Members of the Iowa House this week passed an amended bill making female genital mutilation a felony, a measure expected to become law. It’s a significant achievement, even as we acknowledge more work lies ahead.
The Iowa bill, Senate File 346, extends protections to minor females, including those at risk of being trafficked for such procedures. An amendment adds an educational component, requiring the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics to develop physician protocols for treatment of women who have undergone such procedures and for the crime victims assistance division of the Iowa Attorney General’s Office to develop and launch an awareness campaign about dangers and liabilities.
While the proposal does not reach my ideal standards of what the state should be doing to comprehensively combat female genital mutilation, it far exceeds what I expected lawmakers to accomplish. It’s a solid and much needed piece of legislation, and credit goes to numerous interest groups — many of whom find few opportunities to work together. Despite past differences, despite the admitted discomforting topic, real conversations have taken place. People have listened and pushed forward.
Even so, passage of a state law to replace federal protections struck down last year is the beginning, not the end, of the need for such effective cooperation.
An ideal law would have extended protections to all women, instead of creating an arbitrary cutoff at age 18. I would have preferred more robust education and outreach, especially to immigrant communities and local law enforcement, as well as a dedicated funding stream for such endeavors. But, since I was expecting no more than creation of a misdemeanor criminal offense, what lawmakers appear to have provided is a very workable framework.
It does not take a law for groups to commit to continued conversation and development of a unified voice on female genital mutilation. Those who work with refugees can meet with local law enforcement agencies. The stories of Iowa women who have undergone such procedures and are actively working to protect their daughters from similar rituals can be amplified through civic groups, church congregations and in the media. We can all speak as one by spreading the message that female genital mutilation is not a religious requirement and has no medical benefit. It was developed solely to control women — a misguided attempt to diminish the pleasure they can derive from sexual activity in a bid to keep them “pure” and faithful when they enter a marriage.
We must educate all our young women and girls — just as we do with young men and boys — that they have a right to decide what happens to their body. And, as best we can, we must care for and heal women who have been physically and psychologically brutalized by unacceptable rituals.
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I understand some are fearful of making female genital mutilation a crime and potentially driving the practice further into secrecy. Such fear cannot be a barrier to the reflection of our values as a society being written into law.
On this brutality, there is no middle ground; criminalization is a necessary first step. So, thank the lawmakers responsible, and tell Gov. Kim Reynolds to ready her pen.
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