Do Women as a Group Suffer Systematic Abuse?

Women seeking asylum in the US due to horrible and socially condoned gender-based violence in their country of origin are usually denied. The US Homeland Security Department defines a person eligible for asylum as “a person who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her country of nationality because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”

I have always wondered why sex/gender isn’t a category here. Doesn’t gender-based violence occur around the world? Doesn’t it occur at times in certain locations, such as systematic rape in the Sudan, or systematic female genital mutilation in Guinea, or systematic kidnapping of little girls for the sex trade in northern India, or systematic selling of women as though they were possessions? Are these human rights abuses not predicated on the person’s membership to the female sex? Why is it acceptable grounds for asylum to have been enslaved because you were an ethnic minority, but not because you were female? Why is it acceptable grounds for asylum when your genitals were mutilated because you were a political dissident, but not if yours where mutilated because you were born female?

Well I’ll tell you right now, it certainly mustn’t be because American society deprioritizes and silences violence against women, and has a general history of ignoring or exacerbating women’s problems on the global stage. Definitely Not Misogyny. Oh No. The Horror.

So it must be for some legitimate reason, right? Like when the US denied asylum to Guinean women who had been genitally mutilated in their country of origin, and who had daughters whom they wished to save from that special form of gender-based torture. Those women were definitely terrorists.

Well, President Obama is slightly rethinking this approach.

The Obama administration has opened the way for foreign women who are victims of severe domestic beatings and sexual abuse to receive asylum in the United States. The action reverses a Bush administration stance in a protracted and passionate legal battle over the possibilities for battered women to become refugees.

This was sparked by the case of one Mexican woman, identified only as L.R., whose case is rather extreme: “According to court documents filed in San Francisco, the man repeatedly raped her at gunpoint, held her captive, stole from her and at one point tried to burn her alive when he learned she was pregnant.”

And the Mexican authorities demonstrated their complete lack of interest in protecting her human rights:

Local police dismissed her reports of violence as “a private matter,” the court documents said, and a judge she turned to for help tried to seduce her.

“In Mexico, men believe they have a right to abuse their women because they are like a possession,” she said. With three children born from her involuntary sex with the man, who never married her, she fled to California in 2004.

So yay, that’s good we’re reconsidering our harsh stance right? But women who suffer for their gender outside of domestic relationships, or who have or are threatened with FGM are still not protected. If I understand all this correctly. And I may not, what with me doing my thinking with my irrational Woman-Brain ™. And besides, it’s not even certain that we will accept L.R.’s petition.

I still can’t figure out why admitting that women suffer persecution based on their identity as women (a suspect gender), just as Bantu in Somalia suffer for their identity as Bantu (a suspect ethnic minority) – to name a random example among thousands – is so hard for the US government. What’s the controversy here? Is it because they are afraid of a deluge of abused women applying for asylum? Is it because our government is somehow dimly aware we haven’t cleaned our own house yet?

I’m glad the Obama Admin is opening the door a crack. But I could use some more time ruminating on the deeper implications of American refusal to acknowledge gender as a suspect class, i.e. “any classification of groups meeting a series of criteria suggesting they are likely the subject of discrimination.” More on that here.

Your thoughts?

JoJo Tran Won Asylum in the US

PhotobucketEdited 7/20/16 to add:

JoJo has contacted me and let me know that he successfully obtained asylum! Congratulations JoJo.

My friend Ally writes:

“Just a moment of your time could save my friend JoJo Tran’s life.

JoJo’s attempts at gaining asylum after being in the US for over 13 years have been denied. At this point, his only hope of staying here and safe from prosecution in Vietnam is if ICE (Immigration & Customs Enforcement) reopens his case. A team of volunteers in Seattle is trying to collect as many signatures as possible to convince them and our local politicians to lean on ICE to do this.”

More info on JoJo.

Here’s the petition.

JoJo’s story:

We are calling for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement to reopen Dung Anh “JoJo” Tran’s asylum case.

JoJo Tran fled Vietnam in 1996 fearing politically motivated persecution after helping American military veterans as a guide to view sites that the Vietnamese authorities claimed were not authorized, and being called in, questioned and threatened by the Vietnamese intelligence agency.

Since moving to Seatle shortly after his arrival in America in 1996, JoJo has been busy working and volunteering for numerous organizations in the Puget Sound area.

Our updated information from JoJo’s attorney is that March 28 is the last day of his voluntary departure period unless ICE consents to grant him some sort of stay while his petition is being considered.

Help us help this amazing man who has turned adversity and a fourteen year effort to become an American into thousands of hours of volunteering in the community he wants to call home.

Your Vulva Can Only Be Cut Off Once

No FGM

Recently, the US Board of Immigration Appeals denied asylum to three women who had been victims of FGM (female genital mutilation) in their home country of Guinea because they had no well-founded fear of further persecution, since your vulva can only be cut off once.

To be clear, in Guinea, 95% of women are subjected to FGM.

The women claim that the high prevalence of FGM in Guinea indicates a culture of serious oppression against women. They further claim that they have well-founded fears that their daughters would also have their vulvas cut off if they were to return.

“There’s no question female genital mutilation is a horrendous act,” said Department of Justice lawyer Michael Heyse.

But…

Jessica Sherman, a Justice Department lawyer, said there was no evidence in the cases of the three women that the same individuals who harmed them would do so again.

At the hearing, the judges seemed particularly upset at a conclusion by the government that it was fair to return the women to Guinea because they could not suffer further persecution since mutilation had already occurred.

“Supply me any case in which a well-founded fear of persecution was not sustained because the same leg couldn’t be amputated or the same organ removed,” demanded Judge Rosemary Pooler.

Pa-DOW government lawyers! “Justice Department” indeed. That’s a blow to their old “Vulvas Can Only Be Cut off Once, So Go Back to Your Totally Non-Persecuting Country Wench!” song-and-dance. And I say “old” because the government has always denied victims of FGM asylum, in the absence of any other additional fears of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. However, as these judges suspect, when it’s non-female-specific body parts that get cut off based on your membership in a particular social group, US Immigration seems to think fear of persecution is indeed well-founded and meets their criteria.

It looks like some awesome judges are about to do away with the “Vulva Exception”. Which, in the defense of the Board of Immigration Appeals, I’m sure was based on totally non-misogynist, completely and coolly rational US policy, and probably had to do with terrorists and national security, and was therefore well-justified. I’d like to see that memo: CIA Warns DHS of National Security Risk Posed by Vulva-less, Mutilated Asylum Seekers.

Stay classy, Board of Immigration Appeals.

© idyllicmollusk 5/1/08