I first read this story early last week, the day before I participated in a panel discussion about violence against women at the University of Louisville (KY). One of the other panelists, Karina Barillas of the Louisville Center for Women and Families, spoke eloquently about how it is so easy to talk about the awful violence that takes place against women in other countries while being blind to what happens in our own country, something which is illustrated all too well by the story of Alima Traore, a woman who was subjected to Female Genital Mutilation as a young girl in Mali.
She has been living in the U.S. on a student visa and recently applied for asylum in the U.S. The Board of Immigration appeals rejected her plea with the following explanation:
“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 board also said that Ms. Traore’s fear that any daughters she might have would be subjected to similar barbarity was of no moment. Nor did it matter that Ms. Traore’s father has said he will force her to marry a first cousin – his sister’s son.
“My decision is irrevocable,” her father, Elhadj Traore, wrote to her in 2004. “The dowry has been paid, and all the Traore clan agrees. The animal sacrifice has been made for the village.”
“Lauri Steven Filppu, writing for a three-member panel of the immigration board, was measured in his sympathy.”It is understandable,” he wrote, that Ms. Traore, “an educated young woman, would prefer to choose her own spouse rather than acquiesce to pressure from her family to marry someone she does not love and with whom she expects to be unhappy. The respondent has also expressed valid concerns about possible birth defects resulting from a union with her first cousin.”
“While we do not discount the respondent’s concerns,” Mr. Filppu continued, “we do not see how the reluctant acceptance of family tradition over personal preference can form the basis” for allowing Ms. Traore to stay in the United States.”
We presume Mr. Filppu is talking about the personal preference not to get anywhere near the people who cut out your vulva and clitoris and would force you into a lifetime of marriage against your will, and forcibly put you at risk of bearing children with genetic defects. In what way could that not be considered a human rights violation??
Unfortunately, the story of Alima Traore is a tragic example of the U.S. enabling the culture of impunity that allows violence against women to continue, both in our own country and all over the word, and sadly illustrates the point Barillas was making.