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Ethiopian Led Campaign to Ban Female Mutilations

September 24, 1996|MAX VANZI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — A prime mover in urging the legislation signed Monday by Gov. Pete Wilson outlawing female genital mutilation is an immigrant from Ethiopia who tells of having the procedure forced on her as a young girl.

Meserak "Mimi" Ramsey of San Jose, founder of the organization Forward USA devoted to banning the practice, said the "evil custom" has made its way to California through immigrant communities and has become more prevalent than may be thought.

In the past year, Ramsey, 43, took her fight to Sacramento by backing a bill by Assembly members Liz Figuroa (D-Fremont) and Jim Cunneen (R-San Jose) that condemns genital mutilation. The practice is also referred to as female castration or circumcision.

Involving the surgical removal of female organs or blocking the vaginal passage to kill the sex drive, the mutilations occur among immigrant families from North Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia, Ramsey said.

"I have found it goes on very much in San Diego, Los Angeles and Santa Rosa," all places where her foundation work has taken her, Ramsey said.

She said there are no reliable estimates on the number of female circumcisions performed statewide. But in San Jose, she said, 10 cases were documented in 1994 and 1995.

Girls are subject to circumcision in at least 41 countries, said Ramsey.

The purpose in suppressing the sex drive, she said, is to assure future husbands that their wives will remain faithful.

Even among Ethiopian immigrant acquaintances in San Jose, she said, her efforts to stop the practice are frowned on.

Ramsey said she began campaigning to outlaw the practice in California three years ago when "a little girl 18 months old was crying and looking sad in the corner at a children's birthday party." The child had been circumcised.

It was then, she said, that Ramsey discovered the practice of female mutilation had followed her to her adopted country.

Ramsey underwent the procedure in Ethiopia when she was a girl.

"The pain, the torture, is always in my mind," she said.

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