Reid: It’s Shameful The U.S. Is Not Doing More To End Female Genital Mutilation Worldwide

“I’m releasing this report today, which outlines the use government’s limited, limited efforts. I’m embarrassed that the State Department and the USAID aren’t engaged in dedicating resources to put an end to this.”

“According to the GAO, USAID and the State Department each had one active stand on the project focused on stopping female genital mutilation. One of these projects is gone, already ended … The GAO also found the United States has never contributed a penny to the world’s largest international effort against this horrible, awful practice. It’s called the Joint Programme on FGM.  It’s embarrassing.”

“The United States should be a leader in this fight and not a bystander. We must put this brutal practice to an end. America must lead the world in stopping these assaults on little girls and big girls and women.”

Washington, D.C. – Nevada Senator Harry Reid spoke on the Senate floor today about a new Government Accountability Office report on the limited efforts the United States has taken to stop the practice of female genital mutilation around the world. Senator Reid also wrote a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Gayle Smith, calling on them to do more to stop the practice.  Below are his remarks:

I come to the floor today not to talk about a political issue in the real sense of the word – not Democrat versus Republican – but a very difficult, sensitive issue. It’s hard to talk about, but we as a nation can’t keep ignoring this important topic.

It’s been more than 20 years since I learned about something called female genital mutilation, known as FGM. Since then, I’ve spoken often against this awful practice and the devastating effect it has on women and girls around the world.

A number of people warned me 20 years ago this isn’t a subject that I should talk about; it was taboo. They thought it would be untoward for me to do so, but I told them I had to because no one else was talking about it. So I’m going to continue to do everything that I can to bring attention to this issue and fight to end this horrible, awful, brutal practice that is perpetrated against women and girls.

It was a 1994 cable news program that introduced me to this practice. One of my friends in Las Vegas said to me, “You’ve got to see this, you can’t imagine this.” She sent it to me. I didn’t expect getting this from her or anyone else. We were friends. She told me to watch it, and I did.

A 10-year-old little girl in a party dress held down by two men, her legs spread apart as she was brutally mutilated, her genitals cut away. These images have continually haunted me over the years, and I’ll never ever forget that picture that I saw.

There are different forms of female genital mutilation around the world, the most severe and atrocious type is one in which the girl’s genitals are cut away, but then the little girls are literally sewn shut leaving only a small opening for urine and menstrual blood.

Though FGM is performed for different reasons around the world, one thing is clear: this practice is for the control and oppression of women and girls. In addition to the psychological impact, this form of gender-based violence has serious medical risks, including death. It is recognized by the United Nations as a human rights violation, as it should be.

But FGM is still happening. Two-hundred million women and girls worldwide have undergone FGM. Two-hundred million women and girls who are alive today who have undergone that procedure that I watched on cable news, or something like it.

More than two decades after I first saw that program, women and girls are still being hacked, mutilated.

This practice remains prevalent in at least 30 countries. In some places the rates are higher than 90 percent. In many of these countries, girls are cut before the age of five. In most places they are cut between the ages of five and 14. Imagine that. Girls who haven’t even started school yet, kindergarten age or younger, being subject to this horror.

Because of these millions of girls, I’ve spent more than 20 years trying to do something about it. I’ve worked hard to pass legislation outlawing the practice in the United States and banning so-called “vacation cutting,” where young girls are sent overseas to be cut. There was bipartisan support, obviously, for this. It’s not a partisan issue. And we were able to have a few victories, but certainly not enough. Still, this brutal practice continues around the world and it’s clear there must be much more done.

That is why, at my request, the Government Accountability Office began a study on the American government’s efforts to stop this practice. The GAO has completed the report about our government’s international efforts.

It is shameful what we have not done. The title of the report says it all:

“Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: U.S. Assistance to Combat this Harmful Practice Abroad is Limited.”

And “limited” is an understatement.

I’m releasing this report today, which outlines the U.S. government’s limited, limited efforts abroad. I’m embarrassed that the State Department and USAID aren’t engaged in dedicating resources to put an end to this. According to the GAO, USAID and the State Department each had one active stand on the project focused on stopping female genital mutilation. One of these projects is gone, already ended. And less than $2 million was spent on these projects combined.

The GAO also found the United States has never contributed a penny to the world’s largest international effort against this horrible, awful practice. It’s called the Joint Programme on FGM.  It’s embarrassing that we have not put one penny into this.

During the course of the GAO investigation, the State Department and USAID both began to take some action. They were embarrassed, I assume. If they weren’t, they should have been. Because they haven’t done much.

USAID, for example, decided to update the guidance that was released 16 years ago.  And Secretary Kerry recently announced the U.S. will be contributing to the Joint Programme for the first time.

Bravo. I commend this commitment, but I understand that these funds are not a dedicated funding source and are just a one-time, very limited pledge. Maybe we’ll have to get another GAO report before we can get a few more bucks into that program.

It shouldn’t take a GAO investigation for State and USAID to act. The United States should prioritize ending this practice. But it hasn’t. This is shameful. It’s a tragedy that our great government is not doing more. It’s inexcusable that the United States, a nation with wealth and power, is standing by while such sickening violence against women and girls is occurring.

Two-hundred million have undergone this practice in the world. Two-hundred million. The State Department and USAID should make ending female genital mutilation a priority and dedicate substantial resources to this cause.

The United States can and must do far more to eliminate this practice worldwide. This shameful GAO report, I hope, is a wakeup call. Something had to wake us up because we have done almost nothing as a country. The report should be a turning point in the fight against FGM – a moment when the most powerful nation in the world commits to stopping a brutal form of abuse.

The United States should be a leader in this fight and not a bystander. We must put this brutal practice to an end. America must lead the world in stopping these assaults on little girls and women. I hope that the Senate will join me in these efforts.