I was a medical student in Mali before fleeing to the United States to escape female genital mutilation (FGM) and a forced marriage to my cousin. Because I come from Bamako, the relatively progressive capital of my country, and because my mother is very active in promoting women’s rights, I was able to avoid being circumcised during my childhood, but time was running out for me. When my mother learned of the planned marriage to my cousin, whom I had only met once in my childhood, I knew that I would be forced to undergo circumcision before the marriage. My mother vowed to help me escape this fate.
It is customary in my country for women to be circumcised, often in unsanitary conditions, using crude tools like rusted razors, and causing a lifetime of medical complications. I had seen my own sister, who was forced to be circumcised when she was betrothed, fall into a grave depression after she underwent the procedure, and had seen friends who feared circumcision and attempted to avoid it ultimately be forced to undergo the procedure anyway. There are no laws protecting women in Mali from FGM and, despite a growing awareness of the dangers of the practice, it continues unchecked. The only way I could avoid this fate was to leave my country.
I traveled to the United States and enrolled in an English program at a University, where I studied for two semesters until I was no longer able to afford the program. Approximately eight months after my arrival in the United States, I was apprehended by immigration officers who took me to the Wackenhut detention center in Queens, New York where I was detained for approximately one month before being released on bond. During my time in detention, I decided to pursue an asylum claim in order to remain safely in the United States.
In June 2004, I was granted asylum with the assistance of my pro bono attorneys from the law firm of Alston & Bird LLP. I have since enrolled in English classes and begun working at an athletic club. I am still involved with Human Rights First, speaking at events and telling my story so that more people will become aware of the situation for women in Mali and the work of this organization and the attorneys who devote their time to helping refugees like me remain in this country.