News / USA

    Law Helps Immigrants Facing Female Circumcision

    Proposed legislation would aid females fleeing gender-based persecution gain asylum in US

    The mother of sisters Sainey, Innakumba and Victoria (from left) sought asylum in the United States to keep her daughters from being subjected to female mutilation.
    The mother of sisters Sainey, Innakumba and Victoria (from left) sought asylum in the United States to keep her daughters from being subjected to female mutilation.

    Multimedia

    Audio

    Gender-based violence is a problem facing millions of women worldwide.

    Forced marriage, honor killing and female genital mutilation are just a few of the human rights abuses directed against women solely because of their gender.

    In the United States, a number of organizations are trying to help women who are trying to flee their country to escape this gender-based persecution, using the judicial system to help them get asylum.

    Now, legislation recently introduced in the U.S. Congress aims to strengthen current asylum laws for immigrant women, which will be of tremendous assistance to these groups.

    Protection against Gender-Based Violence

    One of the organizations that will benefit from passage of these new laws is the Tahirih Justice Center, a privately-funded organization that has assisted more than 10,000 women and girls since its inception in 1997.

    Layli Miller-Muro, the group's founder and executive director, says gender-based violence is not unique to any religion, culture or society. It's prevalent throughout the world, she says, including the United States.

    "Unfortunately, it is quite an epidemic and there is no shortage of creative forms of violence against women or women and girls needing help."

    One form of violence Miller-Muro's center deals with on a regular basis is "female genital mutilation" - or FGM. 

    Layli Miller-Muro's Tahirih Justice Center has assisted 10,000 women and girls facing gender-based violence.
    Layli Miller-Muro's Tahirih Justice Center has assisted 10,000 women and girls facing gender-based violence.

    It is also known as "female genital cutting" or "female circumcision."

    Yaye's story

    Yaye, a 36-year-old woman from a West African country she prefers not to identify, is one of the center's clients. She was subjected to  FGM as a baby.

    While she doesn't remember the details of her own mutilation, Yaye was present during numerous circumcision ceremonies when other girls in her village were forced to undergo the procedure.

    She says that, during a circumcision ceremony, all the village girls - everyone from newborns to adult women - are
    rounded up into a big room and subjected to cutting, one at a time.

    "There is a mat on the floor and somebody [will] sit behind you and hold your head, then the other will hold your legs, two people hold your hands and the lady will cut you," says Yaye.

    The procedure is normally performed by a midwife, or the village matriarch, who uses no anesthetic and typically uses a razor blade to cut part - or all - of the female genitalia.

    Once all the girls are forcefully cut, says Yaye, they are placed in a room  with a piece of cloth between their legs, where they will remain for several days.

    "Every day they will come and check you: take you to the bathroom because you can't even walk. It will take weeks before you start walking," she says.

    'Yaye' successfully sought asylum in the US after arguing that her three young daughters faced female circumcision if they returned to her African homeland.
    'Yaye' successfully sought asylum in the US after arguing that her three young daughters faced female circumcision if they returned to her African homeland.

    Getting help in the U.S.

    Yaye left her country about 10 years ago when a forced marriage brought her to the United States.

    She endured an abusive relationship during which time she gave birth to three girls. Soon after giving birth, Yaye says she started receiving letters from her relatives in Africa, urging her to bring her girls home so that they could be cut.

    Yaye told her relatives that "there's no way" she was going to send back her kids.

    "I believe a mother is supposed to protect their child. That's what I believe and I will do anything to protect my kids.
    There's no way I will let my kids go through whatever I go through," she says.

    FGM is an excruciatingly painful procedure. One third of all girls subjected to the ritual suffer major, lifelong medical complications, according to a recent study out of Kenya. Many others die from blood loss immediately following the cutting.

    According to Yaye, death from FGM procedures are not taken seriously in her village.

    "When they get you and cut you, you might bleed to death. It's not a big deal to them. It's just an accident."

    Pressure from fellow villagers to comply with this deeply-embedded tradition is enormous. If mothers try to protect their daughters from being cut, women from the village - including family members - will kidnap their daughters and force them to undergo the procedure.

    "There is no way you can hide where I come from," says Yaye, "because it's [a] very small country and even when you run away, they will get you."

    A way out

    Now divorced and facing possible deportation, Yaye was not sure who to turn to for help, until a friend told her about the Tahirih Justice Center.

    Once she contacted them, the center took Yaye's case, assigning her an attorney and seeking asylum for her. They won their case, based on the argument that if she were to go back to her country, she would face violence for trying to protect her daughters. And if she took her daughters with her, they would be subjected to genital mutilation, despite her wishes.

    The Tahirih Center's Layli Miller-Muro says Yaye's experience is just one manifestation of a much larger problem facing women around the world.

    "What we see in her case - which is very common among our clients - is that the fundamental issue they suffer is the lack of respect of women and the fundamental inequality of women and men," she says.

    New laws for immigrant women

    Legislation now pending in the U.S. Congress would strengthen current asylum laws for immigrant women like Yaye and her family who are fleeing gender-based persecution.

    Miller-Muro says if the law passes, it will be a tremendous help to the work of her center and others like it.

    "It would clarify that a wider range of types of violence against women are a viable basis for protection. It would help
    in the complicated legal analysis that we have to do right now in order to prove that protection," she says. "Also it would get rid of a very onerous burden for asylum seekers in the United States which is that they must file for protection under our laws within one year of arriving in the country."

    In the meantime, despite everything she has been through, Yaye is glad to have spoken up, and urges other women
    facing similar challenges, to also seek help.

    "Anybody's who's out there, get up and stand for yourself and fight really hard. If you have kids, fight for them; they need you," she says.

    After years of struggle, Yaye says she finally feels safe. And her daughters - now eight, six and four years of age - are happy and adapting well to life in the United States.

    You May Like

    Chechen Suspected in Istanbul Attack, but Questions Remain

    Turkish sources say North Caucasus militants involved in bombing at Ataturk airport, but name of at least one alleged attacker raises doubts

    With Johnson Out, Can a New ‘Margaret Thatcher’ Save Britain?

    Contest to replace David Cameron as Britain’s prime minister started in earnest Thursday with top candidates outlining strategy to deal with Brexit fallout

    US Finds Progress Slow Against Human Trafficking in Africa

    Africa continues to be a major source and destination for human trafficking of all kinds -- from forced labor to sexual slavery, says State Department report

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Eitheri
    X
    Jim Malone
    June 29, 2016 6:16 PM
    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora