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This article was originally published in CultureMap Houston on September 26, 2012. You can access the original article here: houston.culturemap.com/news/city-life/09-26-12-a-harrowing-story-of-forced-female-genital-mutilation-and-the-houston-group-fighting-for-women-refugees/.

When Kadi entered the United States for the second time, she knew there would be no returning to her home country of Mali. An activist who fought for women’s rights and who defied her husband and community to protect her daughter from female genital mutilation (FGM), she knew that returning would cost her her life and leave her daughter without a protector.

Kadi’s story is difficult. After being shielded by a sympathetic uncle as a girl, she endured forced FGM at age 23 at the command of the polygamist man she was forced to marry, all with the support of her community. And after obtaining a level of education that is rare for Mali women, she built up and ran a successful business only to have it destroyed by her abusive, influential spouse.

After she fled successfully to the United States, her husband used her children as pawns to lure her back to Mali, threatening to hurt or kill them unless she returned to be punished. After her brief return, Kadi barely escaped with her life. Her husband attacked her as she slept, leaving her with severe scarring and the certainty that she could never again return and survive it.

“It’s the most personally and professionally satisfying thing I’ve done since I’ve been practicing law,” Biberstein says. “You’re kind of in the business of saving a life.”

Although Kadi’s story is difficult, it is not tragic. She is now reunited with her daughter — who was expedited out of Mali just weeks before her scheduled circumcision — and living and working (as she loves and fought to do) safely in the United States.

Her asylum would never have been granted without the work of the Tahirih Justice Center in Houston, a young non-profit that provides legal resources to women seeking refuge in the U.S. as victims of gender-based crimes. Read the full story.