Alternate Title

Essay : cleaning our own house : "exotic" and familiar human rights violations


Women's human rights activism in the United States tend to highlight human rights violations of women outside the U.S., or on women from other cultures who enter the U.S. as immigrants or asylum-seekers, while ignoring internal human rights abuses. This Article focuses on the events surrounding a recent U.S. gender asylum case involving Fauziya Kassindja, a young asylee from Togo, in an attempt to demonstrate the irony of American complacency about the status of the United States as a haven for the protection of human rights. Ms. Kassindja, and other immigrants and asylum-seekers, were subjected to degradation and abuse--in the form of the customary brutality against poor people of color in the immigration and prison systems of this country. This Article identifies several lessons learned from the Kassindja case: human rights must address the transnational nature of FGS; mere opposition to the practice does not extend simple resolutions to effective measure of eradication; the need to exercise care in the portrayal of people who participate in unfamiliar cultural practices. This Article further emphasizes the need to clean up our own human rights house by promoting respect for international human rights within the United States.


Originally published in Buffalo Human Rights Law Review, v.4 (1998), pp.123-140.


female genital mutilation, FGM, female genital cutting, FGC, female genital surgery, irua, sunna, excision, infibulation, violence against women, gender-based asylum, refugees, Fauziya Kassindja, Togo, Tchamba Kunsuntu, western paternalism, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, CEDAW, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, ICESCR

Subject Categories

Female circumcision, Women's rights, Fauziya Kassindja (1977-)


Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Human Rights Law | Women


State University of New York at Buffalo

Publication Date


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Author retains copyright.

Rights Holder

Hope Lewis

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