by Sahiyo and WeSpeakOut
Each One Reach One 2, our month-long outreach campaign that coincides with Ramzan, calls upon everyone, especially Bohra women and men, to reach out to at least one other Bohra to engage in a meaningful discussion around Khatna. Our focus this year is to move the conversation forward, by exploring ways to respectfully and sensitively engage in discussions with our family, friends and the wider community.
Since the arrests in Detroit, many of you have reached out to us asking for advice on how to broach the topic of Khatna with your close friends and family, and how to have sustained conversations with them. To help you with this, we have prepared a guide on effective communication in the context of Khatna. We would like you to reflect on this guide as you begin and continue your conversations.
In the sections below, we explore various facets of conversation: from the power of listening and the method of storytelling, to the challenges of acknowledging nuance and understanding the importance of continued dialogue. Finally, in keeping with the spirit of this sacred month, we encourage you to listen with love, speak with kindness, think without anger, and love without judgment.
Effective Conversation Guide
The simple act of genuinely listening to another person is powerful. Listen with your full attention, without judgment or assumptions. Simply listen.
Instead of giving advice or telling a person what to feel or do, be a sounding board and brainstorm options.
However, setting appropriate limits is important for effective communication. If someone is being hateful towards you, it is okay to not continue the conversation.
a) Use open-ended questions:
Unlike leading questions or close-ended questions that can be answered only by yes or no, open-ended questions help people explore their own truths and connect with their own inner strength.
Ask “What are you feeling?” instead of “Do you feel all right?”
b) Use reflective language:
Use phrases such as
- “I hear you’re feeling…” or
- “It sounds to me like…”
coupled with more tentative statements like
- “I wonder if you’re feeling…?” or
- “Did I get that right?”
This helps people to name what they are experiencing, invites them to correct your understanding, and conveys your sincere interest in what they have to say. When you reflect back the language that people use to describe their own experience, you meet them on their own ground.
Some FGM/C-related words to keep in mind as you listen to someone’s specific language include how they refer to FGM/C – “khatna,” “FGM”, “FGC”, “female circumcision”, “procedure”. Using the same words as the speaker lets her know that you respect her point of view, even if it’s not your own.
c) Validate personal experiences:
Stigma and trauma can often make people feel like they are alone, or that they are the only ones feeling that way. When you initially listen to their stories, it is not the time to engage in a political fight or an academic argument. Whether it is a woman sharing her experience of khatna or someone who states that khatna must be done for religious reasons, help the person feel heard, without judgement. You can share your views at a later stage.
2) Sharing stories during conversations:
There is an art and a craft to storytelling that can be intimidating for people who find it hard to believe they have any story worth sharing, especially if it’s about something personal, taboo, or hidden. Storytelling practices support an individual’s ability to think through what it is she wants to say, whom she wants to say it to, and what she hopes will happen as a result, while retaining significant control over the use and distribution of her narrative.
a) Know the risks:
Sharing personal stories could help a person feel more empowered and connected to other friends or family members who have undergone FGC. But it can also come with personal risks: a person may feel more vulnerable and alone after sharing her story, or might be shamed by others.
Don’t pressure, coerce or shame others into telling their story, even if it is to promote a cause they believe in. Work to create the conditions necessary for someone to feel encouraged and supported to share their story with you.
b) Use whole stories, not talking points:
Stories have the ability to persuade, influence, inspire, and galvanize people to action. Human, vulnerable, authentic personal stories don’t fit easily into talking points, but they have incredible power to connect with others across differences. Work to create the conditions necessary for a someone to feel encouraged and supported to share their story with you.
3) Embrace Grey Areas:
A person who has undergone khatna may have experienced pain and sadness and/or nothing at all. She may want to keep it private and need emotional connections with others. She may think FGC is wrong and still believe it is a religious right. She may feel many other combinations of emotions that could seem inconsistent at the outset. It is important to recognise that multiple truths can live together simultaneously.
Issues around how khatna has happened and her feelings around it are not always black and white, and to open the door to change and new insights, we need to acknowledge and explore the grey areas. It is helpful to use a ‘both/and’ approach instead of an ‘either/or’ approach.
Change your perspective:
Sure, it may be easier if the whole world saw the issue in the same way you do, but that’s not realistic. Conflict exists because we are human, and because our different background, values, and beliefs mean that we perceive the world and its issues in unique, diverse ways. Hold space for universal human truths–such as our shared ability to be compassionate and loving–and recognize some experiences as specific and particular, such as the experience of some women going through physical and psychological pain due to FGC while others state they did not experience such consequences. The key is to show support and respect for all.
4) Continued Conversations:
Social Change takes time, and often we may experience that we don’t get the results that we want in one conversation. Therefore, it is important to take stock of what has occurred during the course of the conversation, and allow all parties involved some time and space to reflect on it. However, do not let it be your last conversation. Change can only happen if we are constantly in dialogue with each other.
Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com if you have any questions or want to share your experiences!