Sahiyo blog post wins a Laadli Media Award

A Bohra woman’s personal essay about her experience of Female Genital Cutting, published on Sahiyo’s blog last year, has won the prestigious Laadli Media Award for Gender Sensitivity 2015-16.

The essay, titled ‘It was a part of me…part of my womanhood‘, won the award for Best Blog in the ‘Web-blogs’ category in the eighth edition of the Western region Laadli Awards, which celebrate gender sensitive advertising and journalism in India. The award ceremony was held at Ahmedabad’s Gujarati Sahitya Parishad on February 23, with prominent dancer and artiste Mallika Sarabhai as the chief guest.

The winning essay describes the author’s memory of undergoing ‘Khatna’ and her struggle to come to terms with it. Read below the jury’s citation on her powerful narrative:

The blog is a powerful and vivid account of a woman’s memory of female genital cutting. She speaks about the secrecy of the practice as well as the young age at which it happens. This story is among a handful stories that carefully look at female genital cutting among the Dawoodi Bohra community in India.

This essay was among the first few accounts of Bohra women willing to share their stories on Sahiyo’s blog when it launched in December 2015. Sahiyo believes in the power of storytelling and this blog is a story-sharing platform for all those who feel passionately about khatna or FGC and who wish to see the practice end.

We would like to say a big thank you to Population First, the organiser of the Laadli Awards, for honouring Sahiyo’s blog contributor through this award!

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Telling one’s personal Khatna story can lead to another’s not continuing FGM/C too

By Alifya Sulemanji

Country: United States

In the past few years, we have seen an increase in the awareness of FGM/C in the Dawoodi alifyas_zerotolerancedayBohra community, and it has led to many discussions amongst community members. There is a large number of people who were hesitant about the procedure, and due to a lack of awareness about the harmful effects of FGM/C have been carrying on with this ritual. Today, there is so much more information available for people who question the practice and want to know what it really entails. Today, their questions can be answered. Today, because of media awareness, even men from our community know that Khatna has happened to women they know; whereas for decades they were not aware.

Last year, after the New York Jammat (congregation) issued a letter to the entire community that banned FGM/C, many people in the community became aware that khatna was an act that violated human rights. The letter also made them aware that if anyone attempted to carry out FGM/C and they were caught, they would be prosecuted for doing so.

Recently, a mother from the community approached me and told me that she disliked that her older daughter had to go through khatna because her in-laws had pressured that the girl goes through it. She also told me that she was very happy that her younger daughter doesn’t have to go through this atrocity. She told me it was commendable to see that we were working to raise awareness about harmful effects of FGM/C within the Dawoodi Bohra community.

Another friend from India recently wrote me and told me that since she has read so much about FGM/C in the media, she has been able to gather the courage to say no to having her daughter undergo it. She also told me that she felt encouraged to say no to the practice after reading my Facebook post against Khatna, and after reading my FGM/C story on the Sahiyo website. My friend told me that she is still facing pressure from her mother-in-law to get it done to her daughter, but she is now trying her best to ensure that situation does not occur. She also told me that because or her own decision to not have her daughter undergo it, she has seen a ripple effect, and another friend of hers has also gathered courage to speak up and stand up for her daughter to ensure they don’t undergo it as well.

It is important to teach people that there is nothing good about khatna, it only leads to physical mental turmoil for little girls and women.

The theory behind this ritual is that after a girl has her khatna done, she will lose her libido and therefore, she will not stray from the marriage bed, and she will be loyal to her husband. This type of thinking is completely a misconception and is misinformation passed down by religious leaders.  

I have many non-Bohra/Muslim friends who don’t go through this procedure and who did not indulge in sex before they were married or who never engage in adultery, whereas I know women from the Bohra community who have had premarital sex in spite of undergoing khatna. Khatna has nothing to do with one’s sexual desire, but it certainly does takes away the woman’s pleasure or sexual satisfaction, which is unfair and cruel.

 

From birth to motherhood, a Singaporean Malay’s experience of Female Genital Cutting

By: Anonymous

Country: Singapore

Community: Malay Muslim

Growing up:

I was told as a child, that every girl had to go through it. There is basically NOBODY that you know who hasn’t gone through it. And I BELIEVED everything my mother said.

Perceptions Ingrained in our Minds:

It is dirty, unhygienic, curbs your sexual desires. Basically, what their mothers tell them, they relay it back to us.

Working adult:

I became a nurse. I studied, learned, saw the anatomy of the human body. As a nurse, I cleaned the vagina of women of different ethnicities. Of course, I noticed the difference. They had the hood and the two labia folds, and I did not.

