Ward 3 D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh has authored a bill that would ban female genital mutilation in the District.
Cheh’s bill, “The Female Genital Mutilation Prohibition Act of 2021” would stop the practice of mutilating and cutting female reproductive organs. Female Genital Mutilation (FGM/C) usually occurs among women in Muslim-oriented countries. In a letter to Nyasha Smith, secretary of the council, in filing the bill on Nov. 19, 2021, Cheh wrote “FGM/C has no valid medical purpose and causes extensive, lifelong harm to the physical wellbeing of our young women.”
“More than 200 million girls and women alive today have been subjected to this practice and many more are at risk,” the councilmember wrote. “In some instances, women are taken across state lines or abroad by a parent, guardian or other caregiver to places where FGM/C is performed. Tragically, this practice occurs across the United States, including the District.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates more than 51,000 women in the Washington metropolitan area have undergone FGM/C, the second highest rate in the U.S. after the New York City metro area.
Cheh pointed out the District stands as one of 10 state-level jurisdictions that haven’t outlawed FGM/C. The procedure has been banned in neighboring Virginia and Maryland. Congress passed a law banning FGM/C in 1996 and amended the law in 2013 to include criminalizing transporting women and girls out of the U.S. for the purpose of FGM/C. However, Michigan U.S. District Court Judge Bernard Friedman declared the 1996 law unconstitutional, saying “FGM/C is a ‘local criminal activity’ which, in keeping with longstanding tradition and our federal system of government, is for the states to regulate, not the Congress.”
In January 2021, President Trump signed legislation by U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) clarifying the commercial nature of the practice and increasing federal penalties for performing FGM/C and expanded the scope of punishable offenses.
In addition to prohibiting the practice of FGM/C, Cheh’s bill would criminalize a parent, guardian or conservator for removing a person from their care for the purpose of FGM/C abroad, establishes a cause of action for violating her legislation, expands reporter requirements to include suspicion a person amenable for the practice and mandates the D.C. Department of Health create an education campaign on the ills of the procedure for residents.
D.C. Councilmembers Elissa Silverman (I-At Large), Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1), Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2), Christina Henderson (I-At Large) and Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7) are co-introducers of the bill. A public hearing on the bill occurred on Feb. 28 before the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety.