By Alifya Sulemanji
Sahiyo organized a retreat for FGM survivors and activists in January 2018. I attended the retreat because I am a survivor and I was interested in learning about different views, challenges and perspectives of other survivors and activists who were planning to attend as well.
The retreat was very beneficial in many ways. I was able to meet other survivors and listen to their experiences and learn how they can contribute towards putting an end to this atrocity. It was good to meet people who I could relate to regarding the many aspects of life for a Bohra who is against FGM/C (Khatna), but who still bears a Bohra identity.
I have a very vivid memory of being cut at the tender age of seven. It felt like my body was being violated. Even when I was just 7 years of age, I knew something wrong had been done to me as I was told that this thing was a dark secret I was not supposed to tell anyone about. As I grew up I found out that none of my other friends had this religious ritual done, and it confirmed that what had been done to me was wrong. In the past few years, I learned that many other women like me felt the same way. I was encouraged to speak about it through the medium of Sahiyo and WeSpeakOut, groups who are working to end this cruel practice done in the name of religion.
This Sahiyo Activist Retreat gave me insight into how I can talk to other pro-FGM/C people and how I can convey my thoughts on FGM/C to them in a positive way. I also learned that in conversations with them, it is important to try not to make stereotypical judgments about people, based on my own past experiences.
The contributions I have made towards creating awareness about the harm of FGM/C (Khatna) have been through storytelling, which at the Activist Retreat we discussed was a powerful method for creating social change. Already, I have written about my own experience of FGC (Khatna) for Sahiyo. I have given interviews to the Detroit Press during the arrest of Jumana Nagarwala, the doctor in the U.S. who in April 2017 was first charged with performing FGM/C on minor girls. The interviews I have given reflected on the reactions of, and repercussions for the Bohra community after her arrest. I also participated in a research study by Laxmi Anantnarayan. Another research study on FGC and survivors’ experiences that I participated in was conducted by a student in India from Manipal college. I also told my story to an Author/writer Firos in India who is writing a book on this subject.
I also worked with Owanto, a famous artist, and her daughter Katya Berger, a journalist and graduate from Columbia University who are creating a documentary ‘Thousand Voices’ to depict the effects of FGM/C by sharing the voices of girls who were affected by it. Lastly, I work with the New York Coalition to End FGM and meet with them every 2 to 3 months to work on creating awareness on FGC and to take measures to stop FGM/C and aid survivors.