, a US citizen, overseas to have her genitals removed.
Due to civil war and violence in many parts of Africa, we are seeing increasing numbers of people from countries that traditionally practice FGM moving into the US.  More than 90% of women are circumcised in Egypt, Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea – and the list goes on.  As those populations move in large numbers to the US, it is increasingly important that we pass laws to protect women and girls here from this harmful, sometimes fatal practice.
Because of this, the AHA Foundation fully supports the Girls Protection Act of 2011, which would make it illegal to take a girl overseas for FGM.  We urge you to help us get this important piece of legislation passed by contacting your representatives to voice your support.  You can do so using our legislative outreach tool here.