In 1994, female genital cutting (FGC) became a felony in Minnesota. For decades, women like me who have experienced FGC have been working in the community and with health care professionals to eradicate the practice.
As a public health practitioner who runs Isuroon, an organization whose work is centered on Somali women’s health, I understand not only the risks associated with FGC, but also the complexities of working in community health care.
As a survivor of FGC, I believe that girls and women like me should inform public policy and health care on our lives. For the past 20 years, I have worked in community and with allies to prevent FGC as well as to raise awareness about the lack of reproductive health care for girls and women with FGC. Collectively, we have built, and continue to build, relationships with the public health care workers and the medical community.
We insist that any initiative involving FGC should be community centered and informed by FGC survivors.
For the past two years, Minnesota legislators have introduced a bill that would further victimize survivors and their families.
Sen. Karin Housley, who sponsored last year’s Senate version of the bill, wondered at that time, “How can we empower communities to address this practice from within rather than have Big Brother come down and say, ‘This is wrong’?” At the time, we made a commitment to continue the work we had already been doing and more. We made a promise to the Legislature that we would host a symposium in partnership with community members and legal professionals and get input from medical professionals, state agencies, FGC advocates, and the general public. We met our end of our bargain, and our community work continues outside of legislation.
Despite these efforts, the Legislature continues to target Minnesota Muslims with Islamophobic, xenophobic and racist legislation. This FGC bill is a faux attempt to “protect young Muslim girls from Sharia Law.” It is a xenophobic political strategy to prove that politicians are “taming” new immigrants who are attacking the American way.” FGC practice has nothing to with Islam.
The 2018 Senate bill (SF 2525), the “Female Genital Mutilation; Education and Outreach” bill, is redundant since FGC practice is already a felony. The bill will have ripple effects — endangering a community that already has limited access to health care. Families may be worried about trusting their health care professionals and that might lead to lower vaccination rates, which could lead to increase in preventable illness such as TB and measles.
We should allow the professionals working on this issue already and who helped eradicate it in Minnesota do their jobs. The best strategy is not to be reactive and to focus on educating all sectors — health care professionals, cultural communities, schools, public health workers — about FGC. This process must be collaborative, and solutions should be led by women and girls, health care providers, legislators, schools and government institutions to have both sides to be educated and increase culturally relevant services for women and girls with FGC.
What matters most is the rights of women and girls with FGC to be protected and not victimized for the sake of political posturing.
Fartun Weli, MPH, MAPP, is the founder and executive director of Minneapolis-based Isuroon, a grassroots organization working for the health and connectedness of Somali women and girls. Isuroon partners with health care professionals to promote wellness and decrease health disparities.
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