Twenty-two states do not have legal protections in place for women and girls who are at risk for female genital mutilation (FGM). Among them is Massachusetts, and now, residents are taking action to make sure the cruel and barbaric practice of FGM is criminalized in their state.

Along with other groups and impassioned advocates, the national EndFGMToday campaign has been calling on Massachusetts lawmakers to sponsor and pass a law that would punish perpetrators who inflict this unnecessary procedure that leaves both physical and emotional scars for a lifetime.

EndFGMToday leader, international attorney and child advocate Elizabeth Yore points to a new petition in Massachusetts to call on leaders to protect girls and women in the state. Already with more than 230,000 signers and with a goal of 300,000 who are committing to ending FGM in Massachusetts, the Change.org petition is gaining strength.

Yore said that state laws are even more crucial now, as the federal law criminalizing female genital mutilation was ruled unconstitutional by a district judge in late 2018.

“Without the federal law, females in the 22 states that currently do not have their own prohibitions against FGM are particularly at risk,” Yore said. “EndFGMToday has repeatedly called on Massachusetts lawmakers to stand up for girls and women to enact an anti-FGM law in their state. In the absence of a federal FGM ban, it is now more important than ever for states to take initiative to protect their residents, especially as young girls could be maimed for life.”

The Massachusetts petition was started by three women, Mariya Taher, Aisha Yusuf and Hanna Stern, who are “pleading to the Massachusetts State Legislature to pass a law making it illegal for someone to carry out (FGM) on young girls.”

Taher was born in the United States and now lives in Massachusetts, but at the age of 7, she was subjected to FGM in India. Her friends and relatives also living in the U.S. have undergone FGM both in America and in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Australia and many other countries.

Yusuf was subjected to FGM at the age of 5. “I know many women who also got it done,” she says. “Personally, I know people in my community who talk about it as if it’s normal. I was aware of people practicing it behind closed doors, but I also know that some people are looking for ways to keep the practice alive here in the states even though it might mean legal action is taken against them.”

Stern said she came upon the subject of FGM while searching for a global health research topic online for a school project. “I knew nothing about it and was concerned that others would find it uncomfortable and unrelatable,” she said. “My teacher told me that was all the more reason to focus on FGM. It’s not a cultural issue; it’s not a third-world problem. FGM happens all over the world; it is happening in Massachusetts!”

According to the petition’s home page, Massachusetts is known for its progressive policies in terms of reproductive rights, anti-discrimination laws and equality issues, yet the state still does not ban FGM. As FGM is “nearly always carried out on minors, is a violation of the rights of children, and reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes that constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women, we must protect girls from undergoing FGM.” The petition page also points to the fact that Massachusetts ranks 12th in the nation for at-risk populations with an estimated 14,591 women and girls who are at risk for FGM.

Yore also noted that, according to the Centers for Disease Control, more than a half million girls and woman in the U.S. are at risk for female genital mutilation. FGM is also recognized by both the World Health Organization and the United Nations as a human rights violation perpetrated upon little girls and women, and over 200 million women worldwide have been subjected to FGM.

View the at EndFGMToday.com state-by-state map of those who do have anti-FGM laws and learn more about FGM at by going here or on social media at #EndFGMToday.

(press release sent to WSBS from Deborah Hamilton, Hamilton Strategies for online and on air use)