We are listening: Sahiyo’s statement on protests against police brutality

We at Sahiyo wanted to purposefully create space to address the continued protests against police brutality in the United States and globally, and explicitly state that we stand in solidarity with the protesters fighting for black lives.

Many are coming forward to condemn the treatment of people of color. But we need to be clear in stating that it is black lives that we are focusing on right now. The U.S. has been built on and fueled by white supremacy and the active oppression of black people, enforced by the prison industrial system, the police and other agencies.

As an organization working with South Asian communities, we recognize that colorism and anti-blackness exists within our communities, as well. We have benefited from the model minority stereotype, but we must make a choice now – we can choose to buy into the model minority trope, and align ourselves with whiteness. Or we can address the colorism and anti-blackness in our own community, and step forward as allies to stand beside this country’s black communities. 

The events of the past two weeks are happening at a time in which black Americans are getting consistently hit hardest by COVID-19, due to the structural inequality of the country, and the resulting high populations working in essential positions without access to proper healthcare, and a well-documented bias in the medical profession. 

These are incredibly disturbing times and it can be difficult figuring out the best ways to support and take action. Educate yourself, go to a protest, speak up when you hear anti-blackness around you. Speak up without centering yourself or performing allyship for social capital. Take care of yourself and the people around you.

Of course, not everyone has the capacity to physically protest, especially during these already challenging pandemic times and the need to practice social-distancing to stay safe and healthy. There are a multitude of ways to still take action and show your support for racial equality and justice. 

Donate to campaigns and organizations working to create structural change: 

Watch in order to educate yourself on these issues:

  • 13th
  • Eyes On The Prize documentary series
  • The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution
  • Long Night’s Journey Into Day
  • When They See Us

Read and share information with friends and family:

Articles:

Books:

  • The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
  • Biased by Jennifer Eberhardt
  • How to be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi
  • Between The World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
  • White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
  • Black Skin, White Masks by Frantz Fanon
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
  • Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black by bell hooks
  • Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism by bell hooks

Listen:

These are only a handful of ways one can take action, but as a global community, we must do so, and we must ensure that all black lives matter. At Sahiyo, we are listening and we are here for the black community and all allies supporting change. 

With love, solidarity and hope,

~ The Sahiyo Team 

 

Voices Series: A Reflection on a nine-month journey

By Su Sun

When I was contacted by Mariya in the beginning of 2019 to join the Voices to End FGM/C workshop, I’d just found out I was pregnant. Previous experiences of obstetric trauma roamed around my head and it seemed to me that this project could be an opportunity to reunify two vital experiences that I’ve carried with me rather silently: khatna and violence during the delivery of my first child. Khatna follows us in every period of our lives, as a shadow, as a fear, a vacillation, whenever we have to deal with our bodies. How much better could I tell these stories, as I vividly remembered them, if not using the format of a poem? Verses that revive and denounce.

Additionally, it was important to me to turn the focus on who is the perpetrator of this traumatic experience and highlight the systems of oppression operating behind them: patriarchy and racism entangled. Nine months of a journey where my belly was growing and the story was being created. The experience of using the digital storytelling format, the first time for me, was a fulfilling one, with encouraging and inspiring dialogues with the team (both Mariya and Amy), flexibility to use our ideas as means of expression. Continuous communication and feedback. It was both creative and therapeutic to imagine the story and how to build it. Moreover, I am very thankful for being part of this project along with other women.

 

 

 

 
 

Forced Clitoridectomies on Athletes

By Masuma Kothari

(Several female athletes have been coerced to undergo partial clitoridectomies to participate in competitive sports. Read about female genital cutting (FGC) in sports here.)

“Let me try to feel this, as if I was you.

As a child I am embellished a rosy world of toys
which could draw up to any passerby without a doubt
what I am.

I grow fast and in symphony my speed at running, too,
adapts, I lean toward the world of athletics and
fitness treats.

I am changing, there are things happening to me,
fine hair shows up where they never were,
softer and fuller I feel,
I start to menstruate.

