News / USA

US Activist Defends Immigrant Women Against Gender-Based Violence

Layli Miller-Muro's Tahirih Justice Center has protected more than 10,000 women and girls

Multimedia

Audio

Layli Miller-Muro(seated) successfully litigated on behalf of Fauziya Kassindja, who would have faced female genital mutilation before she was granted asylum in the US.
Layli Miller-Muro(seated) successfully litigated on behalf of Fauziya Kassindja, who would have faced female genital mutilation before she was granted asylum in the US.

Layli Miller-Muro wasn't even out of law school before she helped litigate a case that revolutionized asylum law in the United States.

The case involved Fauziya Kassindja, a 17-year-old girl who fled the West African country of Togo to avoid a tribal practice known as female genital mutilation.

Miller-Muro sought asylum for Kassindja on the grounds that, if her client were to return to Africa, she would almost certainly be subjected to the painful and medically dangerous circumcision.  

Legal precedent

After several set-backs, Miller-Muro finally won her case and in 1996, Kassindja was granted asylum by the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals.

"As a result of this case that I helped litigate, which went all the way up to the highest immigration court in the United States, the legal doors opened to what we now call gender-based asylum law in the United States," says Miller-Muro.

Gender-based violence, she says, can be defined in a number of ways:

"Women may be facing gender-based violence if they're suffering domestic violence, if they are subject to human trafficking, or slavery, if they are facing an honor crime, or an honor killing."

After the victory

After winning their case, Miller-Muro and Kassindja wrote a book about their experiences called "Do They Hear You When You Cry?" that was published in 1998. Miller-Muro used all of her portion of the proceeds from the book to start the Tahirih Justice Center, a non-profit organization that provides free legal services to women and girls fleeing human rights abuses from all over the world.

Named after a legendary women's rights advocate from the 19th century, the center has helped protect more than 10,000 women and girls from gender-based violence since its doors opened in 1997.

Creating the Tahirih Justice Center seemed like a natural progression for Miller-Muro, who grew up in the southern state of Georgia on the heels of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Her parents were deeply involved in social justice issues. Her mother worked for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change and both her parents were active in the Baha'i religious community.

Baha'i values

The Baha'i faith, founded in Iran in 1844, is among the world's fastest-growing religions. Its central theme, says Miller-Muro, is unity.

"The Baha'i faith believes very strongly, as a matter of its theology, in the importance of justice. It believes strongly in the equality of women and men, in the elimination of racism, in the elimination of the extremes of wealth and poverty and other kinds of values that made us very involved in the community," she says.

Those values resonated with Miller-Muro, both in theory, and in practice, throughout her childhood during the 1970s and 1980s. She and her family often socialized with families of different faiths and from different socio-economic backgrounds.

Justice for all

"So for example," says Miller-Muro, "I would have slumber parties at public housing projects. And I grew up acutely aware of inequality in American society. I became very conscious of racism in particular, and I developed - quite early on - a real passion for trying to address issues of inequity and injustice."

That passion intensified during a pre-college trip to Africa, where she witnessed overt violence against women.

She had never intended to focus on women's issues, says Miller-Muro, but the Kassindja case set her on that fateful path.

"I would say that the story of my involvement in this issue, and in particular the creation of the Tahirih Justice Center, is less a story of deliberate intent than a story of a vague intent to be able to contribute in some way to justice, and then doors opening to make that possible."

Layli Miller-Muro, (right), executive director of the Tahirih Justice Center, receives a 2010 BRAVA! Women Business Achievement Award.
Layli Miller-Muro, (right), executive director of the Tahirih Justice Center, receives a 2010 BRAVA! Women Business Achievement Award.

Honored optimist

Over the years, Miller-Muro has been the recipient of dozens of awards honoring her dedication to women and to her community.

SmartCEO magazine, a U.S.-based business publication, recently presented her with a BRAVA award for her exemplary leadership. Georgia Patton, senior projects editor for the magazine, says Miller-Muro's entrepreneurial spirit and her passion in creating the Tahirih Justice Center "really shows her commitment to social responsibility and to justice, and we felt that she also displayed an exemplary business acumen that really any CEO reading our publication could learn from."

Miller-Muro says that while the nature of her work can be quite depressing at times, her outlook - which is guided by her spiritual values - is a hopeful one.

"If you look at humanity over the past 100 years, you do see progress, you can see this process of questioning our values, improving our cultures, changing our systems, becoming more just and more fair; sometimes in the moment it's hard to see that, but if you look over time you can see this gradual improvement."

Layli Miller-Muro, founder of the Tahirih Justice Center in Washington, and a passionate advocate for the victims of gender-violence around the world, has already made a difference in the lives of thousands of women and girls, and hopes to be able to do even more in the years to come.

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Srebrenica Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs countermeasure at UN More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants 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.
Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prisoni
X
Heather Murdock
July 01, 2015 8:59 PM
As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs