This Saturday (February 6th) is the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) to mark the atrocity that millions of young women and girls around the globe are victims of or at risk for FGM.
Unfortunately, today there still seems to be tolerance for this human rights abuse—even, shockingly, in the United States.
Female genital mutilation refers to the partial or total removal of the female external genitalia for nonmedical reasons. There are no health benefits to this practice, and it inflicts lifelong consequences upon its victim. Female genital mutilation is violence against women at its worst.
More than 200 million young women around the world have been subjected to this violence. It occurs most commonly in Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Asia.
It also occurs in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 507,000 women in the U.S. have experienced or are at risk of mutilation.
American young women and girls received some good news at the beginning of this year. The Stop Female Genital Mutilation Act of 2020 became law in January. This critical federal legislation offers protection to so many vulnerable women and girls in the decades to come.
The new law provides for a strong penalty of 10 years for those who carry out this heinous procedure. It also mandates that female genital mutilation rates and risks must be monitored and reported on by federal agencies that can increase awareness and prevention.
The bipartisan legislation should be an example of putting people ahead of politics. Party lines shouldn’t exist when it comes to the safety of vulnerable young girls. This same notion should prevail in every state in America. Sadly, it does not.
Unfortunately, there are still 11 states without explicit protection for girls at risk of female genital mutilation: Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Alaska, Alabama, Mississippi, Nebraska, Indiana, Washington, Montana, and New Mexico. Without legislation on the books, the young women in those states are simply in greater danger.
Furthermore, those states (unintentionally) invite the trafficking of girls from the other 39 states into their borders to have the procedure done.
Some might question whether it’s still necessary for the remaining 11 states to outlaw the practice, now that FGM is punishable under federal law. But, just as with murder and other violent crimes, state codes should include a prohibition of this violent practice so that state law enforcement and medical personnel can more easily detect, report, and act on instances of FGM, and so that state courts can prosecute offenders as well.
State leaders should also identify education and outreach opportunities within their communities most at risk for FGM. They have to set aside resources to train those who will be on the front lines detecting this abuse. But first, governors and legislators in these eleven states need to pass a law protecting their girls.
On this Zero Tolerance Day, Americans should resolve to protect its young girls in every state and urge their political leaders to get to work.
February 6th is the perfect day to begin.