I definitely know what I am.

My emotions attract me toward wonderful boys,
They lure me into fantasies rolling up my eye.

I definitely know what I am.

All along I perform well, I score medals
after medals, I get noticed with victory bells

I get trained, I sit among the best runners,
my mind shifts into a resilient achiever with thick endurance,
representing every honour, I win all my fears
and I run like a cheetah after his dinner.

I still definitely know what I am.

What more evidence do you need,
I may be gifted
I may look testerone high
but how can you disregard
all that I have?

I am faced with a choice at
the time of my youth
the time when I am bleeding
to reach my dreams from root
Simply put, I have more courage
than being wise
so
I sit under the knife
And now you tell me if that is nice?”

Sahiyo hosts third annual Activist Retreat

Sahiyo held its third annual Activist Retreat in the United States via Zoom from April 10-12. The aim of the retreat was to continue to work toward building a network of U.S.-based Bohra activists against female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) by strengthening relationships with one another, sharing best practices, and providing tools for activists to utilize in their advocacy work moving forward.

Sessions included introduction to mental health and FGM/C, importance of community-led and survivor-led movements, mock conversations on FGM/C, and action planning for 2020. This was the first time that the retreat was open to men. Participants had an opportunity to learn from each other and experts, as well as about Sahiyo’s resources and tools to help public and private activists, and network to make lifelong connections.

The retreat was also an opportunity for activists to discuss both challenges and opportunities they have found in advocating against FGM/C. At the end of the retreat, each participant committed to an action to help end the practice of FGM/C.

Voices Series: Why we must continue to protect our girls

This blog is part of a series of reflective essays by participants of the Voices to End FGM/C workshops run by Sahiyo and StoryCenter. Through residential and online workshops on digital storytelling, Voices to End FGM/C enables those who have been affected by female genital mutilation/cutting to tell their stories through their own perspectives, in their own words.

By Rhobi Samwelly

I decided to share a story about my experience with female genital mutilation (FGM) because I want people to know who I am, and learn through my touching story. I hope my story will help other girls and bring change to our community. The story reflects the reality of what I passed through and what I felt as a girl and the first born from my family. The story is informing other people to understand the tradition of FGM and its implications. The story keeps me with tears in my eyes every time when sharing with different people.

Sharing my story with the Voices to End FGM/C workshop was the right thing to help other people learn. I was encouraged to be part of the group in order to change our community with this tradition of FGM. I shared with women who’ve gone through painful and traumatic experiences as other FGM survivors. I enjoyed the courage and passion that each of them embraced during the entire time. The storytelling process was smooth and very educational. I was able to revise my own story and put it in a way that I am confident and make a difference to our communities.

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My advocacy on FGM is focused on community education, sharing my story and providing safe houses for girls to be rescued and protected when forced by their families to undergo FGM. I have managed to rescue and protect 1607 girls from FGM and early marriages. Many girls are cut while knowing the effects of FGM, and no one is ready to protect them in their houses during the seasonal cutting. As an activist, I believe that FGM will end when we use the combination of different strategies in the fight against it. 

I know it is the right of each community to uphold their traditions and beliefs, but culture should not violate the rights of girls and young women. I believe I am unique and my story is unique because of the painful experience of nearly dying and feelings that I had during the cutting. I am looking forward to working with various organizations and individuals to see that our girls are free from FGM across the world. I will continue my activism and rescue girls to be protected at the safe houses until FGM will be history. 

FGM/C in sports: Why some female athletes are being coerced into partial clitoridectomy

By Zahra Qaiyumi 

Imagine you are a professional female athlete who is told that you must agree to undergo a partial clitoridectomy in order to continue participating in your sport. This might sound like a far-fetched scenario, but due to an International Olympic Committee (IOC) policy, this is a reality for some hyperandrogenic athletes. Partial clitoridectomy falls under the classification of female genital mutilation/cutting (FMG/C), a practice that is recognized internationally as a violation of the rights of girls and women. 

