In July 2020, Sahiyo hosted a Thaal Pe Charcha (TPC, loosely translated as discussions over food) with thirteen participants from the Bohra community. Thaal Pe Charcha (TPC) is a flagship Sahiyo programme that brings Bohra women together in an informal, private space, so that they can bond over traditional Bohra cuisine while discussing female genital cutting (FGC) and other issues that affect their lives.
Due to COVID-19, we had to cancel all our on the ground events and organize an online TPC this month. To make the virtual event successful, we incorporated creative activities so that participants could connect and bond with each other despite the physical distance.
Since the virtual event could not incorporate an actual shared meal, we asked participants to share creative pictures of the food they had eaten that day. Many participants enthusiastically shared these photos to recollect the memories of the in-person TPCs.
During the web session, we started with describing why we choose to wear a particular color that day inspired by Carl Jung’s color psychology theory. This encouraged us to dress up even though we were in our homes. Then we proceeded to discuss how COVID-19 is impacting our personal and professional lives. Some of the experiences shared included how it is difficult to manage work and caring for young children; some of us lost loved ones during this time; and others shared they were concerned about their finances. We acknowledged that this is a difficult time for everybody.
We also discussed FGC during COVID-19. Ideas about studying what happened with the FGC trend in Africa during the Ebola crisis were shared. Also, interesting thoughts such as how people are following other cultural rituals like the mundan (a ceremony where a child receives their first haircut) during this time might give us insight into the practice of FGC during the pandemic. Worry about the rise of non-medical cutters was shared. It is a known fact that summer vacation sees a rise in the number of cuts and many people from abroad bring their children to India, in what has been classified as vacation cutting. One of the participants confirmed this by sharing how Udaipur (her hometown) sees an influx of diasporic Indians bringing their daughters for the cut every year. However, because of COVID-19, that has not happened this year.
It was also pointed out that there is a need to have conversations like these and to participate in more webinars because raising awareness can curb future incidents of FGC. We encouraged participants to try and find out if there have been any cuttings during the pandemic, and some of our participants will be getting back to us with the information they receive from the community.
At the end of the event we performed a mirroring activity where we copied each other’s feelings and actions to give us a sense of togetherness.