It is a disturbing topic but one that still impacts women around the world — female genital mutilation (FGM). More than 200 million women in 30 African, Middle Eastern and Asian countries have undergone FGM, even though such a “procedure” has no health benefits whatsoever and can even cause death, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
FGM is usually done to a child between infancy and the age of 15.
All but two Maine House Democrats voted down a Republican proposal last month to outlaw female genital mutilation (FGM) in that state, even though a version of it passed easily a day earlier in the Republican-led Senate. The practice, illegal on a federal level, is explicitly outlawed in 26 states.
Some liberal lawmakers in the Pine Tree State strenuously opposed any penalties for those who subject young girls to the violent practice.
But they did request more state money for educational purposes.
Many immigrants who settle in Maine are victims of female genital mutilation, according to WHO. Since the beginning of the new millennium, Maine’s population of Somali refugees has swelled to an estimated 12,000 people; they’re mainly centered in Lewiston and Portland.
A mother and daughter who are seeking to turn the tide on this horrendous practice shared their shock and outrage about FGM exclusively with LifeZette.
“As a survivor of female genital mutilation, I feel I have an inherent right to expose the grief of it,” said Khatija “Kadi” Doumbia, a Chicago resident in her 50s who was born in Mali (shown here). “Shockingly, Maine House legislators recently took a step back into the Dark Ages by voting down a tough, criminal FGM law.”
In her view, the Maine House Democrats perpetrated an “incomprehensible failure” in not passing a bill that would criminalize this painful, traumatic procedure, one that has “personally impacted me throughout my life.”
“Why,” she asked, “would Maine legislators leave young girls vulnerable to this horrendous practice?” (Yes, the practice is federally outlawed in this country.)
Fatima Diabate, 26, is Doumbia’s daughter and a social worker in Illinois. She said of the Maine vote, “I, too, was disappointed to hear that Maine legislators recently decided against putting measures in place to protect young girls from the horror that is female genital mutilation. As a woman whose mother is a survivor of this cruel and harmful practice, I’ve struggled to reason with their decision, and what it might mean for young girls born in Maine who are not protected by their government when it comes to their own bodies,” she said.
Doumbia has been impacted forever by her traumatizing experience. “I must have been only five years old, or younger, in Mali, when I was subjected to this brutal procedure,” she explained. “FGM has haunted me my entire life, physically, emotionally and psychologically. It has taken me decades to speak openly about these most private and horrific secrets, unwillingly and unknowingly imposed upon me
Her daughter confirmed this, noting, “Still, to this day, my mother experiences symptoms of trauma associated with her mutilation.”
She also sees how close she herself was to the same mutilation, had her mother not refused to be a part of a cultural cycle.
“My mother saved me from FGM. Because of her bravery, I can now enjoy a love life free of pain, medical complications, and suffering.”
She also explained that using all the information available, her mother was able to say “no” to a practice that has been in their family for generations. “It is with heartbreak that I realize the lawmakers of Maine have not done their due diligence as it pertains to this matter,” she said.
The elder Doumalia insists that much needs to be done, especially by the Maine state legislature, to combat this painful tradition. The first step is honesty about the issue.
“Survivors of FGM need time, ongoing support, and the protection of laws to have the courage to vocalize its occurrence and existence,” she said. “I was furious when I learned that Maine legislators uttered the lame and empty excuse of ‘there is no evidence of FGM in Maine.’ This defies the reality.”
Like all child abuse crimes and human trafficking violence, Doumbia said, the practice occurs in the shadows, covertly threatening survivors into silence and making it difficult to find individual cases.
“As a survivor of FGM, I can attest that it takes years to come to grips with the horror,” she explained. “By voting down a bill that would criminalize female genital mutilation, Maine House legislators refused to acknowledge the human rights of little girls and, furthermore, denied them the protection of the criminal justice system.”
Her daughter noted, “I understand the difficult position that Maine lawmakers and legislators in other states are in — between protecting the rights and freedoms of people with different cultures, and protecting the rights and freedoms of individuals born into cultures that encourage FGM.”
She hopes, however, that women in particular choose to work with people like her mother — and the thousands of other women affected — to end the practice.
“How can one know about the medical complications that stem from FGM and not come to the conclusion that it should be criminalized?” she said. “How can one love and respect women and not put an end to an act that was put in place to control women, their bodies and their sexuality? Until Maine and the 25 remaining states without anti-FGM laws come to the conclusion that FGM must be criminalized, little girls are in danger.”
“Open your eyes and ears, Americans,” said her mother. “FGM is happening everywhere.”
Doumbia has one final question for Maine legislators: “For those who voted ‘yes’ to FGM — would you allow this to be done to your own children?”
Khatija “Kadi” Doumbia is one of just millions of survivors around the world who has endured the physical and emotional scars of female genital mutilation (FGM). She has dedicated her life to ending FGM globally.