(July 30, 2018) Catherine Read interviews Angela Peabody, Executive Director of the Global Women’s P.E.A.C.E. Foundation (GWPF) about her work to help eradicate Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), which is the deliberate, non-medical removal or cutting of female genitalia. This practice is found in over 20 African countries and in some Middle Eastern and Asian countries. With large communities of immigrants settled throughout the United States, this practice has followed them. Although culturally accepted in their own countries, 26 states have now passed legislation criminalizing this practice. Virginia passed legislation effective July 1, 2018, that makes this abuse targeting female children a class two felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $100,000 fine.
Female Genital Mutilation falls under three main categories: Circumcision, Excision, or Infibulation. Circumcision involves removal of the clitoris; Excision is partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora; Infibulation is narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and sewing over the outer, labia, with or without removal of the clitoris or inner labia. All of these procedures cause lifelong problems with women’s health, in addition to the life altering trauma of the cutting itself that is inflicted upon girls from the ages of 5 to 15.
Federal legislation was passed in 1996 that made FGM a crime, but there have not been prosecutions under that law. The first major case to be tried under the federal law will go to trial in January 2019. Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, a doctor in Detroit (MI) will be tried along with two others in a case that may have as many as 100 victims over the last decade. It’s estimated that cases of FGM in the U.S. have more than tripled since 1990. Worldwide, the victims number in the millions and yet the issue is not widely known or discussed. States with large populations of immigrants from practicing countries – Virginia, California, New York, Minnesota, Michigan and Texas – are finally starting to address the issue from a legal standpoint, but education and prevention are not being addressed, a reality that continues to put young girls in danger.
Over the past several years Angela Peabody has worked tirelessly to raise the profile of this issue. FGM is a widely accepted practice that is devastating to the girls and women who have suffered from this abuse. Based on the Population Reference Bureau’s estimate, there are approximately 513,000 girls and women who are potentially affected by this practice in the United States, with over 30,000 of them residing here in the Washington DC metro area. Working together with Virginia Senator Richard Black, the patron of SB47, Angela is pleased that the General Assembly passed the bill this year criminalizing this practice.
The Global Women’s Peace Foundation has multiple goals in fighting FGM. First they aim to prevent girls from being subjected to this traumatizing practice. This involves educating communities, schools, medical professionals, faith communities and law enforcement about the practice of FGM. Additionally, FGM needs to be identified as a crime punishable by law everywhere in this country. That means more meaningful federal oversight and laws in all 50 states. And finally, there is a need to identify survivors and offer counseling and medical interventions to improve the quality of their lives.
The practice of FGM needs to be recognized and labeled for what it is: child abuse and violence against women. Angela points out that there is no religious justification for this in Christianity, Islam or Judaism. It is simply a culturally accepted practice in certain cultures that goes back centuries. In segments two and three, Catherine speaks with F.A. Cole, a brave survivor who has undergone reconstructive surgery thanks to the Global Women’s P.E.A.C.E. Foundation. She shares the painful details of her story, which to this day brings her to tears. She is thankful to have found Angela, and for the emotional and monetary help and support that both she and the organization have provided so F.A. could regain her life and move forward as an advocate against this practice. There are physicians and clinics around U.S. that are starting to provide reconstructive surgery to survivors.
Angela notes that raising the profile of this practice through education is very important. She recently gave a presentation about FGM at a local church in Springfield, VA, after which a woman approached her and shared a story. She spoke about a young girl in her neighborhood who came running out of her townhouse screaming that her father was trying to cut her. Her father came running behind her wielding a knife. The woman, who had previously heard Angela’s presentation at her church in 2014, understood what was happening and called the police. When the police arrived, they did not fully understand what was happening because they were not familiar with the practice of FGM.
Over the last year, Angela has worked with the Loudoun County (VA) Sheriff’s Department, police officers in Fairfax County (VA) and Montgomery County (MD), the Department of Justice and the FBI to help them to understand the crime and how to identify both victims and perpetrators. She is also focused on working with the medical community and public school educators so they can partner on prevention, detection and aid to young girls at risk. While her Centreville (VA) non-profit is small, Angela has been able to reach across the country from coast to coast in raising awareness about this devastating practice that is happening right here in the United States.
The Global Women’s P.E.A.C.E. Foundation is having their fifth annual fundraiser walk on October 27th in Washington, DC. This year they will also have walks in sister cities to help raise money and awareness. Support services are available for survivors, including counseling, job search assistance and reconstructive surgery. Angela also works with organizations that aid victims or potential victims seeking asylum in this country.
For more information on the prevention and prosecution of FGM, reach out to Angela Peabody at www.GlobalWomanPeaceFoundation.org