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Interview with Amanda Parker on the Ayaan Hirsi Foundation, Violence Against Women, FGM, and Child Marriage

May 8, 2019

Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Numbering: Issue 19.A, Idea: Outliers & Outsiders (Part Fifteen)

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Web Domain: http://www.in-sightjournal.com

Individual Publication Date: May 8, 2019

Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2019

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 4,115

ISSN 2369-6885

Abstract 

Amanda Parker is the Chief Financial Officer and Senior Director of the AHA Foundation. She discusses: background; tasks and responsibilities; prevalence of FGM, clitoridectomy, infibulation, and so on, other organizations; mental health and physical and sexual health problems, and negative outcome for girls and women who have undergone FGM; parsing of the context, or the environment in which this occurs, whether within the US or around the world; moving into 2019 and 2020; and final feelings and thoughts.

Keywords: Amanda Parker, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, child marriage, FGM, girls, violence against women, women.

Interview with Amanda Parker on the Ayaan Hirsi Foundation, Violence Against Women, FGM, and Child Marriage[1],[2]

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What is background life, e.g., geography, culture, religion or lack thereof?

Amanda Parker: I am originally from Southwest Kansas. I am a Christian, Protestant. I moved from Southwest Kansas to New York City after college. I worked in finance. I worked in Residential Mortgage-backed Securities before the Subprime Crisis.

My entire department closed. I was telling a girlfriend of mine. I was interested in doing something more warm and fuzzy in terms of the content of the work. I was thinking of going into publishing or the nonprofit world. Because I could imagine getting out of bed for either of those things in the world.

My friend said, “Oh! You have to meet my friend, Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She is a New York Times bestselling author. She has a women’s rights foundation.” She introduced me to Ayaan. Ayaan and I hit it off right away.

The foundation, however, didn’t yet have staff. It was still in the process of getting itself organized. The board was forming. They were getting all the necessary insurance and bylaws. Those sorts of things.

I have been working with Ayaan personally to help her be organized on a personal level. Then when the foundation had seed money, I shortly moved over to the foundation. I have been there since.

2. Jacobsen: If you’re looking at some of the tasks and responsibilities of the position, what have been the impacts of those on the development of the organization?

Parker: That’s a great question. Our primary focus is to protect women and girls here in The United States from honor violence, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, and child marriage. We have a second wing of work. It deals with Islamism in the United States.

My focus is the women’s rights side of the work. I oversee all of our women’s programs. Those include honor violence, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, and child marriage. Within those areas of focus, what we do, we work to raise awareness, particularly with professionals, but also in general or with a general audience.

Those professionals who are likely to encounter survivors or at-risk individuals of the specific nature of these types of abuses and best practices for handling cases, and how to work with communities in a culturally sensitive manner.

We also work to educate legislators and encourage them to put in place laws that protect women and girls from these issues in the U.S. That is both on the federal and the state level. Our focus in those two areas are, really, mostly female genital mutilation and child marriage legislation in the U.S.

We do some research. It is new. We have done preliminary studies on forced marriage and honor violence in the United States. Finally, we work directly with women and girls facing these issues in the U.S. to find appropriate services, wherever they are.

To clarify, when I say women and girls in the U.S., it is primarily women and girls in the U.S. It is a sweet spot. But we have worked with men and boys who are facing these issues in the U.S., forced marriage and honor violence.

We also occasionally work with individuals who are overseas, because there are so few organizations working to fight these issues that we do have individuals coming to us from overseas to find support in whatever they are looking for.

I am going to bring this back to the U.S. It could be anything from someone needing legal help to get an order or protection or looking for a domestic violence shelter, or it could be someone who has been taken overseas for help to get repatriated to the United States and getting back on their feet here.

It could be someone facing a crisis of honor violence who needs immediate law enforcement help. All of this is based on a case-by-case, never know what you’re going to get, when people reach out for help.

We do not know what to expect every time. It is a lot of problem-solving and figuring out what each individual needs and then supporting them. That is the overall of our women’s program. I do a lot of policy work.

I do a lot of the training myself, whether working with professionals on how to handle these cases. We have had a lot of successes in all the areas that I mentioned. We worked with a number of states to put in anti-female genital mutilation laws.

We have, recently, worked with Michigan to put in place the most comprehensive laws on the books to protect women and girls from female genital mutilation. We have also worked in a number of states to encourage them, and successfully so, to limit or ban child marriage and have done some federal work on these issues as well.

We have had a lot of successes there. We have trained between 2,000 and 3,000 professionals on how to appropriately handle these cases. I know that those professionals are saving lives. One of the things that we talked to them about is that an individual facing these issues might only have one chance to ask for help.

