Addressing Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting (FGM/C) in the DMV

PCH Associate Professor Karen McDonnell and PCH Director of Practice Don Strong, and colleagues Mariya Taher, co-founder and Executive Director of Sahiyo; Shelby Quast, Co-founder of the US End FGM/C Network Steering Committee; and Angela Peabody Founder and Executive Director of Global Woman PEACE, joined Milken Institute School of Public Health Dean Lynn Goldman, Executive Associate Dean Natasha Kazeem and Associate Director for Strategic Initiatives, Tonia Valmore, for “Addressing Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting (FGM/C) in the DMV”. In the session co-sponsored by the GWSPH and its Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Task Force, McDonnell and colleagues discussed their advocacy in the passage of HR 6100: Stop FGM Act of 2020.

Over the last several years, faculty, staff and students in PCH have come together to conduct research around how best to inform and educate the health care community about female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM/C). The team has broadened their efforts, however, to include advocacy when it became clear that the 1996 Federal Prohibition of FGM Act was not protecting women in the United States (US). as initially intended.  In 2017, the team including PCH faculty and staff members Karen McDonnell, Donald Strong, Mimi Ismail and Hina Shaikh; doctoral students Krishna Patel and Ghada Khan, and masters’ students Fatu Drame and Christina Hedstrom, began work with the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee and chief of staff Monalisa Dugue to ensure that effective attention was paid to FGM/C in the US. 

On June 13, 2019, Dr. McDonnell led off a briefing for the House of Representatives in Rayburn 2237, joined by several individuals who were instrumental in creating renewed attention to FGM/C in the US including survivors of FGM/C as well as Angela Peabody from the Global Woman PEACE foundation, and Shelby Quast of Equality Now. The team worked in collaboration with the House of Representatives including the Honorable Sheila Jackson-Lee and on January 5, 2021, HR 6100: Stop FGM Act of 2020, the bi-cameral, bi-partisan piece of legislation was unanimously passed. The law includes amendments to the original 1996 legislation and the addition of a public health perspective that calls for federal agencies to report on the epidemiology of FGM/C; to document protections available and actions taken both to protect women and girls; and to educate and assist communities and key stakeholders about FGM/C. 

In the wake of this important success, the PCH team continues to conduct research in collaboration with survivors of FGM/C, the Global Woman PEACE Foundation; the RAHMA organization which works to address FGM/C and HIV/AIDS in faith communities and SAHIYO: United against Female Genital Cutting, and communities of care (health, law, education, advocacy). Recently, the team led the development and release of a virtual living toolkit (FGMToolkit.gwu.edu). This multimodal, continually growing resource is an outgrowth of the team’s collaboration with communities and includes the voices and stories of the women and girls with whom they have worked.