At that time, as a Malay Muslim, I firmly believed that “my vagina is cleaner” than those who were not circumcised. I felt I belonged to a much “higher status” because I was “cut” and they were not. My fellow female Muslim nurses shared the same sentiments.

Marriage:

I had an inter-racial Muslicouple man woman wearing brunei islamic traditional costume clothe dress male female vector illustration veil and malaysia malaym marriage. I realized my sexual desire plummeted and I wasn’t really interested in sex much longer. I had a private conversation with my husband about it, and he was surprised that FGC was done in many Asian countries. He mentioned that as a Muslim himself, in his own country, FGC was not done. In his country none of his sisters underwent FGC.

Delivery:

I had a natural home birth for my first born daughter, assisted by my own husband.

The way the delivery occurred was unplanned, but it was the most beautiful experience for us both.

Post-Partum Worries:

The natural delivery left a stinging burning sensation on my clitoris region. I naturally thought it will go away. But it prolonged much longer that I expected.

A few months passed, and I still felt a strange sensation in my clitoris region. When I urinated, it felt like someone had punched me – it was sore. I refused to go for a health check-up as I didn’t want ANYONE to touch me. I didn’t want to touch it myself.

It’s coming to 10 months now past my baby’s birth, and my husband and I haven’t resumed sex yet. At first, I was fearful of the pain that might arise. Then, I didn’t want to experience any more intermittent sore sensation in my clitoris region. Thirdly, I didn’t have the sexual drive or desire mainly because I was breastfeeding.

I deeply pondered: Why am I still feeling this? Why does it still felt sore? Is it because of the FGC that my mother made sure I underwent when I was still a baby?

I haven’t talked to my mother about it yet. I guess no one talks openly about it. They just “snip it” when you’re a baby and everyone stays silent about it. I had many questions in mind! Was it done by trained personnel? Does the answer to that question matter anyway, since it’s wrong to do it?

My Baby and Social Pressure about FGC:

My mother kept insisting that I bring my baby for “sunat” to the clinic. She said it will be “over before you know it” – swiftly done.

My husband, on the other hand, refused to have it done to our daughter. He said women in his country did not have it done.

I started my own journey of reading and gaining more knowledge on FGC.

In 2016, at 30 years of age, it affects me now. I was upset that my mother did it purely due to social pressure. Even if you’re an educated woman, social pressure can still influence the way you make a decision.

I was in a mosque a few weeks back, a lady in her 50-60s approached me and chatted about my baby. She handed me her name card which indicated her business services. It read, “sunat perempuan”. I was shocked and disappointed. It is 2017, and still, this is being done by an unlicensed passerby who easily roamed the community promoting her services.

At present:

I joined a Facebook Group for young mothers in Singapore where women’s topics are discussed. One of the issues asked by many young mothers is “WHERE can I take my NEWBORN DAUGHTER for sunat? Which clinic is best?”

This question showed that young educated mothers are still unaware of FGC and its non-relation to Islam. They continue it because THEIR own mothers tell them to do it or that it is the NORM to perform “sunat” after you give birth to your newborn.

There they go, commenting and discussing the rate of several clinics, the packages that come with it (Ear Piercing + Sunat) and their good experience with the doctors who provided such packages to benefit themselves.

Every time I see such questions, I cringe. I commented on those posts about FGC but nobody has taken notice of my comments. Yes, I do hear mother’s voice that they are fearful to see the procedure done on their baby girls, YET they want it done. How conflicting! Other mothers who had undergone it with their newborn baby girls started giving reassurance that “it’ll be over before you know it. Stay strong mummy!” Subsequently, I messaged the mothers privately and gave them social media links (videos/texts) to educate themselves on FGC, especially on Islamic & social views.

It’s still a very long road to adjust the mindset of the Singapore Malay Muslim community on FGC. It’s done openly without a tinge of guilt in their hearts.

I’m sad it was done on me but I will NEVER let it happen to my offsprings.
When we educate the women, we educate the entire nation. Women have to choose wisely what is right and wrong. Don’t succumb to social pressure – just because everyone is doing it, doesn’t make it right.

81% want Khatna to end: results of Sahiyo’s online survey of Bohra women

On the occasion of International Zero Tolerance Day for Female Genital Cutting, Sahiyo is proud to present the complete findings of the first large-scale, global research study on the subject of Khatna as practiced by Dawoodi Bohras.

The report of the study, titled ‘Understanding Female Genital Cutting in the Dawoodi Bohra Community: An Exploratory Survey’, was officially released at a press conference in Mumbai on the morning of February 6, 2017. The report contains the full results and analysis of a detailed online survey of 385 Dawoodi Bohra women from around the world. This survey was conducted over a period of six months from July 2015 to January 2016.

