DES MOINES — The Iowa Senate has unanimously voted to ban female genital mutilation and charge those who perform the procedure with a felony. A version of the bill ready for debate in the Iowa House would establish a lesser penalty for the practice — an aggravated misdemeanor — but Senator Jake Chapman of Adel objected.
“If the House refuses to take this bill because it’s a Class D felony, then shame on the House. Shame on the House,” Chapman said. “…I think we have a responsibility to do what’s in the best interest of Iowans and this practice is horrific. This practice should be classified as torture.”
Female mutilation or cutting is routinely done on preteen girls in countries like Somalia. Some lawmakers have called for spending state money to educate Somali refugees of the risks.
“I imagine if any of us moved to another country where circumcision was against the law, we would want to know about it,” Senate Democratic Leader Janet Petersen said. “Things that are cultural norms in one country are not cultural norms in another.”
Petersen voted for the bill to make those who perform female genital mutilation in Iowa felons, but used today’s debate to complain that other bills dealing with gender inequality have languished in the senate.
“There’s gender inequality in our tax code, taxing Iowa women and girls every month for the products they must purchase when they get their periods,” Petersen said. “We have no monthly tax for men and their penis.”
Senator Amy Sinclair, a Republican from Allerton, said a recent survey indicates 5000 girls and young women in Iowa are at risk of female cutting.
“I see no bill that more firmly addresses the matter of gender inequality than this bill,” Sinclair said. “This bill criminalizes a violent criminal act against small girls….This bill matters and it matters more than a tax on tampons.”
The United Nations estimates more than 200 million women and girls around the globe have experienced some form of genital mutilation. In some cultures, women who have not undergone such procedures are shunned by prospective husbands.