The Minnesota fight against female genital mutilation


By now you’ve probably heard about the two 7-year-old girls who were taken by their parents to Michigan for “surgery” and instead had their clitoral skin removed by Dr. Jumana Nagarwala (allegedly).

The response from the Minnesota legislature was swift:

Members of Minnesota’s House of Representatives voted 124 to 4 in favor of H.F. 2621, a measure designed to increase the severity of penalties for committing Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in the state of Minnesota.

The measure, sponsored by Rep. Mary Fransen (R – Alexandria), makes FGM a felony: 20 years in prison and loss of parental rights

(Read the full measure here: HF 2621)

There have been charges of mutilation brought against Nagarwala, as well as the owner (and his wife) of the Detroit-area clinic where the surgery was performed. This sets a precedent as first case testing the Unites States’ ban on the practice of female genital mutilation (also known as cutting).

“What if it was a cultural norm to chop off a penis?” Franson asked her colleagues on the Minnesota House floor. “It would be a different conversation.”


But she’s probably not wrong.

As the Acting Assistant Attorney General, Kenneth Blanco said, “According to the complaint, despite her oath to care for her patients, Dr. Nagarwala is alleged to have performed horrifying acts of brutality on the most vulnerable victims.”

According to Nagarwala’s attorney, she was merely performing a harmless religious ritual on the girls. But there was clearly (some/much) knowledge of wrongdoing, as both girls were told not to talk about the procedure.

There is evidence to suggest that this isn’t the first time Nagarwala had engaged into this type of “harmless religious ritual.”

HF 2621 received (mostly) bipartisan support; the only “no” votes came from Rep. David Bly (D – Northfield), Rena Moran (D – St. Paul),  Allen, and Rep. Tina Liebling (D-Rochester), who is also running for Governor of Minnesota next year.

The four Democrats raised concerns over the separation families; separating kids from their parents/deporting the parents would potentially cause more problems than solve. There was also worry that such a harsh sentence will potentially deter victims from stepping forward.

As Ilhan Omar (D – Minneapolis) stated, “I don’t want us to create laws because there is a flashy headline,” Omar said. “I want to make sure we are doing this for the right reasons.”

That is to say, going too far to make a point might backfire in the end. As the first case being tried on the subject, it certainly sets the tone for future cases; as well as the consequences thereof.

There is a greater message as well: traditions will not be tolerated for traditions’ sake. There is an overarching “We don’t care if this is normal for you. It’s not normal for us,” mantra that is perhaps the only elephant in the room.

Especially in this political climate of acceptance dueling xenophobia.

But this is also not an isolated incident. A 2012 study from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) put the number of girls who had experienced, or were at risk of experiencing, FGM at 513,000 worldwide.

This is something that is being addressed worldwide. The World Health Organization stated recently that there are no known health benefits to the procedure, and many victims have begun speaking out as well.