United States: Protect Women and Girls from Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

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Date: 
20 Jul 2015

TAKE ACTION NOW! << Click on this link to send all letters below online.

1 FEBRUARY 2016 UPDATE: In January 2016 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finally published the long-awaited study on the number of women and girls affected by FGM in the U.S.  According to the study, an estimated 513,000 women and girls in the U.S. have undergone or are at risk of being subjected to FGM! This is more than three times higher than an earlier estimate based on 1990 data.

There is good news, however. The government is putting resources towards the cause as a vital step towards protecting at-risk girls and to support women and girls already affected. In January, the HHS Office on Women’s Health (OWH) announced a new grant opportunity: The Female Genital Cutting (FGC) Community-Centered Health Care and Prevention Project. HHS will award three to six grants totaling $2 million to address the gaps or problems in FGM-related health care services for women living the U.S. who have undergone FGM, and to address the prevention of FGM for girls who are at risk.

Momentum to address FGM at the state level in the U.S. is also growing. Washington, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania all have pending legislation to ban FGM in their states. Equality Now submitted written testimony in support of the bill for the 27 January House Committee on Public Safety hearing (can be viewed here starting at 12:00). While we are encouraged by the progress, we still need your support. Please continue to call on the U.S. Administration to prioritize ending FGM!


2 NOVEMBER 2015 UPDATE: On 20 October, the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues, Catherine Russell, responded to our group letter with Girls Not Brides USA, the FGM Network to Address FGM in the U.S., and the National Forced Marriage Working Group, to step up U.S. government efforts to address female genital mutilation and 'child marriage'. On behalf of President Obama, she detailed the initiatives that government agencies are taking to protect and empower adolescent girls domestically and internationally, and re-iterated Administration's commitment to working with civil society to end harmful practices.

"[P]lease be assured that it [upcoming U.S. adolescent girls' strategy] will consider the needs of adolescent girls both globally and domestically and will provide guidance to the U.S. embassies on their role in preventing U.S. citizens' being subjected to harmful practices. We thank you for raising these issues and for the important work that you and others are doing. We welcome your valuable contributions to the worldwide effort to end these harmful practices, and we look forward to continuing to work with you."

Read the full letter here.


In the U.S., up to 507,000 women and girls have undergone or are at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM). Typically, women and girls are subjected to FGM before moving to the U.S., or if born in the U.S., they could be in serious danger of being subjected to it during vacations to their families’ countries of origin -- a practice known as “vacation cutting.” With the closing of U.S. schools for the summer, we are right now in the middle of this dangerous “cutting season.”

Performed around the world -- most often on girls under the age of nine -- FGM involves the removal and damage of healthy normal female genital tissue for non-medical reasons, leading to severe and lifelong health consequences, and sometimes, death. It is frequently rationalized as a rite of passage into womanhood and a prerequisite to marriage, but in reality, is a human rights violation used to control girls’ and women’s sexuality.

Federal U.S. laws and policies recognize FGM as an extreme form of violence against women and girls, and in 2014 the government publicly re-committed to ending FGM domestically and abroad. Since then, several U.S. agencies, including the Departments of Health and Human Services, Justice, Education, Homeland Security  and State have taken steps to live up to these commitments and raise awareness on the issue. We applaud these efforts of those agencies and want to make sure that the work to protect at-risk women and girls continues during this Administration and beyond.

TAKE ACTION NOW! Momentum to end FGM in a generation is growing globally and the United States has the real opportunity take the movement forward.

Eliminating FGM in the U.S. requires a comprehensive government-wide strategy that includes continued engagement with survivors, diaspora and local civil society organizations; education and provision of support and services to survivors at federal, state and local levels; and sustainable Congressional funding. Federal agencies also need to encourage and support state efforts to end FGM at local levels. Currently, only 24 states have a law against FGM, and not all of them have closed the loophole for “vacation cutting.” States need to enact and strengthen laws to reflect federal law so that at-risk women and girls can access protections and support at local levels.

What You Can Do: 

TAKE ACTION NOW! << Click on this link to send all letters below online.

Please join Equality Now and Safe Hands for Girls in calling to protect at-risk women and girls in the U.S. and to ensure much-needed support and services for those living with the consequences of FGM.

  • Call on President Obama and all relevant federal agencies to ensure efforts to address FGM are sustainable in the long-term.
  • If you live in the United States, check whether your state has a law against FGM. If not, please contact your state representatives and urge them to enact laws and policies in line with the federal anti-FGM law. Find your state representatives here and use our letter or one of your own.
  • Know the facts - learn more about FGM in the U.S.
  • Help spread the word! Share this campaign and the following messages (you can also share messages from Equality Now’s Twitter and Facebook):

Letters should go to:

President Barack Obama
Office of the President
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
United States of America
Email: president@whitehouse.gov
Twitter: @BarackObama

Cc:
Tina Tchen, Executive Director, White House Council on Women and Girls (cwg@who.eop.gov)
Caroline “Carrie” Bettinger-Lopez, White House Advisor on Violence Against Women (vaw@ovp.eop.gov)
Sylvia Mathews Burwell, Secretary of Health and Human Services (Sylvia.Burwell@hhs.gov)
León Rodríguez, Director, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Department of Homeland Security (Public.Engagement@uscis.dhs.gov)
Teresa McHenry, Chief, Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section, Department of Justice (teresa.mchenry@usdoj.gov)
Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education (arne.duncan@ed.gov)
Cathy Russell, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues (keittvp2@state.gov)

Letters: 

Dear President Obama,

I thank you for, and also urge you to continue, your work to protect women and girls in the U.S. who are at risk of  or who are living with the consequences of female genital mutilation (FGM). FGM—the cutting or removal of external female genitalia—violates girls’ and women’s rights to equality, life, security, dignity, and freedom from discrimination and torture. According to a 2016 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study, up to 513,000 girls and women in the U.S. have undergone or are at risk of being subjected to FGM!

The U.S. made several commitments to address FGM domestically and abroad, and U.S. laws and policies recognize FGM as a human rights violation and extreme form of violence against girls and women. I applaud your efforts and those of other U.S. agencies to live up to those commitments and to end FGM in the U.S. I also want to make sure that the work to protect at-risk women and girls continues during this Administration and beyond. Eliminating FGM in the U.S. requires a comprehensive government-wide strategy that will last beyond this administration. Each of the agencies working to address FGM also need sustainable Congressional funding in order to continue their efforts, including engaging with survivors, diaspora and local civil society organizations, as well as encouraging and supporting state efforts to end FGM at local levels across the U.S.

I urge you to protect at-risk women and girls in the U.S. and to provide much-needed support and services for those living with the consequences of FGM, all sustainable in the long-term.

Thank you for your attention.

Yours sincerely,



Letter to state representatives:

Dear   ,

I urge you to stand up for women and girls in your state and ensure they are protected from female genital mutilation (FGM). FGM—the cutting or removal of external female genitalia—violates girls’ and women’s rights to equality, life, security, dignity, and freedom from discrimination and torture. According to a 2016 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study, up to 513,000 girls and women in the U.S. have undergone or are at risk of being subjected to FGM.

U.S. laws and policies recognize female genital mutilation (FGM) as a human rights violation and extreme form of violence against girls and women. Legislation criminalizing the practice as well as taking a child outside the country to perform it – a practice known as “vacation cutting” – coupled with education and awareness raising are critical in order to protect women and girls in the U.S. who are at risk of FGM or who are living with its consequences in the U.S.

Federal law prohibits performing FGM in the U.S. or vacation cutting. But currently only 24 states have a law against FGM, and not all of them have closed the loophole for “vacation cutting.” I call on you to review your state’s legislation to ensure your state’s law is in line with federal law and also that your state’s policies provide for education and awareness raising on FGM at the local level. If needed, please take the lead in drafting and introducing relevant legislation to strengthen your state’s laws and policies so that at-risk women and girls can access protections and support at local levels. This will send a strong message that your state is committed to protecting human rights and preventing violence against women and girls.

Thank you for your attention.

Yours sincerely,