From the September-October 2014 issue of News & Letters
The international human rights community is calling upon the Mauritanian government and police to protect Aminetou Mint El-Moctar, a lifelong activist renowned for her work in combatting all forms of discrimination, violence, and harmful practices against women and children. In June, a leader of an extremist group, “Friends of the Prophet,” issued a fatwa calling for her death. She was targeted for publicly demanding a fair trial for Cheikh Ould Mkheitir, a young man charged with apostasy, as well as for her work against sexual violence. Police refused to file a report, instead telling her to talk with the man who issued the fatwa. Mint El-Moctar has been forced to relocate with her children and has hired a bodyguard.
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In July, the Obama administration announced a major study of female genital mutilation (FGM), which has been illegal in the U.S. since 1996, to determine how many women in the U.S. are living with its health consequences and how many girls are at risk of “vacation cutting.” The practice of taking girls to their countries of origin for FGM was banned by federal law in 2013. Investigators will look at Britain’s efforts in fighting FGM. The study is a response to an online petition by Atlanta activist and FGM survivor Jaha Dukureh, whose network, Safe Hands for Girls, counsels about 16 survivors and potential victims per day. Dukureh was inspired by 17-year-old Fahma Mohamed, who launched a successful online petition to get the UK to address the issue in schools.
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In August, Maryam Mirzakhani, who grew up in Iran, studied at Harvard, and is now a professor at Stanford, became the first woman to win the Fields Medal, informally called “the Nobel prize of mathematics.” As a student at a girls’ high school in Tehran in 1995, she convinced her principal to start math problem-solving classes like the ones at the boys’ high school so she could make Iran’s International Mathematics Olympiad team. She became the first Iranian student to achieve a perfect score in that competition.