Jaha Dukureh is a survivor, driven with incredible inner strength. This article is a great follow-up to the post I wrote on Female Genital Mutilation.
This is the worst form of abuse on children and women. I can appreciate bringing traditions when moving to America. Female Genital Mutilation is a tradition not excepted in America. The violence and violation of children and women is illegal, not a tradition America has ever followed and is inhumane. Most people are not familiar with Female Genital Mutilation, now is a good time to educate yourself and others. Jaha’s clitoris and labia removed and her vagina stitched leaving only a small hole to urinate and menstruate. Sex is very painful.This procedure is Type 3 FGM. It is a long post but please read her brave and motivating story. Please sign the petition on Change.org. She is a survivor and want’s to teach Americans what to do to stop FGM in America. The Futures Without Violence website http://exchange.futureswithoutviolence.org is a great resource to offer support and educate.
From the Futures Without Violence Website.
Jaha Dukureh: ‘In Washington, they don’t want to talk about Vaginas’
An Atlanta woman who is a survivor of female genital mutilation is leading a campaign for the US to take action on a brutal practice happening in its own backyard. Jaha Dukureh does not give up easily. When, aged just 15, she was sent to New York from Gambia for an arranged marriage, it looked like her dream of getting an education was over. But she refused to stop trying.
“I went to school after school, begging them to let me join, but because I didn’t have my parents with me they said I couldn’t enrol,” she says. “At the last school I just told them I was all on my own, and I sat in the principal’s office and cried until finally they gave in.” Within days, she had joined the class. “You don’t even know how happy that made me. I was so excited just to sit in class and learn,” she says.
Now Jaha is facing a new challenge: trying to help bring an end to female genital mutilation, otherwise known as FGM, in the US. The 24-year-old mother of three, who now lives in Atlanta, went through the practice – which involves removing some or all of a girl’s outer sexual organs – when she was only a week old. But she knows many girls who, despite being born and raised in the United States, were taken as children back to their family’s country to be cut and hears stories that cutters are also at work on American soil.
“FGM is not something that is happening in a far away place. It is happening here to American girls,” she says. “When these kids are being sent back they are told they are going to meet their families. Often the parents are not to blame, they take their kids back home and it can be done without your permission, you go out and come back to a mutilated child.”
Sign the petition to end female genital mutilation in the US
Ask President Obama to take the essential first step of commissioning a report to establish how many American women and girls are at risk of female genital mutilation. Experts say this is the first step in tackling a crime that persists despite legislation. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is backing the campaign saying FGM is a “human rights violation” that must end. Show your support
Change.org Petition to end FGM
After hearing about the campaign of British schoolgirl Fahma Mohamed – who headed a successful Guardian-backed campaign to get more education about FGM in schools – Jaha started a petition on the campaigning website Change.org. She is calling for a new study to find out just how many girls and women are affected by FGM in the US, as the first step to forming a national action plan to tackle the brutal practice.
“There is such a culture of silence about FGM in America. If you stand up and say ‘This happened to me’, people will scrutinise you, but someone has to stand up and say, this can’t go on happening. This is a human rights abuse and it has to stop,” she says.
A culture of silence and fear around the subject – coupled with public apathy and lack of awareness – has allowed the practice to continue under the radar, she says. “When people come to this country they bring their traditions with them – they eat the same food, dress in the same way – what makes people think that they won’t continue with FGM?” she asks. “Yes it’s a cultural issue but I’m from this culture and I am saying, this is not to our benefit. This is abuse.”
Jaha has already spent her life challenging accepted cultural norms. As one of five girls and three boys, she grew up in Gambia and was among the first girls in her family to go to school. “Some family members would complain because instead of coming home and learning to be a woman, I’d be in talent shows and after-school classes,” she says. “My mom was so proud of me, she would sell clothes or take African products to the UK to sell so she could pay my school fees. She wanted me to become a doctor.”
But when she was in 7th grade her mother was diagnosed with cancer. Unable to find treatment in Gambia she went to the UK, taking Jaha with her. “She wanted me to go to school, but it just wasn’t possible, so when I was 14, I just spent all my time going back and forth to hospital.” When her mother was told she had three months to live, she sent Jaha back home. “She didn’t want me to see her die.”
On her return, without a mother to protect her, she was told she had to go to New York to marry a man in his 40s. Still just 15 when she arrived, she soon found out that not only had she gone through FGM as a child, she had been subjected to the most extreme form. Jaha had type 3 FGM, where the clitoris and labia are removed before the girl is stitched together, leaving only a very small hole to urinate and menstruate.
“I went through days and weeks of excruciating pain when [my husband] was trying to have sex with me,” she says. She was taken to a doctor in Manhattan who opened her vagina, and told her she had to have sex that day or the wound would close again. “This happened in America, it was like I went through the FGM all over again.”
When the marriage broke down, Jaha refused to stay with her husband and was taken in by family members. Without anyone to vouch for her, she went to 10 different schools where she was told her she could not be enrolled without a guardian’s consent, before the 11th agreed. “I went to school during the day and waitresses in Harlem in the evening for lunch money and clothes,” she said. “But you know, I went to the prom. I saved up and I bought my prom dress, I got a date, I was a real American girl.”
When she was 17 she moved to Atlanta to be married for a second time. “I was very lucky because my husband understands my passion for education and he is the best dad for my kids I could ask for,” she says. She finished high school and put herself through college, and started work as a bank teller. In three and a half years she has been promoted three times and now works as a personal banker. “When people ask where I am from, I say I’m a Georgia peach,” she says. “This is home now. There are so many opportunities here and there is no way that girls should miss out on that because of FGM. That does not sit well with me.”
Her campaign has not been easy. After she spoke publicly for the first time, Jaha suffered immediate and severe backlash. “People called my husband, my sister, my dad. They said I wanted to get people locked up, break up families – but that is not my message,” she says. Jaha’s husband and father both respect her decision to lead the campaign, as hard as it may be and she refuses to be scared into submission. “Whatever they do, I am not afraid. They are not going to make me stop. The safety of our daughters is more important than that”.
Between looking after her young family and working as a personal banker she tours schools, colleges and community groups to talk about the dangers of FGM , and with other survivors has set up a foundation called Safe Hands for Girls.
But now she is taking her campaign to the top by asking for better data on FGM in the United States and as a first step to creating a national action plan to train educators, health professionals and police – and give survivors a safe place to seek help.
“In Washington they don’t want to talk about Vaginas, they don’t want to hear about this issue and they don’t want to address it,” she says. “Sometimes, I feel is Washington afraid to tackle FGM, are they scared of it?”
She is determined to keep fighting until FGM is recognised as a real risk for American girls and policies are put in place to protect them. “I don’t want to be poster child. I want every woman who has been through this to be able to speak out,” she says. “But you know, in every revolution one person has to stand up to be counted, then other people follow. Right now everyone is turning a blind eye and pretending nothing is wrong – but once we stand up together, they won’t be able to ignore us any more.”