Women’s Struggles Are Far From Over

Judge's Ruling Legitimizes Practice of Female Genital Mutilation

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Voting, equal pay, freedom of choice. Women have had to fight for every basic right and liberty since the dawn of time. Everything that was just a given for men has been a battle for women.

One of our longest lasting and most vicious battles has been that of the right to our own bodies, to be able to do whatever we want when it comes to making our own decisions, and not have to worry about being overridden by someone else with more say in our personal lives.

Well ladies, as you well know, our struggle is far from over, and in case you needed another injustice to rise up against, meet Judge Bernard Friedman of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. In a recent court case brought against a Michigan doctor who reportedly committed female genital mutilation (FGM) on nine minor girls, Judge Friedman ruled that the federal law — which expressly prohibits this barbaric practice — was unconstitutional.

The ritual of cutting out young girls’ external genitalia is a practice seen in multiple foreign countries and has no medical purpose or benefit. It has also been condemned by the World Health Organization, the United Nations Children’s Fund, and the United Nations Population Fund “as a violation of basic human rights and a form of child abuse…rooted in the desire to control a woman’s sexuality,” according to USA Today, not to mention the “physical, sexual, and psychological dangers for the young victims.”

Judge Friedman’s blatant dismissal of the 1996 statute banning the female genital mutilation of minors  presents an urgent crisis, making FMG now legal in 23 states. This is problematic for America’s reported 500,000 women and girls at risk of being subjected to this procedure. Other laws and bans regarding assault don’t deal directly with this practice, meaning that it could be argued as technically legal without the federal ban.

In this particular case, those being charged with this violation of basic human rights include Doctor Jumana Nagarwala, who, according to prosecutors, may have carried out the mutilation on up to 100 girls, another doctor (and his wife) who allowed Nagarwala to use his clinic to perform mutilations, three mothers who traveled (two from out of state) with their underage daughters to have their genitals cut, and a few other participants, including doctors’ assistants and alleged aids to the procedures.

All of them have had their charges dropped, although some of the doctors continue to face separate conspiracy charges. Court records report, additionally, that two of the three accused mothers tricked their seven-year-old daughters into believing they were leaving for a “girls’ trip” in Detroit, when in reality they were travelling all that way for the sole purpose of having their genitals butchered.

Families, doctors, and coalitions of people who support FGM cower behind religion and tradition as an excuse to violate the bodies and rights of underage — sometimes infant — girls. Before they are old enough to even make their own decisions, these girls are forced to undergo a permanent, traumatizing, and life-altering mutilation which has absolutely no medical benefits but poses a multitude of risks and dangers.

Their families and doctors insist that to ban this practice would be to ban the practice of their religion, yet they seem to completely disregard the will, safety, emotional well-being, and quality of life for their daughters and patients. Everyone charged with a violation in this case belongs to the Indian Muslim Dawoodi Bohra community, and upholds this stance in the face of the accusations. However, other members of this same religious group contend that the practice is a dated one which has long been abandoned by many observers of the religion. They worry, also, that those who still believe in FGM procedures as a religious ritual send the wrong message to the public about the morals and values of their religion, as well as to women and girls everywhere who may feel targeted or insignificant as a result of this tradition.

Following in the footsteps of the US, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution to ban FGM in 2012, given that it “affects an estimated 200 million women and girls worldwide,” according to Time, and has been outlawed in over 30 countries. In addition to the United States’ federal ban on the practice, 27 states have passed their own individual laws prohibiting it.

Still, though, Judge Friedman dismissed the defendants’ charges under a guise of legal conflict. Friedman hardly acknowledged the barbarity of the ritual before rushing into explanation as to why the pre-existing federal ban is unconstitutional. His reported claims on his ruling barely extend beyond “sure, it’s bad, but what can I do?” Well, what we can do is be outraged. What we can do is protest. What we can do is be loud and restless and impossible to ignore. What we can’t do is be idle. We can’t stand by as society stumbles back three steps after only moving forward one. We can’t afford to be silent, nor should we feel we have to be. This ruling is nothing short of an abomination, a slap in the face to women’s rights as a whole. The more we say nothing, the easier we make it for these criminals to continue abusing young girls. The less we challenge ignorance, the faster it will spread. Let’s not be like Judge Friedman; let’s not throw up our hands in resignation at the first sign of adversity.

There was a time in the past when a woman’s rights were in question. There will come a time when questioning a woman’s rights will be in the past.