Hyperandrogenism is characterized by high levels of testosterone in females. Individuals with hyperandrogenism often present with an enlarged clitoris, excess hair growth, acne, and decreased breast size, among other characteristics. High testosterone levels can be caused by many different conditions, including polycystic ovarian syndrome and androgen-secreting tumors. 

Testosterone levels have caused long-standing controversy in the realm of professional athletics. Many believe that higher than average testosterone provides some female athletes with an unfair competitive advantage. One olympian, South African middle-distance runner Caster Semenya, has been at the center of this debate in recent years. Semenya, 29, has attempted to appeal a new policy regulating the testosterone levels of female middle-distance runners by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) with little success thus far. The policy mandates that female athletes with differences in sex development (hyperandrogenism) must demonstrate a testosterone level of less than 5 nmol/L. This value must be maintained for a period of time before and during international competition in order to remain eligible. 

By enacting this policy, the IAAF is equating elevated androgen production with athletic advantage. The reality, however, is that there is no universally agreed upon scientific evidence that establishes a relationship between excess endogenous androgen production, or androgens that are produced naturally by the body, and athletic advantage in female athletes.

The IAAF’s policy, although controversial, does not require or recommend any surgical alteration of the bodies of female athletes. However, similar regulations enacted in years past have lead to unintended consequences, such as coercion into FGM/C. In 2014, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) also established a policy to regulate hyperandrogenism in female athletes. The IOC’s policy mandates that national Olympic committees “actively investigate any perceived deviation in sex characteristics.” This investigation includes observation of the athlete’s genitals by doping officers while providing a urine sample. If an enlarged clitoris is observed, this counts against the athlete as a perceived deviation in sex characteristics. 

The IOC policies surrounding hyperandrogenism have caused unintended outcomes as countries attempt to comply with the rules. Most notably, medical procedures were performed on four young female athletes who were found to have hyperandrogenism. The procedures performed included a partial clitoridectomy and gonadectomy (in this case given the underlying condition, removal of the testes). The gonadectomy procedure resulted in the removal of a part of the body that produces androgens, thus technically serving the IOC’s goal to regulate hyperandrogenism. However, the partial clitoridectomy did not serve any medical purpose, and in no way related to actual or perceived athletic advantage. 

As stated earlier, partial clitoridectomy is a form of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). Performing the procedure on these four young women is antithetical to the decades-long mission to end FGM/C globally, which has been addressed by the World Health Organization. In terms of its impact on the individual, partial clitoridectomy has the potential to cause life-long biological and psychological consequences, including damage to sexual sensation and function for these athletes. Notably, the athletes were perfectly healthy before this procedure was performed and were in compliance with the IOC’s policies regarding cheating and doping. 

The IOC and IAAF policies regarding hyperandrogenism, though not meant to undermine medical recommendations, have put some female athletes in danger of undergoing unnecessary clitoridectomy. Many countries take the loosely-worded policy and create country-specific guidelines for compliance. This leads to the policing of young female athletes and placing pressure on them to undergo unnecessary procedures such as the partial clitoridectomy, which is a human rights violation.

Voices Series: How I reconnected with my purpose through storytelling

This blog is part of a series of reflective essays by participants of the Voices to End FGM/C workshops run by Sahiyo and StoryCenter. Through residential and online workshops on digital storytelling, Voices to End FGM/C enables those who have been affected by female genital mutilation/cutting to tell their stories through their own perspectives, in their own words.

By Nonya Khedr 

Sahiyo and StoryCenter created a remarkable experience for me at the Voices to End FGM/C digital storytelling workshop. The workshop included phenomenal women and men who wanted to use their stories to advocate against the practice. Although sharing my story put me in a position where I felt extremely vulnerable and exposed, I certainly felt safe.

During the workshops, we learned how to create and articulate our stories in order to advocate against the practice. We took breaks to participate in healing exercises such as yoga and meditation. I was very grateful that we took time out of the workshops because it helped me reconnect with myself and acknowledge where I was. It gave my brain time to rejuvenate after revisiting traumatic experiences.

