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06.16.14 - The practice of genital mutilation, while deeply embedded in a number of African and Middle Eastern cultures, has been banned in the United States for almost 20 years. However, as Julie Turkewitz reports in the New York Times, there is growing concern for American-born girls who continue to be victims of the painful ritual in which part or all of the female genitalia is cut or removed. Dubbed “vacation cutting,” the girls are cut—often against their will—while visiting their ancestral homelands during a traditional summer visit.
According to Turkewitz, “girls are swept into bedrooms or backwoods” during their stay. The practice, lacking any health benefits, is done “with the belief that it will prevent promiscuity, ready [the girls] for marriage or otherwise align them with the ideals of their culture.” In some families, a girl not being cut can limit her chances of marriage and isolate her from the community. In countries such as Somalia and Guinea, well over 90% of the women have been cut, according to the United Nations. An analysis using 14-year-old census data estimates that about 228,000 women and girls in the United States have been cut or are at risk of it.
Although an emerging generation of advocates—cutting victims themselves—are using social media and chat rooms to connect and organize, factors including immigrant community insularity and cultural taboos inhibit broader awareness of the issue in the United States. As Turkewitz writes:
Those working to end cutting say that they seek to do so in a culturally sensitive way, recognizing the practice’s long history, and gently educating families about its consequences: immediate and long-term physical pain, complications during birth, loss of sexual feeling and mental health issues.
Two members of congress, Rep. Joseph Crowley and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee have recently spoken out on the cutting of American girls, and are slated to deliver a letter to Congress and several federal agencies requesting a national plan to address the issue.