Stop FGM now!

  • Movie poster for, “A Girl From Mogadishu.”

A new movie about female genital mutilation (FGM) is making the festival circuit. “A Girl from Mogadishu” traces the journey of Ifrah Ahmed, an Irish and Somali activist, from her days as a refugee fleeing war-torn Somalia to the present. 

Recently the film played at the Mill Valley Film Festival, an annual event for established as well as emerging filmmakers, where it received a positive response from a mostly female audience. Ahmed did not attend, but the filmmaker, Mary McGuckian, took questions from the audience. McGuckian said Ahmed found the film somewhat difficult to watch as it re-creates her traumas.  Ahmed not only survived FGM but also a gang rape by soldiers during the Somali war. Later, after becoming an activist, she was subject to internet abuse and threats from persons who support FGM. Her family had a hard time accepting her role as an activist, although eventually there was a kind of rapprochement with some of them. 

The film is in a somewhat unusual format of being a dramatization of Ahmed’s life accompanied by narration composed of excerpts from her speeches and writings. Although this and a lot of scene changes interrupt the flow of the story somewhat, the film is fast-paced and covers a wide variety of events in Ahmed’s life in both Somalia and in Ireland, where she was granted political asylum. 

Today many African nations have outlawed FGM, but this has not stopped its occurrence.Although the percentage of women who have suffered FGM has been declining steadily over the past 30 years, approximately 130-200 million women worldwide have been mutilated, according to the UN. The highest percentages are in Somalia, Mali, Egypt and a few other African countries.

In the US, Congress outlawed FGM in 1996, but that law was ruled unconstitutional in November of 2018 by a male federal judge in Michigan, who ruled that Congress did not have the authority under the Commerce Clause to pass the law. The US Department of Justice in 2019 declined to appeal. A new Congressional law is in process in the US House of Representatives. Equality Now, a worldwide women’s rights organization, recently put out the following urgent action appeal, asking people to support the bill: “Democratic Representative Sheila Jackson Lee and Republican Representative Don Bacon have introduced a new bipartisan bill called “Strengthening Opposition to Female Genital Mutilation Act” or the “Stop FGM Act.” This bill amends 18 U.S. Code § 116 to clarify the criminalization of female genital mutilation, and adds important provisions including an updated definition of FGM, clarification of who is accountable under the law, and a reporting requirement for federal agencies, in addition to linking FGM to interstate and foreign commerce.” 

FGM is illegal under state law in at least 27 states, according to Equality Now, but penalties vary widely. Moreover, not all state laws against FGM ban the practice known as “vacation cutting,” in which girls are taken outside of the US to undergo the mutilation. More than half a million women in the US, mostly immigrants, are estimated to have had FGM or are at risk of being mutilated. The largest number are in high population areas that draw large numbers of immigrants, such as New York City and California (both of which have outlawed FGM, but their laws don’t include provisions against “vacation cutting”). 

WoLF stands opposed to the atrocity of FGM and we ask our members and readers to contact their representatives in support of the ”Stop FGM Act.”