Welcome to Part 1 of our March 2024 Inspirational Interview with Amanda Parker, Senior Director of the AHA Foundation in the US.

Amanda Parker has 13 years of experience working to end harmful practices in the US. She has worked in dozens of states and federally to successfully enact laws that address violence against women and serves on the steering committee of the U.S. Coalition to End Child Marriage. She has facilitated trainings on honour violence, female genital mutilation (FGM), and forced and child marriage for more than 2,000 professionals, and has supported survivors of these abuses to help them find protection and the services they need. 

Part 2 of Amanda’s interview will be published on 4 March, 2024.

All photos are courtesy of the AHA Foundation.

1. How and why did you join the movement to end violence against women (VAW)? 

When I was around seven years old, my 2nd grade teacher told my mom that I was going to get the Equal Rights Amendment passed, so I think fighting for women’s rights was always percolating in my heart.

After a short career on Wall Street, I told a dear friend that I was thinking of a major change and wanted to do something that would inspire me to get out of bed every morning, and that I was considering the nonprofit world. Coincidentally, she knew our founder, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and knew she was setting up an organisation aimed at supporting women and girls in the US. When I learned that the issues the foundation was combatting–honour violence, forced and child marriage, and female genital mutilation–were all happening in the U.S., I knew I had to join the cause. Thankfully, Ayaan agreed, and hired me soon after.


2. How did the AHA Foundation (AHA) come to be founded? 

When Ayaan came to the US, a network of her friends wanted to support putting her ideas into practice. Their original plan for the foundation was to protect and support dissidents like Ayaan, but the mission quickly shifted towards working to end practices in the US that Ayaan and her peers had faced growing up in Africa and the Middle East. 

As a young girl, Ayaan’s grandmother took her to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM), and as a young woman, her father forced her into an unwanted marriage that she eventually fled. After moving to the US, Ayaan was horrified that in a country with the rule of law, women and girls in large numbers faced similar violence. She founded the AHA Foundation to put a stop to it.


3. Could you tell us about AHA’s approach to protecting women’s rights in the US–including combatting VAW such as female genital mutilation (FGM), child marriage, forced marriage, and honour killing–has developed since 2007?

When we first got our seed funding, we were a very small team of committed doers. We started with the idea that there needed to be a foundation of laws in place that clearly protected women and girls from these harms, and there needed to be professionals who understood what they were facing and were armed with the knowledge required to support them.

We have also always been a place where women and girls facing these issues can turn when they are in crisis, and have helped in most cases by finding appropriate services for them, regardless of where they are in the US. As time passed, we’ve expanded on that foundational work to include efforts at prevention and creating and participating in inter-disciplinary partnerships that work together to end these forms of violence against women and support survivors.


4. Could you give us an overview of the services and programmes that AHA runs to tackle FGM, child marriage, forced marriage, and honour killing in the US?

AHA has been incredibly successful working with policymakers on both the federal and state level to encourage them to put in place 40 state laws and five federal laws that better protect women and girls from harmful practices. We raise awareness with the general public and by training professionals (more than 4,000 so far) likely to encounter cases on how to appropriately handle them, including what signs to look for that indicate a woman or girl might be at risk.

We do research to identify prevalence in the U.S. including our just-released report, Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting in the United States, that looks at the prevalence, distribution, and impact of FGM in the US. We have also helped almost 900 mostly women and girls in crisis to find appropriate services across the US. And we have released 13 legal guides (and counting!) to empower FGM survivors with the information they need about how they can stand up for themselves in a court of law, should they choose to do so.


5. One of the key services that AHA runs as part of your anti-VAW work is trainings for Professionals Encountering FGM, Forced Marriage and Honour Violence. Could you tell us about AHA’s training programme and the impact that it has made in communities that are battling these types of VAW in the U.S.?

To this day, even most frontline professionals are shocked to learn that honour violence, forced marriage, child marriage, and female genital mutilation are significant problems in the US. Our training programmes target those professionals who may encounter individuals impacted by these practices and teach them about these forms of violence against women and their associated harms, the laws surrounding them, signs a woman or girl may be at risk, and, whenever possible, the local prevalence of the abuses.

We have specialised trainings geared towards specific professionals (e.g. medical providers), like the one  we created that is hosted on the American Medical Association website, but we also really try to get a large cross-section of professionals from a community together for a training so they can learn from each other, familiarise themselves with the other stakeholders, and work together to understand how they can respond to these practices as a team.