2015-02-11 / Editorials

Crowley Offers Plan To End Female Genital Mutilation

BY JOHN TOSCANO

Legislation aimed at ending the harmful practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) in the United States has been introduced in Congress by Congressmembers Joseph Crowley and Sheila Jackson Lee from Texas.
Crowley, the Vice Chair of the Democratic Caucus said the new legislation’s purpose is “to help bring an end to the harmful practice” by charging the federal government with “drafting and implementing a national strategy to protect American girls from FGM.” The full title of the bill is Zero Tolerance for FGM Act of 2015.
Crowley (D–Queens/The Bronx) previously authored The Girls Protection Act, legislation that made it a federal crime to transport a minor outside the United States for the purpose of female genital mutilation. Crowley said the new bill was introduced on the eve of International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation.
“FGM isn’t an issue that only affects the far corners of the globe,” Crowley explained. “It is a terrifying practice being faced by girls right here on our own soil. The Girls Protection Act was a critical step in putting the law on the side of the girls, but much more has to be done. This is a serious issue that deserves a serious effort, and a national strategy is the next step in helping to bring an end to FGM once and for all.”
Congressmember Lee (D–TX) stated, “Lessons can be drawn from ongoing efforts to stop FGM, including in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, where the government, in collaboration with FGM survivors is taking strong action. In order to improve efforts to protect these little girls, we must know the facts about FGM in the United States. This is just the beginning of our work here on the hill by introducing this and we will not go away until girls are protected.”
Shelby Quast, the Policy Director of Equality Now, which now supports the new act, stated her organization took that stand because, “This is just the type of initiative we need to ensure the U.S. government produces a comprehensive and transparent plan to address FGM in the U.S. We thank them both for their continued support in protecting girls at risk and helping women and girls affected by FGM to get the services they need.”
Crowley explained that the practice of FGM, defined by the World Health Organization as “procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons,” is a harmful practice carried out on an estimated 125 million girls and women around the world.
Despite being banned by the U.S. since 1996, according to one now-dated estimate, over 160,000 women and girls in the U.S. have either been, or are at risk of being, subjected to FGM. In 2012, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution that acknowledged FGM as a violation of human rights and called for countries to develop national strategies to end FGM. The same year, the U.S. Congress adopted the language of Crowley’s The Girls Protection Act, closing a critical loophole and finally putting the law firmly on the side of girls.
Crowley and Lee pointed out that despite legal protections and a commitment from the U.N. General Assembly, much more is needed to fully combat the practice. The Crowley-Jackson Lee legislation requires the federal government to undertake a national study to provide data on and insight into the prevalence of FGM in the U.S., and establish a multi-agency strategy to bring the practice to an end. Such a strategy could include the establishment of an emergency hotline for girls seeking assistance; the provision of resources to help those on the frontlines, such as educators, healthcare workers, law enforcement; implementation of a public awareness campaign; and appropriate funding to support these efforts.
Crowley and Lee said that by creating a national strategy, the U.S. would join the ranks of countries like the United Kingdom and Italy which, over the past decade, have begun adopting and supporting vigorous, pro-active practices to help end FGM. Efforts to help bring an end to FGM overseas not only protects girls in those countries, but also helps end conditions in places where American girls are sent and subjected to FGM.
In June 2014, along with 58 members of the House of Representatives Lee and Crowley sent a bipartisan letter to multiple agencies in the federal government urging the establishment of an across-agency plan to address FGM in the U.S.


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