'International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM' a first step that falls short
Today has been recognized by the UN as "International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM." Female genital mutilation has been performed on 200 million women worldwide. Most FGM is performed in African countries, but there are several Middle East countries where the barbarity is not unknown.
Most countries have banned FGM, but the practice continues as authorities in many nations turn a blind eye. It's been referred to as a "cultural practice" by some Muslim and African animist sects but has much more to do with controlling female sexuality than it does a ritualistic practice.
Lest anyone think that FGM only affects women in third world countries, a case in Michigan involving a doctor, Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, who has performed dozens of mutilations for the local Muslim Bohra sect, has highlighted the shortcomings of campaigns against the practice.
A judge in the case recently dropped sexual assault charges against the defendant.
According to the group, EndFGMToday, Judge Bernard Friedman's decision to drop the sexual assault count of the indictment against Dr. Nagarwala is a setback for those advocating for the millions of women and girls physically and emotionally scarred for life as a result of this barbaric practice.
In early 2017, Dr. Nagarwala, an Indian-American physician in Detroit, Michigan, became the first person charged under the United States law criminalizing female genital mutilation.
According to EndFGMToday, Nagarwala and her alleged conspirators are associated with the Muslim sect Dawoodi Bohra, which authorizes the horrific practice on their young daughters.
Nagarwala has been charged with conspiracy, genital mutilation, transporting minors with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, lying to a federal agent and obstructing an official proceeding. If convicted, she could face up to life in prison.
"We are very disappointed and troubled by the Court's dismissal of Count 6 of the indictment," attorney Elizabeth Yore, international child advocate and head of the EndFGMToday initiative, said in a press release.
"The Court, in its legalistic scrupulosity, argued that the government offered no convincing argument showing that the phrase 'sexual activity,' as used in the federal transportation of minors statute § 2423(a), is synonymous with the phrase 'sexual conduct,' as used in § 750.520b(1)(a)," she said.
"We are perplexed by the Court's mind-numbing analysis," Yore continued. "The victims, in this case, did not have their ears, nose or face mutilated, rather the defendants intentionally mutilated the genitals, the sexual organs of little girls, by penetrating them. The Court found that although FGM was a criminal act, it was not 'criminal sexual activity.' Because the transportation statute did not specifically define sexual activity, the court found that this statutory omission voided the charge."
This means that several of the more serious charges will be dropped. Most of the victims are from other states and were transported to Michigan for the sole purpose of having FGM. Now, the doctor will probably be able to plead guilty to lesser charges.
But it is women themselves who are spearheading the anti-FGM effort, many of them victims of the practice. In Virginia, controversy erupted when an Imam defended FGM.
Given all the taboos involved, FGM isn’t an issue most US Muslim communities address unless they’re forced to. That was the case with Dar al-Hijrah last spring when the imam, Shaker Elsayed, offered religious justification for the “circumcision” of women and girls. In countries that have banned the practice, he warned during a lecture, “hypersexuality takes over the entire society and a woman is not satisfied with one person or two or three.”
His words turned Dar al-Hijrah into a battleground for a new movement — led by Muslim women, some of them self-described “survivors” of the practice — to break US Muslims’ silence on FGM. That fight is complicated by the politics of the moment, with the #MeToo campaign urging women to air their grievances at the same time an anti-Muslim climate makes it hard to speak up.
The activists themselves differ on the best approach, with some pushing to quietly educate communities about the health risks and others ready to name and shame Muslim leaders who fail to fully reject FGM, which right-wing groups falsely portray as part of mainstream Islam. Muslim leaders, meanwhile, say they welcome dialogue but resent the outside agitation on a sensitive issue for a congregation that spans generations and cultural traditions. The factions are talking, but at Dar al-Hijrah, as in Muslim communities throughout the country, the FGM conversation isn’t over. It’s only just beginning.
“If it was up to me, I’d have the imam sit down with five or so survivors and hear the ramifications of these practices,” said 29-year-old FGM survivor Aissata M.B. Camara, whose New York-based nonprofit campaigns against ritual cutting. “If we don’t do these things, I don’t think we can end FGM. We have to break the silence and have these uncomfortable conversations.”
Complicating matters immensely is that some devout women Muslims actually support FGM. Their support in Virginia was cited when the imam's mosque condemned his remarks but allowed him to maintain his position.
It simply isn't enough to make FGM illegal. So the notion of "zero tolerance" is an empty one. Unfortunately, for change to happen, there must be cultural evolution, since revolution appears to be out of the question. And that could take decades which will condemn millions of little girls to a life that no human being should have to live.