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Why did Twitter allow ad promoting female genital cutting?

The tweet justified 'khafz' — or female circumcision — on young girls.
Credit: NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images
This photo illustration taken on March 23, 2018 shows Twitter logos on a computer screen in Beijing.

Female genital mutilation has been condemned worldwide.

So how did a paid ad promoting female genital cutting of children wind up on Twitter?

That's what many social activists and Twitter users are wondering as the promotional tweet went viral last week, circulating 30,000 times.

The tweet was posted by the Dawoodi Bohra Women for Religious Freedom — a small Indian Muslim group whose religious beliefs are at the center of the nation's first genital mutilation case in Detroit. The tweet justified 'khafz' — or female circumcision — on young girls and featured a video of a group member saying:

"My daughters have also undergone khafz, and they’re growing up as perfectly as other children of their age. As a mother, I can never do anything to harm them."

Because the video tweet was promoted, it popped up in feeds of users who don’t follow the religious group, blindsiding many who blasted the message — and the social media giant.

“Sorry, what?! Twitter is carrying an ad FOR female genital mutilation?” wrote one user.

Another wrote: “@Twitter I do hope you can recognize that allowing people to promote female genital cutting or mutilation is a human rights violation and that you will ensure our community standards uphold human rights.”

One Twitter user directed a message to the mother in the video: “Speak for yourself woman. Don’t speak on behalf of innocent girls. FGM is FGM no matter how you want (to) sugar coat it. Leave alone cutting – even touching the female genitalia of a girl is still child abuse.”

Twitter did not return requests for comment. As of Thursday, the tweet was no longer promoted, but it still exists on the Dawoodi Bohra group’s site – a fact that frustrates Boston-based social activist Mariya Taher.

Taher, a Bohra who was subjected to genital cutting when she was 7, has for years fought to end female genital mutilation worldwide. She wants Twitter to close the account of the Dawoodi Bohra Women for Religious Freedom group, arguing it supports a practice that violates human rights.

"It’s still a form of harm to children. And it’s being done without their consent,” Taher said of genital cutting, arguing Twitter shouldn’t provide a platform to promote it.

“I do wonder how this cannot be a violation of Twitter's safety and security rules,” Taher said. “I believe Twitter can and should have higher standards and be a company that does not unintentionally promote gender-based violence.”

But the Dawoodi Bohras maintain they are not harming anyone. They do not support female genital mutilation, they say, but rather practice a procedure that is minor and involves only a nicking of the clitoral hood. They say it's not done to suppress a woman's sexuality, but as a requirement for purity.

"We hope that the U.S. understands that khafz is not FGM," the Dawoodi Bohra Women for Religious Freedom has previously said in a letter to the Free Press. "It does not mutilate, it does not harm. Our faith would never advocate anything that harms. Khafz is far less invasive than male circumcision that is legal in the U.S."

Activists fighting to end all forms of female circumcision don’t buy it, especially those who have undergone the procedure. Neither does the federal government, which is pursuing the first female genital mutilation case in Michigan, where eight Dawoodi Bohras are facing charges for the cuttings of eight young girls.

The lead defendant is Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, 45, of Northville, who is charged with cutting the genitals of nine girls, though prosecutors have estimated she performed genital mutilation on at least 100 girls over a 12-year period. Her co-defendants include a doctor who let her use her clinic to perform the procedures, two women who assisted her and four mothers.

Prosecutors have now identified nine victims in the case: two 7-year-old girls from Minnesota; four Michigan girls ages 8-12, and three Illinois girls. According to court records, one of the Michigan girls was given Valium ground up in liquid Tylenol during her procedure in 2015.

The defendants have denied any wrongdoing, maintaining they caused no harm to any child and were practicing their protected religious beliefs.

The Dawoodi Bohras recently won a major legal victory in Australia, where an appeals court in August overturned three genital mutilation convictions. The defendants were Dawoodi Bohras who convinced the appeals court that their method of female circumcision - the nick - is not female genital mutilation.

The Michigan defendants argue the same thing and hope the Australia case bolsters theirs.

The World Health Organization has identified four types of female genital mutilation, which are based on the severity of the procedure. All are illegal in the U.S., including scraping, and are internationally recognized as human rights violations of women and girls.

  • Type I, which is also called clitoridectomy. This involves the partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce. Prosecutors say the Michigan case falls under this category.
  • Type II, which is also called excision. This involves partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora. The amount of tissue that is removed varies widely from community to community.
  • Type III, also called infibulation. This involves the narrowing of the vaginal orifice with a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the labia minora and/or the labia majora. This can take place with or without removal of the clitoris.
  • Type IV: All other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, for example: pricking, piercing, incising, scraping or cauterization.

Tresa Baldas: tbaldas@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @Tbaldas

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