By Dr. Karen Lambie
We Must Raise Our Voices
We must raise our voices when the rights of other human beings are being violated. Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a practice that not only violates the rights of female children, it is severe child abuse.
What follows is an explanation of how I became passionate about ending FGM and what I am doing about it.
I have been a foster parent for about 12 years. A year ago, I attended a training session for foster parents in my county. The guest speaker told about a family from Somalia that had moved to Georgia, the state in which I live. The children in this family-all girls-had to be placed in foster care due to their abusive father. One daughter was a newborn. One of the older daughters burned off the infant's clitoris.
When asked why she did this, she replied that in case they ever moved back to Somalia, the girl wanted her little sister to be "marriageable." I sat in utter shock and disbelief. Tears streamed down my face. I knew about female genital mutilation (FGM) but did not realize it was still being practiced.
I thought it was a tradition that had long been abandoned.
Since learning more about the blatantly cruel practice of female genital mutilation and how prevalent it is in the world, I have felt a "calling" to raise awareness concerning this issue and to let others know what actions they can take to help stop it. It was my concern about this issue that led me to A Safe World for Women.
FGM & Its Effects on Health
I have been invited to speak to various organizations and have participated in health fairs to disseminate information. As most of you reading this already know, FGM is the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia and in some cases, it involves the stitching together of the vulva (infibulation).
For the purpose of this blog, I will not spend time explaining female genital mutilation. For more information, please visit the sites provided at the end of this blog. I did, however, want to include a list of possible physical and psychological complications due to this procedure:
- severe pain
- hemorrhage sometimes resulting in death
- shock and/or convulsions
- infections including tetanus and HIV
- difficulty with urination or defecation
- slow and painful menstruation
- extremely painful intercourse
- excessive scar tissue
- slow and difficult labor sometimes resulting in the death of the infant and/or mother
- feelings of betrayal, depression, a sense of loss and low self-esteem
Female genital mutilation is often performed without anesthesia in unsterile conditions and is medically unnecessary.
Before my talks, I let the audience know that I am by no means an expert on the subject of FGM, but that I have read widely about the topic and that I am in contact with women who are victims and organizations throughout the world that are working to stop this practice.
When I present my information, most audience members are very shocked to learn that FGM is still very prevalent in many parts of the world. They are especially shocked to learn that according to the African Women's Health Center at Brigham and Women's Hospital, there are about 230,000 girls and women who are at risk of this procedure here in the US. This number is based on the US Census and it is believed this number could be even higher.
A few women have never even heard of FGM and are in jaw-dropping shock when presented with the information. I see grimaces and hear gasps. Hands are raised to ask question after question.
After defining FGM, explaining the different types, why and where it occurs and the complications associated with it, my focus is on the United States.
FGM in the United States
In 1996, a young woman was granted asylum by the United States federal Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) for fleeing female genital mutilation (FGM) from her native country of Togo. Also in 1996, the US Congress enacted legislation criminalizing this procedure on anyone less than 18 years of age. This statute made the act of performing FGM on a minor punishable by a 5-year term of imprisonment and clearly excluded culture as a defense for the crime. Sadly, even though it is illegal in this country, it happens here but is rarely reported because it is carried out in extreme secrecy.
In January of 2013, President Barack Obama signed into law the "Transport for Female Genital Mutilation" amendment. This provision prohibits the act of transporting girls from the US for the purpose of subjecting them to FGM.
Transporting girls for this purpose often occurs during summer or other school vacations and is therefore referred to as "vacation cutting."
Sometimes "cutters" are brought into to this country.
Most States have no law specifically criminilizing FGM
All 50 US states have laws concerning child abuse and FGM is considered child abuse, however, only 21 states have laws specifically criminalizing FGM. Georgia, the state I live in, is one of these states.
Additionally, at least 12 of these states, including Georgia, make it a felony for parents or guardians who allow this procedure to be carried out even if they are not the ones performing the mutilation.
In conclusion: We Cannot Bury Our Heads in the Sand
I actually apologize to the audience for the information I am giving them, but I tell them if we want to see change in the world, we cannot bury our heads in the sand and pretend these things don't happen.
I also tell them I will not just dump it in their lap without telling them what they can do to help stop it. I tell everyone they can be "Lifesavers." I hand out baggies containing lifesavers candies and a card with web addresses where they can go for further information.
I explain how they can find online petitions to sign. I encourage them to get in touch with various organizations and to talk to others and share the information. I give out the National Child Abuse Hotline number in case they ever suspect a girl might be at risk. We do not have an FGM hotline number in the US at the present time. I also give a free copy of Russell Traughber's book, Driving the Birds, to a lucky winner!
Even if FGM were not an issue in the United States, global consciousness must be raised. All of us can use our voices to speak out against this harmful practice. If we save only one girl or woman our efforts will have been worthwhile. I stand in solidarity with my global brothers and sisters who are working everyday to make this world a better, safer place for all human beings.
Respectively submitted by Dr. Karen Lambie
(Ph.D. Educational Psychology)
- The AHA Foundation
- Sanctuary for Families
- Equality Now
- Desert Flower Foundation
- Orchid Project
- Women's Health
Dr. Karen Lambie is a retired teacher of gifted students and professor of educational psychology. She taught for 32 years. She graduated with a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from the University ofGeorgia in 1993. She has a Masters degree in the teaching of science, and a baccalaureate in Elementary Education. She has also made presentations for several local and state conferences and one national conference, on various topics, including:
- "Learning, Memory and the Human Brain,"
- "Multiple Intelligences and the Classroom,"
- "Teaching About Coastal Georgia Using A Multiple Intelligences Approach,"
- "Emotional Intelligence."
Current presentations include, "Shaken Baby Syndrome and the Period of PURPLE Crying,"
and "Female Genital Mutilation: What is it and what can be done to stop it?"