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Girls & Women

US House Votes to Recognize FGM as a Human Rights Violation

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Why Global Citizens Should Care
Female genital mutilation is a harmful practice that stops women and girls around the world from reaching their full potential. Stopping gender-based violence requires calls to action from lawmakers like the US House of Representatives. You can join us in taking action this issue here

US lawmakers are stepping up to stop female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM).

FGM is the process of intentionally altering or injuring the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. The US House of Representatives passed a bipartisan resolution on Tuesday denouncing the practice and recognizing it as a human rights violation against women and girls.

Rep. Lois Frankel (D-FL) introduced the bill to protect women and girls from violence alongside Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA). The resolution passed with a 393 to 0 vote, which was cosponsored by 28 congress members, and it calls on the US government and international community to help fight the harmful practice. Ant-FGM advocates are thankful for the news.

Take Action: Not One More: Help Global Citizen End Female Genital Mutilation

"Today we're sending a clear message that every girl, no matter where she’s born, has a right to live free of violence,” Rep. Frankel said on Tuesday, according to Newsweek. Rep. Perry applauded Frankel on Tuesday for bringing FGM to the house’s attention.

Mariya Taher, member of the steering committee of the US End FGM/C Network — a group of nonprofits, activists, FGM survivors, and health care providers that aims to prevent the practice — told Global Citizen she sees the resolution as progress.

“The House passing this resolution and it being something that gained bipartisan support is a great step in the right direction, in recognizing this is a form of gender-based violence,” Taher said.

Read More: FGM Among US 

FGM is a cultural tradition practiced around the world and it is estimated that at least 200 million women worldwide have undergone the procedure. Since FGM is an issue that is often excused by cultures, Taher said the resolution helps clarify it is still harmful. 

“This bipartisan resolution recognizes that FGM/C is a gross human rights violation holding women and girls back from reaching their full potential," Rep. Frankel said. 

The practice is performed on girls as young as 7 years old and can have negative long-term effects. It is thought to help a young girl transition to adulthood and marriage but does just the opposite. FGM is an internationally recognized human rights violation that threatens women’s health — it causes severe bleeding, higher risk of HIV transmissions, infections, infertility, complications in childbirth, and an increased risk of newborn deaths. 

“FGM/C constitutes a violation of various fundamental human rights,” said Dr. Annemarie Middelburg, the founder and director of the Netherlands-based Middelburg Human Rights Law Consultancy, which aims to stop violence against women and girls.

“For example, the right to be free from gender discrimination; the right to the highest attainable standard of health; the right to physical and mental integrity; the right to life, when the procedure results in death; the right to freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; and the rights of the child,” she said.

Taher, who works with US-based FGM survivors who have undergone the procedure in the US or were born in the US and had it done elsewhere, said there’s a false perception that it can only happen in other countries. She’s seen it affect women of all different backgrounds and ethnicities and across socioeconomic and education levels. The procedure is criminalized in 32 states and has been federally illegal since 1996, but approximately 500,000 girls and women are at risk of FGM in the US, according to the Population Reference Bureau. Taher hopes the resolution can help educate people that FGM happens in the US while helping policymakers acknowledge that additional resources are needed to create prevention and outreach campaigns, and fund support programs for survivors. 

Middelburg also wants to see more than legislation and pointed out that FGM is prohibited by law in the majority of countries where the practice occurs.  

“Although having a law criminalizing FGM/C is an important step, a law alone will not be able to end the practice,” she said. “For it to be effective, it must be implemented and enforced and the law has to be accompanied by strategies that encourage positive social change in communities”