COVID-19 Shutdowns Stall Process of Outlawing Female Genital Mutilation in U.S.
#EndFGMToday Leader: 12 States Allowing FGM Endanger 2 Million Girls Due to Pandemic Shutdowns
June 22, 2020
Washington, D.C.—What began as a promising year for the fight against one of the most brutal gender-based acts of violence has been stalled in many state legislatures.
Mandated shutdowns in response to COVID-19 will result in approximately 2 million more cases of female genital mutilation (FGM) worldwide over the next 10 years, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates. Many of those victims will be added to the current number of FGM victims living in the United States.
Pandemic-related interruptions to the legislative sessions in the 12 states that have yet to outlaw FGM have pushed back legislative agendas, indefinitely delaying efforts to criminalize the inhumane practice.
“Numerous global anti-FGM organizations are raising the alarm that with the COVID lockdown they are on guard for an uptick in FGM,” said End FGM Today leader Elizabeth Yore. “Without the safety net of schools and outside activities, girls confined to home during COVID are at risk of FGM. The UK FGM hotline is on alert for more FGM calls with girls isolated at home with extended family members who are forcing FGM on unsuspecting girls.”
Although 58 countries have banned FGM, the practice remains legal under U.S. law, thanks to the ruling of a federal judge in Detroit who struck down a federal ban of the practice in November of 2018.
Many regard the violent practice as an international phenomenon, but it is legal in various parts of the United States, Yore said.
“FGM, one of the most brutal gender-based acts of violence against little girls, remains protected in 12 states and in federal law in the United States,” Yore said. “We must urge our senators and representatives to move quickly to pass legislation criminalizing female genital mutilation. This is rapidly becoming a national scandal that the greatest country in the world can’t protect little girls from this barbarism.”
Prior to the pandemic, state legislatures were on a positive trajectory to make a lasting impact. The United States closed 2019 with a total of 35 states outlawing FGM—a significant number of states having passed legislation earlier that year. This year began with a total of 15 states still allowing FGM. Vermont’s legislature sent a bill banning FGM to the governor, who signed it in February, and Kentucky and Wyoming followed suit in March and April. With promising momentum, bills were introduced in or neared the official introductory state in the legislatures of Washington, Hawaii, and Mississippi. Then COVID-19 stalled legislative processes as several state legislatures adjourned until further notice.
The shutdowns have also caused a reduction in resources to support or even rescue those at risk for FGM.
More than 200 million women worldwide have been subjected to this cruel practice, and the CDC estimates that more than 500,000 girls are at risk of female genital mutilation in the United States alone.