A Female Genital Mutilation Survivor Is Fighting To End The Practice In The U.S.

More women are in danger of FGM than you think.

Kadi Doumbia doesn't remember the physical pain of female genital mutilation — it's the psychological pain that has stuck with her.

55-year-old Doumbia, who was born in Mali and lived there until she was 18 years old, is now fighting the practice she was subjected to as a child. Last week, she helped lobby for a bipartisan bill in New Hampshire's state legislature that passed. It criminalized female genital mutilation (FGM) and made it a Class A felony. 

There's still more work to do, though. In an interview with A Plus, Doumbia said she'd do whatever she could to make sure FGM ended within her the lifetime of her two daughters.

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"I really don't recall the actual cutting or physical pain," Doumbia told A Plus. "What stayed with me is the psychological pain… I usually don't believe that is going to cure anytime soon. I feel like I am going to die with this pain."

London, United Kingdom - March 11, 2017: Million Women Rising. A Million Women Rising is a march by only women to protest the violence against women around the world. Ms Jane Campbell

Typically, FGM is used to describe the practice of removing part or all of a girl or woman's external genitalia, including her clitoris. In some cultures, it is a religious ritual; in others, it's seen as a practice that will discourage a woman from having sex before she is married, thus helping take away the temptation to lose her virginity.

Elizabeth Yore, the founder of End FGM Today, told A Plus that the practice is a growing crisis in the United States. In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that 513,000 women were at risk of FGM in the United States. Globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 200 million women and girls have already undergone FGM.

Like Doumbia, the majority of girls who undergo FGM are cut before they are 15 years old. Doumbia believes it happened to her around the time she was five years old.

"FGM is usually done when you are little, when you can't defend yourself," Doumbia said. "There is no point in running after women and just cutting their clitoris."

The bill in New Hampshire is the 27th bill of its kind in the United States. While federal laws have been passed to prohibit FGM, most cases are fought at the state level and outside federal jurisdiction — which makes state legislation all the more important. Yore said that there are typically two reasons bills that criminalize FGM don't pass: one is that some lawmakers view the bills as "anti-immigrant," and the other is that some lawmakers don't believe it's a big enough problem in the United States to address. Mariama Diallo, a social worker in New York, told PRI that many immigrant families still perform the ritual out of fear of losing their cultural identity.

Yore says that many women and girls from immigrant communities, like Doumbia, want to stop the practice of FGM and don't want to subject their daughters to it. If there is a law they can point to and say "it's illegal here in the United States," then there is less cultural pressure on them to continue the practice. While she rejects the notion that anti-FGM bills are anti-immigrant, Yore also said it's simply a fact that the increase in FGM is tied to immigration.

"As families and women come from countries that practice FGM... as they arrive in the United States, it doesn't stop when they come here," she said. "There's a massive amount of educational and public information that needs to go out to the immigrant communities to say, number one, 'We consider this child abuse.' We know from the World Health Organization that the consequences from FGM are lifelong."

Kadi Doumbia (center) with her two daughters, Fatima on the left, Neissa on the right.  Kadi Doumbia

Both Doumbia and Yore are hopeful that FGM can end in the near future. For now, they understand that the first step is going to be educating people throughout the country that FGM actually exists in the United States, and that it's an issue worth addressing. For Doumbia, the motivation to end the practice and to continue to push bills addressing the issuel stems from a desire to be sure her daughters never feel the cultural pressure to participate in it. 

"Who would have known 20 years ago that I would be in New Hampshire or I would be in Connecticut?" Doumbia said. "I believe that change is slow, but it is coming if we can all work together and put our differences aside and focus on the children, no matter where they came from. We have to protect them."

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