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

Video Protests Continue in Ferguson, Spread to Other US Cities

Missouri officials say deployment of more than 2,000 National Guard soldiers helps curb second night of rampant arson and looting in Midwestern town More

Video Ebola, Crackdown on Illegals Hit Business in Guangzhou

Chinese city has largest community of Africans in Asia More

Video Legendary Lebanese Actress, Singer Sabah Dies at 87

Music and film diva, affectionately called 'Sabbouha' by millions of her fans, performed at Carnegie Hall in New York, Royal Albert Hall in London, Olympia in Paris, Sydney Opera House in Sydney More

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.
Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Changei
X
November 24, 2014 10:09 PM
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid