AHA Foundation: When did you first learn about female genital mutilation (FGM) and specifically about this procedure taking place in the U.S.?
Rep. Maloney: I became passionate about FGM when a bill to criminalize the practice was first introduced to Congress in the early 1990s. I was horrified to hear that hundreds of thousands of girls were at risk of this grave human rights violation in the U.S. and the more I learned, the more I knew that Congress needed to send a clear and forceful message that FGM must be outlawed.
AHA Foundation: In April this year, you held a press conference with elected officials and advocates to condemn a decision made by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to not defend the federal law banning FGM. What were you trying to accomplish and what has been the result of this effort?
Rep. Maloney: I held the press conference to raise awareness about FGM and to urge our government to protect women and girls at risk throughout our nation. The Trump administration chose not to defend legislation banning FGM, but Congress still has the authority to step in and do so. I wrote a letter to Speaker Pelosi urging her to act and, following the press conference, I learned that the House of Representatives filed a motion to defend the 1996 law and give considerable attention to this issue.
AHA Foundation: During your press conference, you addressed both the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and the federal law banning FGM. How are these two pieces of legislation connected?
Rep. Maloney: The federal district court ruling in Michigan confirmed that, without the ERA, Congress does not have the constitutional authority to permanently legislate on women’s issues or criminalize FGM. Judicial attitudes can shift and Congress can repeal existing legislation, like the 1996 FGM law, with a simple majority vote.
We need this amendment so that women’s rights are no longer subject to who sits on the Supreme Court, who controls Congress, or who occupies the White House. Without a Constitutional bedrock such as the ERA, protections for women are simply not guaranteed.
AHA Foundation: What kind of message is the DOJ sending to survivors of FGM and at-risk girls in the U.S. by choosing to not defend the federal law?
Rep. Maloney: The Trump administration’s decision not to protect women and girls from this horrific practice illustrates its unwillingness to fight for women, and it also sends a clear message that women’s rights can be chipped away far too easily.
AHA Foundation: What can supporters of AHA Foundation do to help ensure women are protected from FGM at the federal level?
Rep. Maloney: The best thing supporters of the AHA Foundation can do, is to urge their members of Congress to vote for legislation that protects women and urge them to support the ERA. We need more women and like-minded men in Congress that are not afraid to stand up for survivors and fight for women.
AHA Foundation: You have made a huge impact for women across the U.S. by supporting laws that promote gender equality. What drives your passion for these efforts?
Rep. Maloney: I have been passionate about equality from as early as I can remember. When I first started my career in politics, I remember thinking, “Where are the women?” It seemed like there were so many incredible barriers for women and we had to fight just to be respected.
Since my early days in politics, women have made incredible progress but unfortunately, there have been continuous efforts to roll back women’s rights in education, health, employment, and even domestic violence.
I am driven to keep fighting for equality, because I want to create a better world for future generations. I want young women to know that they are capable of anything. I want women everywhere to know that we deserve respect, we need fairness, and we need to be in the Constitution.
AHA Foundation is grateful to Representative Maloney for calling on Congress to defend the federal FGM ban which, when passed over 20 years ago, was geared to protect the more than 500,000 women and girls in the U.S. who are estimated to have survived or be at risk of FGM.
Please join our efforts by calling your federal legislators and asking them to safeguard girls from this horrific practice by upholding the federal ban on FGM.