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There are four topics:

  • Ensure women have equal rights under the law
  • Keep girls in school
  • Prevent violence against women and girls globally
  • Female genital mutilation

This article will focus on the last point: Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). FGM is a human rights violation and a form of child abuse, gender discrimination and violence against women and girls. FGM is a global problem, and its eradication requires international cooperation and enforcement at the national level. This does happen in the U.S. but mainly in secrecy. On September 22, Washington DC issued a statement when they passed ten bills including the Stop FGM act of 2020.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 513,000 girls and women in the United States were either a victim or at risk of FGM, with one-third of those being under the age of 18. While there are federal policies that recognize FGM as a form of child abuse and violence against women and girls, the current federal law is in limbo after a decision in a Michigan court case found it unconstitutional. The law must be amended so it can withstand future court challenges and continue to protect girls from FGM.

The Stop FGM Act of 2020, introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, amends the law that criminalizes female genital mutilation to ensure that girls are protected from violence, makes it illegal to cut a girl's genitalia for non-medical reasons, and adds important provisions, including an updated definition of FGM. Ms. Lee is from Texas, a state which has banned the ritual. FGM is not actually written in any religious texts. So why is it done? Most such girls are told by their mothers and grandmothers that it is a requirement to be pure; that it is a rite of passage or a prerequisite to getting married in their tradition.

There are four types of FGM:

Clitoridectomy: The total or partial removal of the sensitive clitoris and surrounding skin.

Excision: The partial or total removal of the clitoris plus the removal of the labia minora, the inner skin folds surrounding the vagina.

Infibulation: The cutting and repositioning of the labia minora and the labia majora, the outer skin folds that surround the vagina. This often includes stitching to leave only a small gap. (This practice is not only extremely painful and distressing, it's also an ongoing infection risk: the closing over of the vagina and the urethra leaves women with a very small opening through which to pass menstrual fluid and urine. In fact, the opening can be so small that it needs to be cut open to allow sexual inter- course or birth, often causing complications which harm both mother and baby.)

All other harmful procedures like pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the clitoris or genital area.

Here are some other ways that Zonta SCV advocates to End Violence Against Women and Girls

16 Days of Activism, November 25 - December 10

In spite of the physical restrictions caused by Covid-19, Zonta SCV's Advocacy Committee has continued to meet and find creative ways to advocate during the 16 Days of Activism and beyond. Plans are in place to provide community awareness through the Red Dress Project at locations that are open and provide good access such as the Farmers Market. New articles designed to inform on issues of violence against women and girls are being posted each day on Zonta's various social media platforms and on Zonta's Website and Blogs. Also active again is the Court Advocacy Program that assists women fleeing from domestic violence situations. Advocating with the City of Santa Clarita on an annual basis is an important part of our 16 Days, and Zonta SCV will again be recognized with a commendation at a City Council meeting in November. A banner has been prominently displayed above the street in front of the City Hall, and Zontians wear their orange shirts at every opportunity to signify Zonta's "Orange the World" campaign, providing important media exposure and attention.

The "Shoe Display" at the left was Zonta SCV's first activity for 16 Days of Activism in 2014. Each pair of shoes represented a call made to the local sheriff's office reporting instances of domestic violence. They were predomently women's and children's shoes. The red shoes represented those who died as a result of domestic violence.

The shoes were displayed in a well-travelled area of Valencia Town Center adjacent to a main entrance to the mall. Because "16 Days" happens over the holiday shopping season, the display was seen by hundreds of people. Zonta hosts were positioned nearby to answer questions from the curious shoppers. The display was built by Unzon, Iain Macpherson, and club members collected and supplied the shoes which were then donated to charity.

Written by Beth Heiserman

Oct 2020

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