Across at least 30 countries, more than 200 million girls and women alive today have been subjected to female genital mutilation, or FGM.
Worldwide, more than 3 million girls are estimated to be at risk every year of being subjected to the procedure, even though it is outlawed in 42 countries. The figures include girls and women in America, where since 1990, the estimated number of individuals who have undergone or are at risk of the practice has more than tripled to 600,000.
The increase is due to rapid growth in the number of immigrants from countries where risk of FGM is greatest. These girls and women are concentrated in California, New York and Minnesota, according to research done by CNN, which notes that U.S. statistics don’t distinguish between survivors of the practice and people at risk.
The District has long outlawed the practice.
Of the states in the top 10 for FGM risk to women and girls, four have no laws criminalizing the cruel and unnecessary practice, according to a Hamilton Strategies, a communications firm that serves faith-based ministries and nonprofits.
Elizabeth Yore, international child advocate and head of the national #EndFGMToday initiative, cites research by the Population Reference Bureau that outlines the 10 states with metro areas where FGM risks are the highest: New Jersey, Virginia, Minnesota, California, Washington, Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Massachusetts.
Of those, Washington, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts have no state laws protecting its female residents from this barbaric practice, Yore said.
Pennsylvania lawmakers said they are working toward that end.
“There’s no question that this horrendous act should be outlawed and the fact that there are no laws on the books making it illegal in Pennsylvania is simply unacceptable and disgusting,” said state Rep. Joanna McClinton, a Democrat who represents the 191st District that covers Delaware County and Philadelphia.
McClinton supports House Bill 413, which would ban the ritual across Pennsylvania, offer protection for victims and charge offenders with felonies.
“It’s 2018 and women should be treated with respect and dignity as equals, not animals,” she said. “While I’m confident the legislation would pass, it’s a matter of getting it up for a vote. Even though this seems like common sense, our Republican House Speaker sets the voting schedule and leaves Democrats with very little input. Nevertheless, that won’t stop me from giving victims of Female Genital Mutilation a voice. A woman’s body is her own, period. No one can take that right away.”
The AHA Foundation, which defends women’s rights, estimates that 19,000 women and girls in Pennsylvania are potentially at risk for female genital mutilation, which Democratic state Rep. Leanne Krueger-Braneky called a cruel, outdated practice.
“There’s no place for it here in Pennsylvania or anywhere else,” Krueger-Braneky said, noting that the House unanimously passed a bill that would prohibit the practice of FGM on minors. “It’s a long overdue step to better protect girls and women from this painful practice. This is just one step we need to better defend women and girls, and I’ll keep fighting to make sure we protect women and their rights.”
Republican Rep. Tom Murt of Montgomery County and Democratic Rep. Donna Bullock of Philadelphia co-authored HB 413, and Murt noted that the U.S. Department of State considers FGM not only a public health concern, but a human rights issue as the practice violates the right to a woman’s bodily integrity.
“I agree with the Department of State,” Murt said. “Women who are immigrants are at continued risk of the practice even thought they live in the United States, as religious and cultural beliefs follow the women to this country. My legislation prohibits the practice and grades the offense as a felony of the first degree.”
Each of the lawmakers said they hope to get the needed legislation passed and signed as soon as possible.
Advocates said that can’t happen soon enough.
“With important midterm elections just a few months away, legislators in these states should stand up and say they are committed to protecting women and girls from FGM by sponsoring a bill criminalizing this procedure,” Yore said. “This can and should be a bipartisan issue, as evidenced by the 27 states with laws already in place. Shockingly, however, lawmakers in Massachusetts, where risk in the Boston-Cambridge-Newton area is significant, squandered their chance to protect girls from FGM.”