READ THE FULL SURVEY REPORT HERE

What did the Sahiyo survey find?

We encourage you to read the full report to understand the methodology used in the survey, the complete statistics and findings, the analysis of the data and the stories of women who provided personal accounts of their experience. However, here are some key findings at a quick glance:

Demography:

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  • 385 Dawoodi Bohra women participated
  • Majority from India and USA
  • 67% between 18-25 years old
  • 76% married
  • 80% women working or running a business from home

Experience of Khatna:

80% survey participants had been subjected to Khatna as children. Out of those women,

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  • 66% were 6 or 7 years old when they were cut
  • 74% were cut by an untrained traditional cutter
  • 15% were cut by a health professional
  • 65% were not sure about which part of their genitals was cut

Impact of Khatna:

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  • 51% of those who were cut felt fear immediately after Khatna
  • 21% of those who were cut felt anger
  • 98% of those who were cut described experiencing pain immediately after the Khatna.
  • 35% of those who were cut claimed that Khatna affected their sexual life. Out of those women, 87% said Khatna had a negative impact on their sexual life.

Reasons given for Khatna:

Survey participants had heard of multiple different reasons for why Khatna is practiced in the Dawoodi Bohra community. The most common reasons were:

 

  • For religious purposes – 56%
  • To decrease sexual arousal – 45%
  • To maintain traditions and customs – 42%
  • For physical hygiene and cleanliness – 27%

Hope for the future:

Perhaps the most important finding of the Sahiyo survey is that a huge majority of the participants do not want the practice of Khatna to continue.

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  • 82% said they are unlikely or extremely unlikely to continue Khatna on their daughter

 

  • 81% said they are not okay with Khatna continuing in the community

This indicates an opportunity for the prevalence of Khatna to reduce among Dawoodi Bohras a generation from now.

Why is Sahiyo’s Khatna Survey significant?

Because there has been almost no research on Khatna among Bohras before this.

Female Genital Cutting (known as Khatna or female circumcision in the Bohra community) is recognised as a form of violence against women and children. It is illegal in many countries, has no mention in the Quran and is in fact considered un-Islamic by many Islamic scholars.

Dawoodi Bohras have been practicing Khatna as a secretive ritual for centuries, and the silence around the practice has broken only recently, in the past four or five years. Even though many women from the community are now speaking out about their personal experiences of Khatna and pushing for an end to the practice, there has been little to no scientific research on the subject.

Without research and representative data, it is difficult to determine the degree of prevalence of Khatna and to understand the complex social norms and cultural value systems that shape the practice of Khatna within the community. The lack of research also makes it difficult to pass legislation and policies, and to design outreach and education programmes to push for an end to the practice. As the first large-scale research study on FGC among Bohras, Sahiyo’s Khatna Survey aims to fill this gap in knowledge and data.

The Sahiyo online survey is a preliminary and exploratory study of Khatna. The survey results point to the need for much more in-depth field research, both qualitative and quantitative, on the practice of Khatna among Bohras. In the future, surveys of Bohra men’s attitudes towards Khatna are also needed. We hope that this pioneering survey becomes a base for future research on Khatna.

(Conducting large-scale scientific research on FGC requires funding and other resources, which are currently lacking in India and other Asian countries where FGC is practiced but not widely known. To encourage the United Nations and other international agencies to invest more towards research and advocacy to end FGC in Asia, please sign and share this Change.org petition by Sahiyo and 32 other global organisations!)

(If you are a media professional interested in covering Sahiyo’s survey or other aspects of Khatna among Dawoodi Bohras, do read Sahiyo’s detailed Media Resource Guide on how to sensitively report on Khatna – we created it especially for you!) 

Sahiyo has a new look!

On International Zero Tolerance on FGC/M Day 2017, Sahiyo is very happy to share it’s new look, with it’s new identity:

sahiyo-identity-design-06

We have reinvented the Sahiyo logo in colors of peach and purple in solid, unique typography.

The typography illustrates ‘Sahiyo’ (Gujarati word for friends) written in English, at the same time connects to it’s Gujarati roots  by depicting the letter ‘Y’ which could be read in both English and Gujarati lettering.

We have chosen colors peach and purple to communicate strong positive vibrancy of the work that we do.

In the words of our designer Dhwani Shah,

To me it (the logo colors) reflects determination of the team to work on the issue. Peach as a color is close to skin and can be drawn as a parallel to body positivity..

To us the combination is a statement on vibrancy as well as our continued struggle.

