From African villages to U.S. courtrooms - A statement from Dr Leyla Hussein

21 November 2018

In the life of campaigner, being tagged in articles and breaking news is a daily occurrence. Today, Tuesday 20th of Nov is a day that I won’t forget. Today I was tagged in the news that an ongoing FGM case in Michigan was dismissed by the federal court - and the U.S. federal law banning FGM was unconstitutional. 

Within seconds my body went into shock. My mind started racing, my heart beating very fast. I rubbed my palms, sweaty despite it being a cold November day in London.  I was afraid I was going to pass out in Stratford tube station - where I stood still for a good ten minutes, unable to move. When I had gathered my thoughts, I checked with my sister activists in the US and to my dismay, sadly the news was true.

At the age of seven my life changed because adults decided I needed to be controlled and silenced. Because I am a girl who might become a woman who has a voice and would be free to be who she chose to be. I was dragged by those who I trusted the most in this world into a room where my legs were spread apart and a qualified doctor, who knew better but made money from FGM, took forceps and a blade to my vagina and snitched part of my genitals.

This isn’t an option or a choice for young girls. It is child abuse.

I’m heartbroken and distraught that the US judge in Detroit has declared America's Federal female genital mutilation law unconstitutional. As a result, the key charges against two Michigan doctors and six others accused of subjecting at least nine minor girls to the cutting procedure in the nation's first FGM case has been dismissed.

FGM is a form of child abuse and a clear assault on a child, but in this case, that fact has gone unrecognised. We already have laws that protect children from harm. Why is FGM treated outside of these? The case in Michigan has shown that young girls are being treated differently. Girls from certain races are being treated differently by America’s justice system. That isn’t justice to me. 

I am one of two-hundred million girls and women worldwide who are living with the lifelong consequences of FGM. Some girls die during the procedure from shock, extreme blood loss and even heart attacks. Imagine the level of horror and pain that causes a healthy seven-year-old to have a fatal heart attack. This is no small operation. Sometimes girls get infections that can’t be cured because there is no adequate healthcare support. And that’s just the physical scars. The psychological scars live with us forever. I’m certainly and painfully living mine as I write this piece.

What message does this decision send to survivors of this harmful practice? Firstly, it says that survivors of FGM are not believed. That America is not listening to our stories of pain and suffering or even worse it hears us but does not care that we are being denied justice for what was done to us. Secondly, it says that we are not valued by any judicial system because of our sex and our race.

What does this message say to perpetrators of FGM? Without a doubt it tells them that they can get away with it. And believe me when I say that they will be emboldened by this and will continue to cut girls. It tells them that controlling female sexuality is ok and that committing child abuse is fine if it is upheld by beliefs.

And what does it say to girls? Girls who might have been thinking about coming forward to report the practice? Girls who might have been taking a brave step towards ending FGM in their families and communities? It tells them not to. To stay quiet. To keep their mouths closed.

This is not a political issue. It is a human rights issue.

Every politician in every country should be enraged by this outcome. You are our representatives and you should be as livid as we are that every minute eleven girls will undergo FGM. As human beings we should want to protect our children. Protecting seven-year-old Leyla, that is what our judicial system should have done.

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