What’s the Deal in the Deep South? These Two States Still Haven’t Protected Women from a Shocking Human Rights Violation
In Alabama and Mississippi, How Is It Not a Crime to Injure Vulnerable Young Girls? These States Must Step Up, Says #EndFGMToday
August 24, 2020
Washington, D.C.—A hyperpartisan election year. Coronavirus concerns. Continued civil unrest.
As fall 2020 approaches, Americans are facing a score of serious challenges. But one challenge can be so decisively, definitively addressed that it’s frankly stunning the problem remains unsolved as of this moment.
Unlike in the rest of the Deep South, two states—Alabama and Mississippi—continue to allow scores of women to remain vulnerable to an insidious form of child abuse. The abhorrent practice known as FGM—female genital mutilation—is still lawful as of now in both states. Alabama and Mississippi, along with nine other states, have fallen behind the 39 other states that have all taken decisive legislative action to outlaw FGM and protect their vulnerable female residents from an outrageous and incredibly violent procedure.
In mere months—in January 2021, when their legislative sessions resume—elected officials in both these states will be able to vote on legislation prohibiting FGM. Sadly, more than half a million women and girls are at risk of FGM in the United States—and nearly 2,000 of them reside in Alabama and Mississippi alone.
“That data translates into real children at perilous risk to the trauma and damage of female genital mutilation—and FGM truly is a form of child abuse,” says internationally renowned attorney and child welfare advocate Elizabeth Yore, who heads EndFGMToday. “We are urging the Alabama and Mississippi legislatures to help protect little girls from this painful and barbaric procedure.”
Both state legislatures had been moving forward on laws banning the vicious human rights violation—but the COVID-19 crisis delayed the legislative process.
“Currently, 11 states in America do not have laws to prohibit female genital mutilation—and that’s 11 states too many,” Yore says. “Essentially, this means that nearly a quarter of our states are giving a legal pass to those who carry out and permit this brutal and unnecessary procedure on girls as young as the age of five.”
Florida and all other states in the Deep South—except for Alabama and Mississippi—have passed laws criminalizing FGM. As such, wrote Yore in an op-ed published by the Alabama Political Reporter in 2019, these two states “risk the dubious distinction and danger of being a lure for female genital mutilators.”
“FGM leaves physical and emotional scars for a lifetime,” Yore adds. She knows this all too well—as her group “works closely with women in their 50s and 60s who still deal with the side effects and traumatic memories today.”
States must create their own laws against the despicable practice, as a federal ban on it was struck down as unconstitutional in 2018 by a district court judge.
A handful of states so far in 2020—Massachusetts, Kentucky, Wyoming, and Vermont—have finalized their own anti-FGM legislation. On August 6, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed H4606 into law; the bill was passed on July 30 by the Senate after a favorable House vote (the law takes effect in early November of this year). In Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear signed SB 72 into law on April 2. In Wyoming, HB0127 sailed through the legislative process and Gov. Mark Gordon signed the bill on March 13. And in Vermont, Gov. Phil Scott signed his state’s bill, H.83, on February 27.
EndFGMToday suggests these key ways that the 11 holdout states can prioritize proposed anti-FGM laws. These states should do the following:
- Examine the forthright actions of other states to fight this tragic form of child abuse. The AHA Foundation grades states based on the strength of their anti-FGM laws.
- Use the Population Reference Bureau to research the number of women and girls in each state who remain at terrible risk for FGM.
- Check EndFGMToday’s state map showing the states that haven’t yet passed anti-FGM legislation.
The 11 states that currently remain without anti-FGM laws are Alabama, Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Indiana, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Washington.
Yore points out that female genital mutilation is a human rights violation, as recognized by both the World Health Organization and the United Nations. Additionally, over 200 million women worldwide have been victims of this cruel practice—and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that more than 500,000 girls are at risk in the U.S. alone. Shockingly, the United States is not among those nations that have outlawed FGM. Yore says this is why state laws criminalizing FGM must remain an urgent priority.
Elizabeth Yore has spent 30 years in legal child advocacy. Prior to her work at EndFGMToday.com, she served as Special Counsel at Harpo, Inc., as Oprah Winfrey’s child advocate. She was also General Counsel at the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services for eight years, as well as General Counsel at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Visit EndFGMToday.com for a state-by-state map that glaringly highlights those states that do not yet have anti-FGM laws. Learn more about FGM at www.EndFGMToday.com or on social media at #EndFGMToday.