These exercises emphasized the importance of taking time out of my everyday life to take care of my wellbeing in order to strive and grow in my career. A few weeks later, I am now more mindful of how to manage my work, reconnecting with my purpose and remembering why I am doing this work. I am taking better care of my self with prayer, exercise, and downtime. 

The workshop inspired me to keep moving forward with the work I’m doing with my organization, SheFFA. I started SheFFA earlier this year to advocate against FGM/C, and provide support for women who have undergone the practice. Before coming to the conference, I experienced so many stressful and discouraging moments working on it due to the overwhelming amount of work and being a full-time college student. However, being a part of an environment full of powerful women and men who are passionate about eradicating FGM/C gave me more hope to move forward. I have developed lovely relationships with people who are extremely supportive and whose goals align with my mission.

The story that I have created during the workshop will be used to bring more awareness against FGM/C with the intention to empower other people to speak out against the practice and to make a greater impact.

 

 

Why are we doing this? A Thaal pe Charcha participant questions female genital cutting

By Anonymous

Country of Residence: India

Age: 32

I have been part of the Sahiyo Thaal Pe Charcha group meetings for a while and have found it an eye-opening concept. The more I’ve been involved, I’ve become more aware of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). In the first meeting, I came to know it as a social stigma that we women face due to misguided traditions. Knowing that more people support the cause made me feel a bit more confident to talk about it. Hearing about the issue of FGM/C made me more aware that people blindly do it because their familes do it. Some of them may do it out of fear and for the approval of society.

During the recent February meeting we were shown a movie, A Girl from Mogadishu, based on the life of a Somalian FGM/C survivor and activist, Ifrah Ahmed. Her whole life she believed the tradition of FGM/C needed to be followed, as her ancestors did the same, so she never questioned it. But migration opened her eyes to the fact that what happened to her was not right. She did not deserve to suffer pain just because her society carried this practice for centuries blindly.

I, myself, find a lot of people like my family and friends who are afraid to ask the questions: Why are we doing this? Is it necessary to hurt a girl in childhood? That psychological wound is so deep and may never be healed.

No one can remember their childhood memories perfectly, but when something painful happens for some, it’s impossible to forget. I really want more people to share their experiences, come out of denial and support the cause to pledge to not let the next generation or anyone undergo the same pain they, themselves, might have undergone.

How COVID-19 may increase gender-based violence, including FGM/C

The UNFPA and UNICEF Joint Program on the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) released a technical note about how the COVID-19 pandemic may affect women and girls adversely in regard to violence and inequalities. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to allow an additional two million cases of FGM/C due to restricted movement and confinement of people globally, disrupting the Sustainable Development Goal 5.3: Eliminating FGM/C by 2030. The closing of schools, restricted mobility and the inevitability of health care workers prioritizing COVID-19 patients heightens the need for supporting community-based women and youth groups identifying at-risk girls vulnerable to violence, including FGM/C.

The brief is meant as a guide for UNFPA and UNICEF Joint Program staff and partners, other United Nations agencies, governments, civil society, and non-governmental organizations, on how to assess the impact COVID-19 may have on FGM/C programs. The call to action includes integrating FGM/C in COVID-19 preparedness and response plans; access to prevention, protection, and care services and community-based protection; alternative approaches to community-based interventions promoting the abandonment of FGM/C; opportunities presented by the pandemic; and adaptive monitoring and evaluation.

