A parent’s duty to raise their child in an environment that offers the child dignity and respect.

by Shireen Qudosi

When America Matters launched its #StopFGM campaign, we were all passionate about being able to do something to raise awareness and end the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in the U.S. This summer, an American-born Muslim doctor, behind closed doors in an after-hours clinic, performed female genital mutilation (the cutting of genitalia) on two little girls around the same age as my own son.  Dr. Jumana Nagarwala will be released on $4.5 million bail this week and is set to stand trial in October.

America Matters formed a coalition of victims, activists, doctors, lawyers, imams and scholars to educate the public about FGM. We have had the humbling opportunity to get to know FGM survivors, who are now activists, and their stories first-hand.

It was my six-year-old son’s first wiggling tooth this summer that prompted me to ask, “What if this [FGM] had been done to me?”

Losing the first baby tooth is a big deal to not only the child, but to his or her parents as well. I checked his tooth daily to see how far it had loosened. I thought, “I can’t even bring myself to do more than gently test this tooth”, constantly reassuring him that I was only going to do what he’s comfortable with.

It’s his tooth. It’s his body. He has autonomy over these things even as a child. He’s my child, but he’s first and foremost his own person. As a first-time parent I surprise myself daily. I’m a lot more loving and patient with him than I am toward anyone else, and a lot of that has to do with the innocence he carries.

It’s in small moments like these, experienced by almost every parent in every home, where you have an invitation to pause and reject the pattern of behavior you faced as a child — tooth tied to a string with the other end tied to a door knob, or the thick-jointed tree-stump fingers of your mother reaching into your mouth.

Yet, as the survivors of FGM remind me, there is a six-year old somewhere else with legs forced open, some woman’s thick-knotted fingers digging into her genitalia, and a razor cutting her most sensitive part rooted between her legs, while she cries out in horror, her arms and legs held down by those she loves and trusts.

There is no real comparison between a tooth and a young girl’s body. This is not about just the physical repercussions, as the violent harm of FGM far outweighs the natural loosening of a tooth. The comparison here is about parents and their attitudes.

As fall begins, I look to our community to think of how we can foster empathy and awareness in other parents. How can we use “community outreach” programs to cultivate respect and the dignity of children? There are no easy answers but there are people with pieces of the answer. Finding our way forward starts with acknowledging we’re failing our children. If you have failed your child, then we have failed your child.

As poet Khalil Gibran reminds us:

“Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow…”