Female genital mutilation is like losing a limb?

So says the Board of Immigration Appeals in denying a woman's plea for asylum.

Topics: Broadsheet, Violence Against Women, Female Mutilation, Love and Sex,

Try to follow this logic of the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals: A woman should not be granted asylum on the grounds of having had her genitalia mutilated because the act isn’t repeatable; it is akin to having a limb chopped off — it hurts, sure, but you can’t chop off the same limb twice! Forced sterilization, however, is grounds for granting asylum because …

Well, the board hasn’t exactly explained how forced sterilization and female genital mutilation, neither of which can be repeated, are different from each other when it comes to granting a woman asylum. In a New York Times article that puts a spotlight on the board’s puzzling logic, an interesting explanation is offered from the outside. Karen Musalo, director of the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies at Hastings College, put it simply: Genital mutilation affects a woman’s experience of sex and her own body, while sterilization affects a woman’s ability to reproduce. The latter, she says, has greater cultural value — especially in (some very blinkered) men’s eyes.

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This brings us to the case that brought about this loopy logic: that of 28-year-old Alima Traore, who had her external genitalia excised with a knife as a child in Mali. She has lived in the U.S. for seven years — first on a tourist visa, then on a student visa. But for the past four years, she has lived here without a visa. Traore doesn’t want to return to Mali, in part because her father would force her to marry her first cousin. She’s also concerned, of course, that if she has any children with her first cousin they very well may have birth defects. Not to mention, if she has daughters, they too will become victims of female genital mutilation.

But when she made a request for asylum, the board rejected it, making the aforementioned argument about genital mutilation being unrepeatable and final — never mind that victims of forced sterilization are regularly granted asylum. Traore is appealing the decision, and I hope the board is, in the very least, forced to explain its thinking.

Tracy Clark-Flory
Tracy Clark-Flory is a staff writer at Salon. Follow @tracyclarkflory on Twitter and Facebook.

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