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Speak Truth To Power Series in KI-Media - Fauziya Kassindja (Togo) “Female Genital Mutilation and Immigratio​n Abuse”

Speak Truth To Power Series in KI-Media - Fauziya Kassindja (Togo) “Female Genital Mutilation and Immigratio​n Abuse”

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12/13/2014

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in association with 
Speak Truth To Power
 (“
Courage without Borders
”) Seriesin KI Media
. . . . .Fauziya Kassindja (Togo) “Female Genital Mutilation and Immigration Abuse”
Biography
Fauziya Kassindja
narrowly escaped
female genitalmutilation
by fleeing from her remote village in
Togo
undercover of night and making her way to the United States where, inDecember 1994, she sought
political asylum
.
 
Instead of receivingthis seventeen-year-old orphan with understanding and humanity, U.S.officials proceeded to strip her naked, put her in chains, imprison her, andsend her through the Kafkaesque nightmare known as the
U.S.immigration system
.
 After extensive advocacy by 
a law student at American University 
and an appearance on the front page of 
The New York Times
, Kassindja became the first person to receive political asylum from the UnitedStates based on the threat of female genital mutilation.Up to
130 million women worldwide
, the vast majority concentrated in twenty-six African nations, have been subjected to
female genital mutilation
, and 2 millionannually confront it. The procedure involves
cutting off the clitoris. Noanesthesia
is used. Often other parts of the external genitals are also excised, and theentrance to the
 vagina is commonly sewn almost completely shut.Infection, scarring, infertility, excruciating intercourse, complexchildbirth, and almost unbearable pain
are common side effects. Many 
 women die
in the aftermath of the procedure, which is
performed with razor blades, sharp rocks, knives, and in some instances, scalpels.
Despitethe trauma she suffered, Kassindja has spoken actively against the practice and about
 
the difficulties she faced in the U.S. immigration system. She is currently on theadvisory board for the
Center for Gender and Refugee Studies
based in California.She is the co-author of 
Do They Hear You When You Cry 
, a memoir of herexperiences in Togo and her struggle to gain asylum in the United States.
Interview 
I have four sisters and two brothers; I was the sixth child, the last girl. I was amischievous one, very close with my father—he was my best friend. All my sisters wereencouraged by him to do whatever we wanted with our lives. Our parents didn’t decidefor us. They always said,
"It’s your decision. If it’s a positive one we’re going to help youmake it come true. If it’s negative, we’re going to advise you not to do it, but if youthink that’s what you want, go ahead. Later on you have yourself to blame. You can’tsay your parents forced you."
My father sent all of us to school, so that we could learnEnglish and help with his business. This was unusual for girls in Togo.
 When I was sixteen my father died and everything changed.
My auntand my uncle, my father’s siblings, hated my mom right from the beginning because
Mom was from Benin
and they thought she didn’t fit in—she’s not from theirtribe. They tried to force my father to divorce her, but he didn’t listen. They said my mother was behind all of us going to school. They thought she poisoned my father’smind. After Father’s death, Aunt moved into our house. She told us that my mother haddecided to go live with her family in Benin, which was untrue.
She and my unclemade my mother leave, and my aunt became my new guardian.
I was allowed to go to school until the end of that year. When I turned seventeen she toldme that
I wasn’t going back to school
because there was no need to wastemoney and time, and besides, all my sisters had gone to school and had just ended upmarried. I had lost my father, I had lost my mom, and now school. I thought,
"Oh my God, what is going to happen next?"
Shortly after a gentleman started coming to the house. I thought maybe my aunt wantedto get remarried, so whenever he left I said,
"Oh I think he’s a great guy."
She kept goingon, praising him, how rich he was, how famous, how nice he can be. I thought she was inlove. I didn’t know that she was really saying that to get me interested. She didn’t tell methat she wanted me to marry him until one time she mentioned,
"I told him that you weren’t going back to school."
I was surprised.
"Why would you have to tell him I’m not
 
going back?"
So she said,
"Remember how you always say he’s a nice person? He wants to marry you."
I thought she was kidding. She told me that he was forty-five years old. I said,
"Forty-five!!!"
 And she kept going,
"Don’t worry. He has three wives and they willhelp take care of you."
I said,
"I don’t want to do this."
So after that it was ahuge fight in the house all the time. Then one day she said,
"I know you don’t love himnow but once you get
kakiya [genital mutilation],
you will learn to lovehim."
Soon after I woke up and she called me into her room and I saw all this beautifulclothing on the bed—dresses, jewelry, shoes—and she said,
"This is all from yourhusband. He wants you today. So tomorrow will be the day of kakiya."
I said,
"What! I am going to get married today?"
I had noidea what to do. The marriage proceeded and, after, they gave me the marriage licenseto sign, but I refused. My older sisters and brothers came, and we talked about it. They apologized for not doing anything to prevent things so far. My older sister was so upset.She told me not to cry—everything would be okay. She would make sure that nobody  would do kakiya to me. But I didn’t believe her because there was nothing that she coulddo. I was somebody else’s wife now. She says,
"Don’t worry. Amaray and I will disguise you."
 Amaray is what we call my mom; it means "bright."She told me not to sign the marriage license, told me not to worry. Everything would befine.
She came back in the middle of the night and we left the houseand crossed the border to Ghana.
The next available plane was to Germany.My sister gave me three thousand dollars, all the money she had. I got on the plane fromGermany to the United States by purchasing a passport. When the
immigrationofficer at Newark Airport
said,
"Do you have any money?"
I showed herthe little money I had left and then told her that I wanted asylum. She said go sit overthere, and she would be with me shortly. So I sat waiting until she checked everybody and came to me. She said,
"Okay, tell me what you want from theUnited States."
I told her I wanted asylum. She told me I had to tell her what is theproblem. So I told her everything. Well, not everything, because it is so embarrassing.How could she understand?
I didn’t know the words even to say it inEnglish.
I didn’t know what it was called. I told her my father was dead and my mother had vanished, and my aunt wanted me to marry somebody I don’t want to marry and that I wanted to go back to school. That basically summarized everything—
I didn’tmention kakiya because I knew she probably couldn’t understandand she would also think I was crazy.
Whether I got asylum was up to the judge, she said, so I would go to prison, then see the consular official from my country,and then I could go home and be with my family.I started crying and screaming—telling her that I was only seventeen, and I didn’t doanything wrong, I didn’t want to go to prison. Then they brought the cops to the waitingarea where I was sitting.
Her supervisor said if I didn’t want to stay, then

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