While peach symbolizes postivity, purple is a color of struggle with it’s long standing connotations of resistance within the feminist movements.

We hope you like our new look!

 

Sahiyo launches special toolkit to help the media report sensitively on Female Genital Cutting

On the eve of International Zero Tolerance Day for Female Genital Cutting 2017, Sahiyo is proud to launch its first media toolkit developed to promote sensitive and effective depiction of Female Genital Cutting/Mutilation (FGC/M) with special reference to Khatna in the Dawoodi Bohra community.

This toolkit will be available as an open-source, freely downloadable and distributable content for journalists, writers, bloggers, filmmakers, designers and other organisations who want to understand how to effectively and sensitively talk about the practice of Khatna.

READ AND DOWNLOAD THE MEDIA RESOURCE GUIDE (PDF) HERE.

FGC/M is a complex subject involving many socio-cultural factors.

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The guidelines and examples in the toolkit  are intended to ensure that all media actors reporting on FGC/M are aware of these factors and are able to prioritize the ethical considerations that preserve the safety, confidentiality, and dignity of survivors, their families, their communities, and those who are trying to help them such as NGOs like Sahiyo.

This document is divided into four broad sections:

  • An introduction to Female Genital Cutting/Mutilation ‘Khatna’ as a social norm and the role of key terminologies
  • ‘Khatna’ as a social norm and the role of key terminologies
  • The impact of visuals in influencing the readers and
  • best practices for effective reporting.

We have elaborated on a nuanced use of terminology, visuals and reportage, illustrating best practices and ways for media to impact the movement on the practice effectively.

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Through this toolkit, our objective is to offer an insider’s perspective on reporting and writing, to guide the media on how to create awareness in a sensitive manner that promotes social change about ‘Khatna’ or ‘Female Genital Cutting’ prevalent in the Dawoodi Bohra community in India and its diaspora worldwide.

This resource guide acknowledges the role of the media and organizations working to shed light on FGC/M .

We hope that this toolkit helps the media (or anyone interested in depicting the issue) in avoiding factual errors, sensationalized visuals, judgemental language and unintentional vilification of the community; to further be a stronger and effective partner in furthering a landmark movement to end Khatna among Bohras.

Deen and Duniya (Religion and the World) a film by Alisha Bhagat

By Alisha Bhagat

Country: United States & India

I made Deen and Duniya in 2004 before my senior year in college. I received a Vira Heinz grant for women in leadership and thought it would be interesting to turn an anthropological lens on my own community – the Dawoodi Bohras. I am particularly interested in the role of women in the Bohra community and wanted to better understand certain dilemmas I saw while growing up in the community. When I sat down with people one-on-one while making this documentary, I found I was able to connect with them more and find out their logic for observing certain practices – be that science or faith.

The film is intended for a wide audience both inside and outside the community. For non-Bohras I wanted to show the positive things about our community and the everyday joy that we experience in things like sports, prayer, communal meals and family. I also wanted to highlight some of the issues that all women in patriarchal societies face – control over women’s sexuality, bodily autonomy, and the dual burden of work and running a household. I did not set out to make a film about FGM but I knew from the beginning that it should be included.

(To watch the video, click the image below or click here.)

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It is both a wonderful and frustrating time to be a Bohra woman. As the film highlights, we are given so many opportunities for achieving educational and career goals. We are quick to adopt new technology and want to live in the modern world.  At the same time, we are often required to shoulder a greater burden than men. We have to work hard in our careers and also cook and clean and raise children. We have a lengthy Iddat (mourning) period that men don’t have, and are silenced from talking about the things happening to our bodies. I recall knowing from an early age that my father and brother were circumcised but it was only after I went to college that my mom revealed to me that she had been also. I found it so interesting that a practice so widespread was so taboo.

Storytelling can be a powerful tool in creating social change. For example, a group of researchers in Sudan found that entertaining films can change attitudes and reduce gender bias. For those within the community, the purpose of the film is to start a conversation about deananddunya2why we observe certain practices. I’m proud that it can continue to do that. For years my parents used to show the film to every bohra guest that came over to our house (and I can assure you, that’s a lot). In the film we intentionally ask open-ended questions and the views of the interviewees are their own. Often after seeing the film, folks would share their own stories. My hope is that the film inspires you to do the same.

The segment on FGM begins at the 19 min mark. However, it is recommended that the film be viewed in its entirety to understand the practice within its cultural context.

Bio:
Alisha Bhagat is passionate about sustainable development. She is a futurist, feminist, and avid gamer. She lives in New York with her husband, beloved daughter, and adorable kitty.