When they do, they need to encounter a professional who understands the danger that they facing and to take them seriously. That is the main issue in working to protect these girls. There have, unfortunately, been these cases in all the ones mentioned.

People reach out to teachers, law enforcement, or some adult; that should have been able to help them or find help. Unfortunately, that is just not happening in every case. It is raising awareness and helping every professional in the United States understand that these should be taken seriously, which is important.

I used to be the person who handled help requests. Now, we have a couple of therapists who work with us to do that, which is terrific. In all of our programmatic areas, we have had a lot of success. I am proud of each of the individuals we have worked with.

I know the laws we are helping to put in place are having a big impact, and so is the training of the professionals.

3. Jacobsen: I have seen statistics of female genital mutilation of women and girls running from 100 million and 200 million in the world.

This also relates to the general categorization of FGM, of clitoridectomy, of infibulation, and so on, as, in essence, extreme forms of violence against women committed by families, communities, men and women elders within the family even, and so on.

With the United States, as this is the focus of the AHA, what is the prevalence of FGM, clitoridectomy, infibulation, and so on? And what other organizations are impactful in coordination against this extreme form of violence against girls and women?

Parker: Unfortunately, we cannot know exactly how prevalent FGM is, because it is held so much behind closed doors. It is so underground. However, the CDC estimates there are 513,000 women and girl in the US who have gone through FGM or who are at risk of the procedure.

That is and should be shocking to most Americans. That there are half of a million women and girls in this country. There are a number of organizations doing really terrific work on the ground in the United States on this.

One is SAHIYO – United Against Female Genital Cutting. It is founded by a survivor and works particularly with those looking for community. It does amazing work around helping survivors to get their stories out and to empower them.

They also do some legislative work as well. There’s an organization called Equality Now. It does international work and on the federal herein the US. They are doing great work to end FGM. Then there are some smaller players.

There is an organization called Forma founded by Joanna Berkoff, who is an amazing psychotherapist who has done a lot of really amazing work to support women and girls who have undergone female genital mutilation.

There are a number of organizations working on this and we’re coordinating to be complimentary and supportive of each others’ work.

4. Jacobsen: Even with the difficulty of finding those estimates, and even though we have those approximations at an international level, or in the US with 513,000 through the CDC, if we look at the mental health and physical and sexual health problems that follow from this extreme form of violence against women, what are they?

What provisions seem to work for the very negative outcome for girls and women who have undergone FGM?

Parker: I think that that’s a really important topic to talk about. I think that one thing that we should clarify is, as you mentioned, the WHO said this is an extreme form of violence against women and girls. An extreme form of gender discrimination.

We’re not talking about male circumcision; I am not suggesting that we’re pro-male circumcision at the AHA Foundation. The underlying reason for FGM is to control the sexuality of women and girls.

There are no health benefits and potentially lifelong health and psychological consequences that come along with it. Immediately following the procedure, it can include extreme pain, shock, hemorrhage, sores, infection, injury to nearby tissue, and so on.

Long-term women and girls suffer from urinary and bladder infections, infertility. Obviously, if you have gone through a more severe form of FGM, there is scarring, difficulty during childbirth, and so on. There are higher rates of death for babies born via women who have gone through FGM.

Even in a world where FGM is not causing any form of physical impact on the individual, which happens but it is difficult, if you speak with a medical provider about how possible and easy it is to perform the least physically invasive form of FGM, e.g., pricking, nicking, and piercing types labelled Type IV by the WHO, it is very, incredibly difficult to even those less severe forms to perform on an infant girl without causing scar tissue or some more of damage to the area – in a way that is not intended.

Back to the WHO, they make it very clear that it is a procedure that is not to be done in any of its forms, even by a healthcare provider. With that as an understanding, even if there are no physical impacts to a woman or girl who has gone through FGM, she could undergo lifelong psychological consequences, e.g., PTSD, depression, suicidal ideation, anxiety, guilt.

Obviously, this is not in every case, but in many cases, I’ve seen. Women face retraumatization in many different instances throughout their lifetime following FGM. That first instance of trauma was when they were cut initially. Following that, they may be retraumatized when they get first their period or when they’re married.

Their first sexual encounter could be an event that is traumatizing to them. Going to an obstetrician or gynecologist can be difficult. We have heard horror stories when they go to a gynecologist.

When they are being examined, the physician, if they are not expecting to see a girl who has undergone FGM, they have audibly gasped or made a facial reaction, a normal human reaction, to something disturbing to them.

We have had doctors have their colleagues come in to be an educational experience to them. All of this can be incredibly traumatic to them. Women and girls who come to us following FGM are seeking medical care and psychological care in many cases.

In looking for medical care, they are looking for someone who can alleviate the symptoms of what I am looking for, in the cases of infibulation. All possible flesh is removed: clitoris and inner and outer labia are removed. The wound that is left is almost entirely closed except a small hole for menstruation or urination

Many women experience an infection due to urine and fluids being backed up, and not released. Many women will have symptoms. There are women who go to doctors that provide something called reconstructive surgery following FGM.

If you have had the tissue removed, obviously, it is not something that you can add back to someone who has had healthy parts of their anatomy removed. You cannot put it back. There are doctors do what they can, doing great work, trying to restore a woman back to the way she was born to what was originally formed, as well as helping alleviate the physical symptoms.

Certainly, psychological support is called for, in many cases. We have women and girls reaching out to us to have a therapist to help with the trauma and the PTSD, and the guilt, anxiety, and other issues that I have talked about.

5. Jacobsen: If we look at the parsing of the context, or the environment in which this occurs, whether within the US or around the world, some will claim this happens within the context of religion. Others will claim this happens within the context of culture.

What is the general ratio there in terms of the context as a source of this form of acceptance in many subcultures or in many cultures around the world?

Parker: FGM is a practice, or a cultural practice, that predates all major religions. It is not mandated by any major religion. But there are certainly patriarchal societies and religious sects that have picked this up and promote it.

It is not required by Islam for example. However, the Bohra sect of Islam has picked up this practice in India. It now has that as part of their religious practices. When you talk to families about why they are doing this, the underlying reason for FGM in almost all cases is to control sexuality of women and girls.

They are trying to prove virginity on the wedding night, in the more severe forms. They are trying to curb a woman’s libido, so she is not having sex outside of marriage. Even given these ideas, there are a number of old wives’ tales that the families think are their reason behind why they need to perform female genital mutilation.

That can include things like removing body parts that are considered unclean. They are afraid the clitoris will turn into a tail if not cut. This is what they think of as far as what beautiful women look like; someone who has been cut.

In many cultures where FGM is practiced, a girl is not considered marriageable until she has been cut. So, I think that’s something that we should talk a little bit about, because when I started working at the AHAH Foundation.

I would wonder how a mom could do this to her daughter – the moms, grandmoms, and females perpetuating the practice, and the men and boys, the family, and the society. How is it that a mother can do this to her child? Why would they ever do this?

After working in this field for a while, I realized they do not do this to hurt their child. They love their children. They are not trying to do something harmful to them. They are doing what they think is best as a parent.

Someone who has undergone FGM. This might seem like the only instance of abusive experience in their family. It can be a completely loving family. It can be mothers do what they think can do to ensure a future for their daughters.

In these cultures, they’re not considered marriageable until they have been cut. It is important for the daughter and her future, and the family as a whole. Marriage is, in addition to being a way to provide for your daughter’s future, an alliance between families.

It is important for the family as a whole. These are families doing this to protect their daughters and to do the best for their families as a whole.

6. Jacobsen: Looking ahead into 2019 and even 2020, what seem like some of the more and major initiatives and programs, and partnerships, of the AHA Foundation?

Parker: We are, this year, working on a number of initiatives in terms of policy; that we are feeling really hopeful about. There is a trial happening in Michigan of the doctor who has been accused of cutting girls in the state of Michigan in a medical clinic there.

This went to trial and the doctor may have cut over 100 girls over the course of a decade according to the prosecutors. There are 9, I think, involved in the case. The judge in the federal female genital mutilation charge said that it is the anti-FGM law is unconstitutional due to federalism. It is the job of the states, they said, to outlaw and ban FGM.

During that case, the AHA Foundation submitted an amicus or friend of the court brief to support the prosecution, which, in this case, is the government. The government is appealing the case. We will submit another brief.

The result of the case is, certainly, going to be hugely impactful in the US. This is something that could be appealed up to the Supreme Court. If it is, and if the law is struck down, which we are very hopeful that it won’t be struck down, it could render the federal anti-FGM law to be null and void, which would be sad and send a horrible message.

The judges initial ruling, I think, already sends a bad message; that the US is not serious enough about protecting girls and women from this abusive practice. The appeals will be hugely impactful on women and girls in the US.

From working with women and families in the US through the AHA Foundation, the law will be something they use as an excuse or as family members, even if they are on the fence. They can get in trouble. It could be a ‘great’ tool for families to avoid cutting their girls.

One result that we have seen from this case. There is some great momentum on the state level. We have worked all along on the state level to encourage lawmakers to put in place state anti-FGM laws. This is something important for a lot of reasons.

It sets precedence in law that is not filled. It is law enforcement and prosecutors who have the tools to deal with this on a state level, which is most likely where this would be handled. Following the judge’s ruling in Michigan, that the anti-FGM law is unconstitutional; we have seen some good momentum.

Some lawmakers realizing that this is something that they need to pick up and run with if they want to protect the girls in their state. This is something that we’re excited about, including Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, California which has a law and we’re helping to strengthen it, and Utah.

We’re working with a lot of states. We are working with them to make sure that they are putting in place strong laws that act as the punishment for the perpetrators and also include education and outreach for professionals and communities to prevent this practice.

We are also putting in measures to help survivors in the court of law and empowers them to take action when they become an adult if they want to do it. There are more pieces of the legislation that we would like to see put in place.

That is a big part of our work in 2019 and beyond, to make sure that the girls are protected from FGM to the extent that we can; we are also working on the state level on the child marriage issue as well.

There are also federal efforts as well; that are hugely important to us. One is to clarify the existing federal anti-FGM law. That it is okay for Congress to put in place due to the commerce clause of the constitution.

We are also looking to include FGM as part of VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) in 2019. Even though, as we discussed, this is an extreme form of violence against women and girls. It is not eligible for VAWA funding. It is a huge thing for us, and definitely a priority.

7. Jacobsen: Any feelings or thoughts in conclusion based on the conversation today?

Parker: Honestly, I just want to say, “Thank you,” to you, for bringing awareness to this. Every person that understands that this is an issue in the United States, understands that there are no health benefits and lifelong health and psychological benefits that can come along with it.

It is one more person that we can reach with this message who can talk about this with our president, hopefully, share on social media, and, maybe, call their congressperson and say they want to see the end to this in the United States.

I am super grateful to you for helping to raise awareness about this, because it is personally important to me; it is something that is really under-recognized in the US as something that might be impacting our neighbours, our classmates, our coworkers, our colleagues.

It is not something simply happening overseas. It is happening here. It is happening to American citizens. It is something that we should care about. It is something right on our doorstep and to people that we care about. We really need to start acting like it.

8. Jacobsen: Thank you very much for the opportunity and your time, Amanda.

Parker: Thank you so much, Scott.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Ayaan Hirsi Ali Foundation

[2] Individual Publication Date: May 8, 2019: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/parker; Full Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2019: https://in-sightjournal.com/insight-issues/.

Appendix II: Citation Style Listing

American Medical Association (AMA): Jacobsen S. Interview with Amanda Parker on the Ayaan Hirsi Foundation, Violence Against Women, FGM, and Child Marriage [Online].May 2019; 20(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/parker.

American Psychological Association (APA, 6th Edition, 2010): Jacobsen, S.D. (2019, May 8). Interview with Amanda Parker on the Ayaan Hirsi Foundation, Violence Against Women, FGM, and Child MarriageRetrieved from http://www.in-sightjournal.com/parker.

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S. Interview with Amanda Parker on the Ayaan Hirsi Foundation, Violence Against Women, FGM, and Child Marriage. In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 20.A, May. 2019. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/parker>.

Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2019. “Interview with Amanda Parker on the Ayaan Hirsi Foundation, Violence Against Women, FGM, and Child Marriage.” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 20.A. http://www.in-sightjournal.com/parker.

Chicago/Turabian, Humanities (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott “Interview with Amanda Parker on the Ayaan Hirsi Foundation, Violence Against Women, FGM, and Child Marriage.” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 20.A (May 2019). http://www.in-sightjournal.com/parker.

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. 2019, ‘Interview with Amanda Parker on the Ayaan Hirsi Foundation, Violence Against Women, FGM, and Child MarriageIn-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 20.A. Available from: <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/parker>.

Harvard, Australian: Jacobsen, S. 2019, ‘Interview with Amanda Parker on the Ayaan Hirsi Foundation, Violence Against Women, FGM, and Child MarriageIn-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 20.A., http://www.in-sightjournal.com/parker.

Modern Language Association (MLA, 7th Edition, 2009): Scott D. Jacobsen. “Interview with Amanda Parker on the Ayaan Hirsi Foundation, Violence Against Women, FGM, and Child Marriage.” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 20.A (2019):May. 2019. Web. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/parker>.

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S. Interview with Amanda Parker on the Ayaan Hirsi Foundation, Violence Against Women, FGM, and Child Marriage [Internet]. (2019, May 20(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/parker.

License and Copyright

License

In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at www.in-sightjournal.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 2012-2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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