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

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age 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.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs