International Women's Day: 500,000 Girls Remain at Risk for Genital Mutilation -- and Closer to Home Than You'd Expect

Countless girls are tortured and mutilated in the name of religion and ethnic traditions...
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Countless girls are tortured and mutilated in the name of religion and ethnic traditions...

WARNING: The following article contains disturbing and graphic content.

On Friday night's Real Time with Bill Maher, and just a few days prior to International Women's Day, moderate Islamic journalist Raheel Raza noted that more than 500,000 girls are at risk for what's known as "female genital mutilation" (FGM). Today, in 2016.

Please keep reading.

Whether due to religious or ethnic traditions, young girls are routinely seized by family-members and forced to undergo an excruciating procedure in which their clitorises are cut or entirely removed in order to prevent them from enjoying sexual pleasure and therefore guaranteeing their purity for an eventual husband.

Especially today, it seems like fiction torn from a psychotic horror movie, but it's more common than you might think. Euphemistically referred to as "female circumcision," 28 nations in Africa, as well as numerous Middle East nations including Iran, continue to irreparably mutilate the genitalia of prepubescent girls, and thus irreparably mangling the physical and psychological well-being of the victims. One of several procedures are performed: 1) the prepuce or hood of the clitoris is removed, perhaps along with the clitoris itself, or 2) both the clitoris and inner labia are removed, or 3) the vulva is sewn shut, leaving a small opening for urine and menstrual discharge. It's performed without anesthesia using crude tools -- razor blades and the like -- and definitely not in a medically sterile environment.

One victim described the agony she experienced:

“FGM has affected me emotionally throughout my entire life. Those terrible moments stay with me and I just cannot forget them,” a 53-year-old woman named Nafissatou, originally from Guinea, told researchers.

“When I went to the hospital to give birth to my children, my experience with FGM was what I remembered most. Every time I shower, I think about it. There is a sadness and emptiness I feel every day because of what FGM took from me,” she said.

While FGM isn't associated with any one religion -- and I hasten to note that it isn't mentioned anywhere in the Quran -- it's often associated with Sharia due to Islam's misogynistic rules, maintaining a continuity for the subjugation of women, whether by mutilation or by execution for relatively harmless infractions. Women who have sex with married men are often stoned to death, for example, while the married men are let off with a flogging -- the most obscene manifestation of blame-the-woman misogyny.

Stonings, beheadings and various forms of mutilation seem like far away, archaic traditions of the Third World, but they're absolutely not.

That 500,000 number noted above? That's not a worldwide statistic. The truth is, more than 500,000 girls are at risk for FGM... in the United States alone.

California is the state with the highest at-risk population, followed by New York (48,000) and Minnesota (44,000), the Population Reference Bureau found.  

Bizarrely, the practice has only been illegal in the U.S. since 1996. And the ritual of "vacation cuttings," in which girls are unwittingly flown overseas to undergo the nonmedical procedure, was only recently banned by President Obama in 2013. Along those lines, and despite the law, the number of at-risk girls has increased since 1990 from 168,000 to today's half-a-million. More often than not, FGM in the United States is practiced by immigrants who retain their ancestral or religious traditions, irrespective of the ban. 

Worldwide, three million girls are at risk for FGM.

Whether it's extreme misogyny in which torture and murder is perpetrated upon women as a matter of ritual, or if women are quietly subjugated due to the unforgivable absence of constitutional gender equality, injustice continues to rule the day for millions of women -- in far away lands or next door, in our own neighborhoods. 

Today, one of our two major political parties is increasingly driven to pass laws restricting women's access to their own reproductive organs and, in too many cases, are therefore left with no other option but to mutilate themselves in so-called "back allies." Gender equality is about so much more than equal pay. It's about more than affordable healthcare. It's about basic survival and purview over one's own body. The voices of alleged "religious freedom" (in this case, exclusively the freedom to oppress) continue to be a threat to freedom and equality, especially knowing the physical harm they're inflicting, whether directly or indirectly. 

And knowing that half-a-million girls are being brutalized by their own families -- today in the United States -- there's still so much work to be done to shut down the horror show. Here and around the world.