In a Few Weeks, Massachusetts Takes a Stand on FGM (Female Genital Mutilation)

“The health, well being, and basic human rights of children in Massachusetts are at stake."

In the fight to criminalize female genital mutilation (FGM) in each US state, an important step is being taken this January, as the Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts will file a bill which would specifically outlaw the procedure. Though there is a federal law prohibiting FGM, only 22 states currently have FGM laws in place. State legislation is an important tool for prosecutors in bringing perpetrators to justice and also sends a strong message that this abuse will not be tolerated in the US.

“State legislation (prohibiting FGM)… sends a strong message that this abuse will not be tolerated in the US.

The AHA Foundation is proud to support the legislation proposed by the Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts, as it includes all the elements of the AHA Foundation’s model FGM legislation including prohibiting taking a girl outside the state of Massachusetts to undergo the procedure. Additionally, it contains other positive aspects such as directing funding to study the problem within the state and to aid victims and those likely to be victims.

In anticipation of the bill being filed, Beth Watters, member of the Women's Bar Association of Massachusetts Task Force to Ban Female Genital Mutilation, took time to answer our questions on what has gone into this important piece of legislation and what can be done to ensure it passes with ease (all emphasis ours).

AHA Foundation: What inspired the Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts to spearhead a bill criminalizing female genital mutilation in the state?

Beth Watters: The effort by the WBA was taken in response to the 2012 UN resolution seeking a worldwide ban to the practice including better laws and law enforcement in member states.  US laws are dismal; as of today, only 22 states had laws at all and Massachusetts was not one of them.  With girls at risk in Massachusetts, we felt it was key to have state legislation as one of the many tools to fight against female genital mutilation.

AHA Foundation: How many people have been involved in the effort?

Beth Watters: There have been fifteen attorneys and legal professionals affiliated with the WBA of Massachusetts involved in the effort.  Over the past year, all the contributors have volunteered many hours on top of their normal day jobs to work on this legislation.

AHA Foundation: How has the AHA Foundation helped in this process?

Beth Watters: The AHA Foundation has been a significant resource and guide in helping us navigate through this process.  The Foundation has been focused on ending female genital mutilation since 2007 and has provided a depth of knowledge and experience that has been invaluable to our efforts.  In addition, the Foundation provided feedback on our legislation which we drafted with the help of its model state legislation.

AHA Foundation: What has been the biggest challenge so far? 

Beth Watters: We have been very lucky with the amount of support the legislation has received from child rights groups, cultural organizations, immigrant groups, and women's health advocates and rights groups, including the AHA Foundation.  We are currently speaking with Massachusetts legislators to educate them on the bill and ask for their support.  I think our biggest challenge is to come when we file the bill in January and work with our supporters to pass the legislation.  

AHA Foundation: What is at stake with the filing of the bill?

Beth Watters: The health, well being, and basic human rights of children in Massachusetts are at stake.  The physical and mental consequences of victims of female genital mutilation last a lifetime.  This legislation should be priority to protect girls from undergoing female genital mutilation here in Massachusetts or in her parent’s home country (known as “vacation cutting”).

AHA Foundation: If all goes according to plan, what will the process look like moving forward?

Beth Watters: If the bill is passed, a critical aspect of the success of the legislation will be educating medical professionals who may treat victims of female genital mutilation, law enforcement who may encounter perpetrators or victims of female genital mutilation, educators and other mandatory reporters who may work with girls who may be at risk or are victims of female genital mutilation, and the public generally.

AHA Foundation: How can individuals support the passage of this bill?

Beth Watters: Massachusetts residents can contact their legislators to encourage them to support the bill currently titled “An Act Establishing Civil and Criminal Penalties for Female Genital Mutilation.”  They can find their legislators here: https://malegislature.gov/people/search.  As we get closer to filing, we hope to set up a page for individuals to find more information on how to support the bill.

Criminalizing FGM in each state is an important step in ensuring a better, safer life for girls in the US. We encourage our Massachusetts supporters to work with us by reaching out to their legislators to urge them to pass this legislation without delay. And to our supporters everywhere, we wouldn’t be able to continue this battle to outlaw FGM in each state without you. Please renew your support today to help us continue our work to ensure girls do not have to suffer from this unnecessary, life-threatening practice.