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

UN Watchdog Urges Israel to Probe Possible Gaza War Crimes

More than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed in a 51-day war in Gaza, along with 67 Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel More

New Kenyan 'Thin SIMs' Poised to Transform African Mobile Money

Equity's new technology is approved in African nation for one-year trial, though industry leader Safaricom says thin SIMs could lead to data theft and fraud More

Solar's Future Looks Brighter

New technology and dropping prices are contributing to a surge in solar power 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.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid