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

Diplomats Work to Extend Israeli-Palestinian Cease-Fire

US Secretary of State John Kerry, diplomats from France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Turkey and Qatar gathered in Paris Saturday to discuss crisis More

Photogallery US Defense Department Warns of Arms to Eastern Ukraine

‘Imminent’ delivery of Russian rocket launcher poses threat to civilians, US says More

Video Researchers: Africa Genetically Modified Crops Held Back by Scaremongering

GM crops offer best hope of increasing productivity and coping with climate change in Africa, according to co-author of Chatham House report 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.
Astronauts Train in Underwater Labi
X
George Putic
July 25, 2014 7:25 PM
In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid