StoryCenter – A digital storytelling workshop for Bohra women in the United States

By Mariya Taher

For the past decade, I have advocated against female genital mutiliation/cutting (FGM/C) by sharing my story, and by helping other women to share their own stories of undergoing FGC. My story has received attention from several media sources like NPR, USA Today, and ABC News (read Because I was Harmed on NPR Codeswitch).

In March 2017, StoryCenter led a digital storytelling workshop in collaboration with the Women’s Foundation of California to highlight the voices of women who participated in the Women’s Policy Institute. As an alumni of this program, I was invited to attend and share how I advocate to end FGM/C through storytelling. You can watch my story here.

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Most people believe female genital cutting only exists in other parts of the world, not in the United States. But in April 2017, a Detroit doctor was arrested for performing FGC on two seven-year-old girls. This doctor belonged to the same religious sect I grew up in, and the case highlights that FGC does continue to affect women living in the United States, even though laws banning the practice do exist (watch American Survivors of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting Speak Out ). In total, eight people have now been charged in connection to this FGC case in Michigan.

After going through the StoryCenter workshop experience, I came away knowing that I want to support other FGC survivors from my community in sharing stories of their experiences by also participating in a StoryCenter workshop. For centuries, women have been afraid to speak up because of a fear of being socially ostracized from their community, being labeled a victim, or getting their loved ones in trouble.

For too long, a silence on this form of violence has existed within this country.

We must break this silence.

I believe that a StoryCenter workshop will allow women to come together in a supportive environment so they can heal and reclaim a piece of themselves that was lost when they underwent FGC. I believe that this workshop will help build a critical mass of voices against FGC, and further demonstrate that there is a growing trend of support for abandoning this harmful practice.

In May 2017, I called on my family, friends, and community to help bring an end to the silence around FGC and the practice by donating to a campaign to allow 5-10 additional women living in the United States to produce and share their stories publicly.

This campaign raised over $6,000, and in the fall of 2017, the Wallace Global Fund came onboard to provide an additional $10,000 to ensure this project will come to fruition, and that the women’s stories will be distributed far and wide.

As a writer who has loved words since I first learned how to read, I know how powerful stories are in creating change in the world. They spark our emotions and wake us up to our reality. Too often in everyday life, we try and connect with each other on a rational level, but this isn’t always enough to change behavior. People must be emotionally engaged to understand what needs to be done.

StoryCenter’s digital storytelling platform will allow survivors to share their stories and directly engage with the broader community to stop FGM/C from happening to the next generation of girls. And I couldn’t be more excited to be working with StoryCenter in 2018 to carry out this first-of-a-kind workshop to raise the discourse on FGC in the United States.

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