So, this time I chose a topic that gets a lot of peoples’ blood boiling… Let me start at the beginning. About a year ago, I decided I wanted to take on a pro bono asylum case. I approached a contact I have in a non-profit organization that assists immigrant women and children who have been subjected to various forms of violence, abuse and/or disenfranchisement. I was eventually asked to take on the case of a young mother from Africa. Between my language skills and African background, it was a perfect match. I hadn’t realized how emotionally trying, yet uplifting the experience would be. This was not the first time I had worked on an asylum case (honor killing case for a Middle Eastern woman years ago), but it was by far one of the most heart-wrenching experiences of my life.
For the sake of my client’s privacy and confidentiality, I will limit the details I share here (sorry!). The basics are that this young mother was in the country on a visitors visa when she gave birth to a daughter. By this time, my client had already come to the decision that she did not want any female child of hers subjected to female genital cutting, as was custom in her community in Africa and as was done to her and every female relative in her extended family. Her decision was informed by her own personal experiences with the consequences of the practice, including a health services career where she witnessed the deaths of mothers and female babies from the complications of FGC. She had already suffered abuse as a result of her non-traditional outlook and behavior, and she believed that the likelihood of her wishes being respected for her daughter were nonexistent. After months of client and family interviews, consulting experts and in-depth research, we were finally able to file her petition with successful results.
Honestly, I could go on about FGC, but right now I’d rather talk about the fact that a woman who had fought for an education, fought to work, fought to be her own person with her own opinions had no hope of making choices about the health of her child. Don’t get me wrong, as a woman and a Muslim I find the practice of female genital cutting horrific – that is my personal stance. But this particular blog is not about cultural relativism or projecting my values or social norms on to another culture. This isn’t ignorance – trust me, I’ve done enough research to understand the cultural, historical and social context of FGC and recognize that it is a complicated issue for communities that practice it. Putting my views aside, it was HER opinion, HER decision, HER conviction that led her to stand against a huge amount of pressure from her family and community. We knew that at the end, only the extreme outcome of asylum could possibly give this woman and her child the opportunity to live as they chose. She can never go back to her home country. She is exiled. Yes, it was her choice, but that’s a horrible choice to have to make. I admire her strength and her courage. I am honored and proud to have been able to assist her in standing up for what she believes in, but I hate that this was the only way forward. I hate that she has to give up so much. I hate that there was no way to have it all – her freedom of choice and her family and her home. She is starting over from scratch. A single mom in a foreign country – not an easy path, but at least it’s a path she was allowed to choose.