Maria Akhter is a volunteer and previous communications assistant for Sahiyo, where she helped organize events like Sahiyo Stories and Thaal Pe Charcha, facilitate internal communications, and advance Sahiyo’s mission through creative content creation. She graduated from UC Davis with BA degrees in Economics and Comparative Literature with an emphasis on Arabic literature. She currently works for an indie, non-profit publishing company in Berkeley as a publicist where she spreads the word about upcoming titles and important stories worth sharing. She hopes to spread stories of hope and change within the Bohra community and beyond and connect with like-minded, empowered activists to banish the harmful tradition of FGM/C.
Renee Bergstrom is honored to be included on the Sahiyo Advisory Board to help support the strong dedicated women of the organization. As a survivor, she’s prepared throughout her life for a leadership role in ending FGM/C. In 1981, she spent two weeksat the Women’s Desk of the Lutheran World Federation discussing FGM with international organizations in Geneva, Switzerland. Egypt’s gentle warrior Marie Assaad, then deputy secretary-general of the World Council of Churches, consulted with her. She returned home to further her education including an art degree, a master’s degree in adult education and a doctorate in education in leadership. She recently became faculty for the Academy of Communication in Healthcare. Her story became public while she was attending the End Violence Against Girls Summit on FGM/C December 2, 2016, in Washington, DC. She wishes to use her art, education and communication skills to help young women throughout the world stand up to the human right to an unaltered body. Being included in the Sahiyo StoryCenter video production in Berkeley was an amazing experience with powerful results.
Alisha Bhagat is a futurist and senior strategist whose work focuses on the creative use of futures tools to impact long term positive change, particularly around social justice and equality. She currently works at the nonprofit, Forum for the Future, and her work utilizes foresight methods such as systems mapping, scenario planning, and speculative futures to engage with stakeholders on strategic visions and the concrete actions needed to achieve them. She has engaged in systems change projects in many sectors including the food system, the retail sector, and urban planning. She is currently working on a project that examines the rise of nationalist movements around the world. She holds an MS in Foreign Service from Georgetown University and a BS in Anthropology and History from Carnegie Mellon University. She was awarded a Fulbright scholarship in 2005. Alisha also serves on the Board of Bitch Media, a feminist media organization. She is an avid gamer and science fiction enthusiast who spends her weekends chasing her two daughters around Brooklyn. You can find her @alishabhagat.
Insia Dariwala, is an award-winning international filmmaker, and a TEDX Speaker, who effectively uses her creativity to spotlight difficult topics of our society in her films, and other visual communications. Through her organisations Sahiyo, and The Hands of Hope Foundation, she has managed to creatively address issues like Female Genital Mutilation-FGM, and Child Sexual Abuse. She has also successfully executed several community projects engaging the medium of storytelling, and visual arts, in an attempt to mainstream such issues. But her most recent victory was getting the Union Cabinet Minister, Maneka Gandhi to sanction her first ever study on Male Child Sexual Abuse in India, and investigate co-relations between unresolved abuse in boys, and the growing rape/violence culture in India. On Women’s day this year, she featured as one of the 100 most inspiring women of India, in a book called ‘The Phenomenal She’. Her recent awards include the Shoorveer Award, the prestigious ‘Women have Wings’ courage award, U.S.A, and the ‘’We the Women ‘H.E.R’ award, in India, hosted by U.N Women and Barkha Dutt. She is also a Change.org Fellow for their flagship program ‘She Creates Change’.
Dr. Melody Eckardt, M.D./M.P.H., is an obstetrician and gynecologist. She is currently the Senior Advisor for Maternal Health Projects in the Division of Global Health and Human Rights, Department of Emergency Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. Prior to her current position, she was the Director of Women’s Refugee Health and the Director of Global Health in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Boston Medical Center. There she cared for many immigrant women with FGM including performing surgical revisions and managing the complications her patients experienced from the procedure. She has continued to work as an advocate to protect girls from FGM and is a part of the team of professionals from the Women’s Bar Association working on an FGM bill in Massachusetts. She also has a masters degree in public health with a concentration in global health and has been involved with reproductive health issues and projects in many countries in Africa and Asia.
Joanne Golden has been as an Attorney at Boston’s Social Security Administration’s Office of Hearing Operations (OHO) since 2010. She earned her J.D. with Pro Bono Honors from Suffolk University Law School in 2009 and was the 1st recipient of the Suffolk Law School Pro Bono Exemplary Service Award. Joanne’s legal interests are in constitutional and criminal law, as well as civil and human rights issues. During law school, she was part of student-led groups that screened two documentaries on child sex trafficking; wrote newspaper articles on human trafficking; and wrote a paper entitled “Impact of China’s One Child Policy and Cultural Gender Preference on Girl Child Discrimination and Mortality In China.” From 2009 to 2010, Joanne worked with two human rights NGOs in Massachusetts regarding anti-human trafficking; and, since May 2013, she has been a member of a working group to research, draft, and advocate for state-level legislation to ban the practice of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/FGC) in Massachusetts, which is currently outlawed at the federal level and in 26 other states to varying degrees. In addition to her legal education and work, Joanne has earned her BA in International Relations and MBA, both from Boston University, and she worked in the financial services industry for over 15 years with State Street Corporation.
Priya Goswami is an Indian independent filmmaker and co-founder of Sahiyo, a transnational collective working on advocacy against Female Genital Cutting/Mutilation. She is the recipient of the German Chancellor Fellowship by Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and is currently based out of Germany for her research. Her film ‘A Pinch of Skin’ is the recipient of 60th National film award of India and has travelled worldwide. She has worked with the United Nations and national television news network, ‘Zee Business’ as a video producer. Priya is passionate about creating conversation on Gender and Human rights. When not making films, she is always making new travel plans or searching new typography.
Aarefa Johari is a journalist based in Mumbai, India. She has 4 years of experience as a reporter and feature writer with Hindustan Times, a national daily, and currently works with Scroll.in, an online publication. She reports on communities, gender, human rights, urban development and culture. She is an alumnus of the 2013 batch of the International Visitor Leadership Programme, conducted by the United States Department of State. Aarefa may be contacted at aarefa@sahiyo.
Zehra Patwa is the Co-Founder of WeSpeakOut, an organization that strives to work for equal rights for Bohra women in all spheres of life, specifically, on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) or khafz. She grew up in London and was educated at the University of Bradford Management Centre in the UK and the Université de Montpellier in France. Zehra lives in the US and currently works in Business Analytics. She serves on the Board of the Foote School and MOSAIC, the Foote School’s multicultural affairs and diversity group. as well as on the Board of Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS). After discovering well into adulthood, that Type 1 FGM/C was practiced in her community and that she, too, had been subjected to it, she decided she could no longer keep silent. Although she has no recollection of the practice being done to her, she is vehemently opposed to it and has been working with the WeSpeakOut group to expose the practice within, and outside, the community. WeSpeakOut’s current focus is to ensure that FGM/C is declared illegal in India and that Khafz, as a practice, ends as a social norm in the Bohra community.
Maryum Saifee is currently an international affairs fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Prior to CFR, she served as a U.S. diplomat in Lahore, Baghdad, Erbil, Cairo, and various postings in Washington. Saifee also worked at the Ford Foundation and spent two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Jordan. She also worked with South Asian survivors of domestic violence as an AmeriCorps volunteer in Seattle. She published her story as a female genital mutilation (FGM) survivor in the Guardian and has contributed to Al Jazeera, CBC, NPR and other media outlets. Saifee is a graduate of Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and is a CFR term member.
Joanna Vergoth, LCSW, NCPsyA, is the Founder and Executive Director of forma, with 20 years of experience as a business executive followed by 20 years of experience as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Psychoanalyst. As a mental health professional, she has dedicated herself to the healing of trauma and in addition to her public service, private practice, clinic and advocacy work, Ms. Vergoth has also studied and volunteered with organizations in London, Cairo, New York and Chicago which provide services to refugees, children of divorce, recovering prostitutes, and immigrant African women and girls. Over the past decade she has become a committed activist in the cause of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM/C) first as Coordinator of the Midwest Network on Female Genital Cutting, and most recently with the creation of forma, which is dedicated to providing comprehensive, culturally-sensitive clinical services to women and families affected by FGM/C as well as offering psychoeducational outreach, advocacy and awareness training.