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Telling it Like it is.


It’s Monday, which means it’s time for another round of your [semi-]weekly Adam Liptak appreciation. This week, Liptak takes a closer look at the effect of Female Genital Mutilation on applications for political asylum in the U.S.

When Alima Traore was a young girl in Mali, parts of her genitalia were cut off, which is the custom there.

“In my country, usually there is an old lady who does circumcision,” said Ms. Traore, who is 28, lives in Maryland and works as a cashier. “They have a small knife that they cut the intimate parts with. It is very atrocious.”

In September, the Board of Immigration Appeals rejected Ms. Traore’s plea for asylum and ordered her sent back to Mali. It ruled that she did not face persecution there, because the cutting, while “reprehensible,” could not be repeated. “The loss of a limb also gives rise to enduring harm,” the board said, but it would not be a good enough reason to grant asylum.

The standard for asylum under US immigration laws is that a person must have a “well founded fear” of persecution if they are forced to return to their country of origin. Apparently, having your clitoris sliced with a dirty knife and without anesthetic at some point in the past and being told by your father that if you return home you will be forced to marry your first cousin does not provide a “well founded fear” of persectuion. Keep in mind, however, forced sterilization or abortion is per se enough to show a well founded fear of persecution, even though forced sterilization is not repeatable.

So what gives? Some think that decisions like this one are a result of a male-dominated immigration judicial system:

Karen Musalo, the director of the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies at Hastings College of the Law, said that reasoning was the product of a judicial system dominated by men.

“Are women’s rights human rights?” Professor Musalo asked. “Isn’t it a human right not to be forced into a marriage?”

Professor Musalo had a theory about why the board treated forced sterilization differently from genital cutting. Sterilization affects procreation and motherhood, which are valued by men. Genital cutting, by contrast, affects only women’s sexual pleasure and autonomy.

Makes sense to me. It also seems like a further extension of Bus Administration reproductive policy. The thinking goes like this: we must condemn forced sterilization and especially forced abortion because we think abortion is bad and that women should be able to have babies…in fact, they should be popping them out! But we don’t really care if women have to endure tremendous pain every time they have sex because of genital cutting or are forced to marry their first cousins, so long as they keep birthing those babies! Sex isn’t about pleasure for women” anyway.” With that as the context, developments like Ms. Traore’s case aren’t all that surprising.

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