Women who suffered female genital mutilation or other dangerous and humiliating treatment in their native countries are wondering if the United States is going to send them back to the same societies that mutilated them.

Villages in North and West Africa still practice tribal traditions aimed at protecting family honor, including female genital circumcision to keep girls chaste for marriage. Those women that escape to America have been able to apply for political asylum since 1996, but The Washington Post reports that in the past year, some immigration courts have been trying to narrow the grounds on which these women can receive legal sanctuary.

A woman who calls herself “Eliza”, living in the Washington metro area, tells the Post: “I was seven. They put a large fabric on the floor. There were about 50 other girls there, too. The people danced and beat drums. The grown-ups held me down. My mother was screaming, but they beat her and held her away. Then they cut me and I was bleeding. It hurt and I was crying and bleeding and crawling. I crawled for a whole week.”

Eliza was describing her childhood ordeal in her native Senegal. After she escaped to the West, she made a visit home that resulted in her clan trying to force her to marry an elderly cleric. When she refused, they shaved her head and fed her charcoal as punishment.

Eliza’s tourist visa has expired and she’s waiting an asylum hearing which could result in her deportation. She has two U.S.-born children. If she’s deported, she will have to decide between leaving them here and taking them with her to Senegal, where she says they most certainly will face circumcision.

Although Senegal has made significant moves to reduce the practice, about 28 percent of women still undergo circumcision. But cultural pressure can outweigh laws against genital mutilation, and that its practitioners are motivated by a sincere desire to see girls become proper wives and mothers.

“It has been going on for 2,000 years, and it is a deeply engrained social norm. If a girl is not cut, she will not get a good husband,” Molly Melching, an American who heads a women’s advocacy organization in Senegal, told the Post. “Women do not do this to harm their daughters. They do it to help them succeed. They do it out of love.”

Source: WowOWow – 03 November 2008