 

Sahiyo Partner Organization Highlight: StoryCenter

StoryCenter creates spaces for transforming lives and communities, through the acts of listening to and sharing stories as a vehicle for education, community mobilization, and advocacy. Since 1993, they have helped over 20,000 individuals tell their stories. They collaborate with organizations around the world on workshops in story facilitation, digital storytelling, and other forms of participatory media production. In 2018, Sahiyo, in partnership with StoryCenter, launched an inaugural digital storytelling workshop. Nine women’s stories have since elevated the conversation about female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) in the U.S. and globally. The stories were distributed online and via media channels, as well as at live community screening events. They are being used as educational tools to support discussion among survivors within their communities, with a focus on challenging the social norms sanctioning FGM/C, and encouraging an end to the practice. Sahiyo is honored to have Amy Hill, StoryCenter’s Silence Speaks director, partner with Sahiyo on the Voices to End FGM/C project to expand the number of digital stories since the first 2018 workshop.

1) When and how did you and your organization first get involved with Sahiyo?

I first met Mariya when she attended a digital storytelling workshop I was leading with alumni of the Women’s Foundation of California’s Women’s Policy Institute in 2017. She produced a stunning video about her own journey of sharing her female genital cutting story, as part of her advocacy efforts against the practice. I had always been interested in doing work on the topic as part of our global women’s rights efforts, and I felt that Mariya, with her focus on personal storytelling as method for breaking the silence, ending stigma, and building leadership among women for speaking out against FGM/C, would be the perfect collaborating partner. I approached her, and together, we put on a pilot digital storytelling workshop for women survivors of FGM/C. It was a deeply powerful experience for everyone involved. I think even Mariya and I were a little surprised by how effective StoryCenter’s core methodology in digital storytelling was, for working with this issue.

2) What does your work with Sahiyo and StoryCenter as a joint partnership involve?

Our first digital storytelling workshop grew into a global effort called Voices to End FGM/C, which brings survivors and advocates from practicing communities together to share stories and craft them into short digital videos as a way of building nurturing, healing relationships and solidarity, and mobilizing the storytellers to become further involved in efforts to address and prevent cutting. So far we’ve done a total of four digital storytelling workshops: three in person, and one fully online, to create a collection of more than 40 poignant and compelling short videos. Mariya and I have co-facilitated all of the workshops, and Sahiyo has done a brilliant job of continuing to engage with the storytellers afterward. They’ve written blog postings about the storytelling experience, made presentations at public screenings and conferences and more. Sahiyo’s skill in getting the stories out into the world is almost unparalleled in my 20-year history of work at StoryCenter. They are very sophisticated with social media outreach and have been able to bring a lot of media attention to the stories, which is exciting. 

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3) How has your involvement with Sahiyo impacted your own organization’s work?

Speaking of social media, StoryCenter helps people create amazing content that can be circulated widely online and via mobile phones, and yet our main focus has typically been not on distribution, but on putting together and facilitating participatory media workshops that truly enhance the wellbeing of storytellers. While all of my work has focused explicitly on how stories can be useful in the world for creating change, it’s not the norm for our programs. But the Voices to End FGM/C project has inspired more of our staff to push for innovative ways to publicly circulate stories that come out of our processes, and Sahiyo’s Communications Coordinator even met recently with one of my colleagues who is jump-starting our Instagram presence and was interested in looking at Sahiyo’s approach to featuring the Voices stories as a model. We’ve also joined the U.S. Network to End FGM/C, which is exciting for us to be part of a larger group of individuals and organizations committed to ensuring future generations of girls do not go through what some of our Voices storytellers have endured, as a result of being cut. Our partnership with Sahiyo has evolved so beautifully and organically. I feel that it has helped me trust more than I already did the idea that our work at StoryCenter has to be based on solid human relationships and shared visions for change, rather than on rigid agendas or desires to be successful in a conventional way.

4) What words of wisdom would you like to share with others who may be interested in supporting StoryCenter, Sahiyo and the movement against FGM/C?

Stories matter. Everyone’s voice is worthy of being heard, and creating spaces where individual perspectives can be aired, where people’s pain can be witnessed, really does build solidarity and is essential to movement-building. FGM/C is a form of trauma; trauma fractures our ability to connect in healthy, intimate ways; and storytelling is a way to repair those rifts, to enable people to find solace and support and strength for the difficult parts of the journey together.