Congress delivers an early holiday gift to women and girls in America

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Congress delivered an overdue holiday gift to thousands of women and girls in America. The Stop Female Genital Mutilation Act was passed by the Senate with a unanimous vote and now heads to the Oval Office for the president to sign. This critical federal legislation offers protection to so many vulnerable women and girls in the decades to come.

Female genital mutilation is the cutting or removal of these body parts of women for nonmedical purposes. The practice has no health benefits but levies physical and psychological effects. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 510,000 women and girls in the country have had female genital mutilation or are at risk of it.

The bill clarifies a commercial nature of female genital mutilation so that Congress has authority to ban this horrific practice under the commerce clause of the Constitution. It provides for a strong penalty of 10 years for those who carry out this heinous procedure. It also mandates that female genital mutilation rates and risks must be monitored and reported on by federal agencies that can increase awareness and prevention.

The legislation was created with a bipartisan spirit as issues this critical need to be. Sheila Jackson Lee brought this bill to life in the House and worked with Don Bacon to get it through the chamber. “The practice of female genital mutilation violates the right of women and girls to sexual and reproductive health security and physical integrity, their right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, and their right to life when the procedure results in death,” she claimed.

The bill also found many champions when it arrived in the Senate. Marsha Blackburn introduced the Federal Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act last year with the similar call to justice for women and girls. “It seems impossible that a painful practice like female genital mutilation would be allowed to happen in the United States. If we are silent, more women and girls will suffer from this egregious injustice,” she announced.

This must not be the last time Congress moves to prevent female genital mutilation. The Violence Against Women Act will likely be considered in the new session of Congress, so the Senate should make sure efforts to combat female gential mutilation are included in this important bill and that funds are available to those who try to end this practice.

This bipartisan progress can and should happen in each of the states in the country. All 50 states must have laws on the books that ban female genital mutilation. This sends a strong signal to communities where this practice is culturally acceptable that such violence will not be tolerated. While most states across the country have such laws, almost one dozen states still have work to do to criminalize this barbaric action.

In addition to putting laws on the books, our government leaders should identify education and outreach opportunities within communities at risk for female genital mutilation. They must make resources available to train medical and enforcement representatives. A much greater awareness of this human rights abuse will lead to greater efforts to fight it.

The success of the Stop Female Genital Mutilation Act is one case where politics was set aside for the protection of women and girls. Its bipartisan spirit brings hope that it will be the gift that keeps on giving.

Andrea Bottner is a senior adviser to the Independent Womens Voice. She served as an official for the State Department and the Justice Department.

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