My name is Jaha Dukureh and I am 24 years old. As an infant growing up in Gambia, I experienced Female Genital Mutilation. It took away a part of my femininity, my ownership to my body. Some girls, including my half-sister who died from complications from being cut, even lose their lives.
I am committed to ending this destructive practice and I need you to join me. The World Health Organization defines Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) as “the partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons." In some cultures, FGM is believed to preserve the virginity of girls and keep them “pure” until marriage. It is also believed to keep girls faithful to their spouses because of lack of arousal during intercourse.
Apart from the violent and painful nature of the process, victims continue to suffer the physical and mental agony for the rest of their lives including complications during menstruation, sexual intercourse and childbirth. That is why the United Nations has declared FGM a human rights violation -- and yet the practice continues here in the United States and around the world.
When I was 15 years old, I moved to New York and was forced in to marriage. I was lucky to escape and create a new life in Atlanta, where I now live with my second husband and children. I ended my silence about my experience and started speaking out about FGM. I created a blog where other women in our communities here in the US have shared their stories.
Many in the US hear about FGM and think it only happens in far away lands. Unfortunately, this is far from reality. I hear from girls everyday that were born here in the United States who have been through FGM. These young women are your average American teenagers -- some of them you know, some of them you went or go to school with. And there are many more girls in the US that are at risk of being cut. The practice of FGM is illegal in the US but girls are being taken to other countries, usually their parents’ country of origin where they are cut in what is now known as “vacation cutting."
Laws have been passed to try to address FGM in the US -- including one signed by President Obama in early 2013 making it illegal to take a girl out of the country for purposes of FGM -- but girls continue to be cut. Part of the difficulty in recognizing and addressing the problem in the US is the lack of awareness and up-to-date research/statistics on the prevalence of FGM. That's why I started this campaign.
In order to improve efforts to protect these little girls, we must know the facts about FGM in the US. I'm asking President Obama and the Department of Health and Human Services, to take the essential first step of commissioning a report on the current statistics of women in the US impacted by FGM and the girls at risk of being mutilated.
This is just the beginning of our work and we won't back down and we won't go away until girls are protected. Join me, Congressman Crowley, and Equality Now in calling for the Administration to develop a strategic action plan to end FGM. Please sign my petition now.