Saved by a lie: A story of female genital cutting

By Zainab Khambata

Age: 17

Place of residence: Mumbai, India

My maternal grandmother prides herself on being the perfect blend of modernity and religion. But when it came to her own daughter who is my mother, in spite of her misgivings, she still fell in line and got my mother circumcised or cut. Ask my grandmother why she did it and the reasons are numerous. Her mother asked her to do it. She lived in a joint family and all the cousins were cut. She didn’t know how to openly defy social norms and say no. The oddly mystifying voice of reason: if everybody is doing it, maybe it is the right thing to do. That is how Bohri women still continue to be cut in this day and age by their mothers and aunts and grandmothers. 

My mother still remembers the day she was cut as a child very vividly. She wasn’t told anything at all, simply pounced upon by her aunts and a “maasi,” or auntie, who used a razor on her. Then she was asked to rest to let the bleeding stop, given a bar of chocolate, and as a bonus, no school the next day. Life went on for my mother as usual without any mention of the incident or what had transpired. 

All was good and forgotten until my paternal grandmother started hounding my mom to get me cut. It was this whole maahol, or social environment, where mothers of girls my age were more than happy to play reminder and ask if I was cut yet because they had already had their little girls cut. My mom read about it and realised the physical repercussions of it, the bleeding and scarring, emotional repercussions and trauma, and in some cases, even sexual frigidity. You may never really forget what happens to you even though you are not informed about it at all. Upon inquiry, my mom never got a satisfactory answer as to why girls are cut besides the fact that it’s Sunnat, or encouraged. Some moms said it was for hygiene purposes; others said it would keep a girls’ potentially “sinful” thoughts of a sexual nature at bay. But the final straw was when she was told it may heighten mental and physical intimacy between couples. She realised then that many people have a myriad of confusing reasons to justify cutting.

When the pressure became too much from my grandmother and the other moms around her, my mother resorted to the only way she knew to keep me safe, by telling everyone that the deed was already done.

My paternal grandmother, who was hell bent on getting me circumcised like all my cousins to uphold her own religious morals and beliefs, made it a point to cross-check with my maternal grandmother whether I was truly cut. My maternal grandmother was smart enough to say yes, mostly to atone to my mom and not let history repeat itself for the sake of my bodily autonomy. In this way, my paternal grandmother was satisfied and she let it rest once and for all.

My mom had actually managed to prevent my cutting by telling everyone I had undergone the practice. Ingenious or devious? No matter what, I am grateful.

Sahiyo staff join panel on FGM/C with Drexel University faculty and students

On March 29th, Sahiyo’s Development Assistant Sarrah Hussain and Programs Intern Catherine Cox were invited to speak at a panel discussion on female genital mutilation/ cutting (FGM/C). 

Hosted in partnership with the UNICEF Unite Club at Drexel University, this panel featured three other speakers: Mark Woodland, M.D., activist Cecirahim Sesay, and activist Nera Fernando. Dr. Woodland is a professor and chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Drexel University College of Medicine. He serves on several committees and advisory groups at the Institute for Women’s Health and Leadership. Fernando is a student at Drexel University from Sri Lanka who offered her insight from a social perspective, exploring the underlying causes of FGM/C, and what it is like living in a community where FGM/C is the norm. Finally, Sesay is also a student at Drexel University and a health-equity activist who offered her personal insight into the underlying causes of the FGM/C and community norms. 

Combined, this panel of amazing speakers explored the health consequences of FGM/C, living in practicing communities, and how people can become better activists and allies in empowering communities to end the practice. 

Dr. Woodland explained the medical effects of FGM/C and its global prevalence. Next, Sesay and Fernando used their personal stories to explore the social norms that underpin the practice. Finally, Hussain and Cox from Sahiyo explored Sahiyo’s work and activism in the past, giving the audience a framework for their own activism. They highlighted the concrete steps everyone can take in their day-to-day lives to become better advocates in ending FGM/C. Panelists took audience questions that ranged from the history of law in the United States around the issue, the role that culture plays, and how the people in the audience can take concrete steps toward activism. 

Overall, the panel was an eye-opening exploration of the many issues and concepts surrounding FGM/C and the movement to abandon the practice. 

If you are interested in having a member of Sahiyo speak at an event at your institution, please email our team: info@sahiyo.com. You can also fill out our request for an outreach presentation form at https://sahiyo.com/community-outreach/.

Dear Maasi: “Did khatna impact my sex life or is it all in my head?”

Dear Maasi is a column highlighting everything you want to know about sex and relationships, but were afraid to ask! It’s a partnership between Sahiyo and WeSpeakOut. It’s for all of us who have questions about female genital cutting (FGC) or khatna, and how it impacts our bodies, minds, sexuality and relationships. We welcome you to submit your anonymous questions.

Dear Maasi, 

I find that many survivors of female genital cutting (FGC) either have not experienced or been vocal about the negative impact of FGC on their sexual experiences. Am I in the minority? It feels that some of the impact may be in my head and not real. How can I explore that aspect of my personal experience?

Anam

Dear Anam,

Sex and khatna can be considered taboo subjects, which means that people can be very shy about sharing their true experiences. Let’s change that!

In previous columns, I’ve referenced recent research done by Sahiyo and WeSpeakOut, that estimates around 30-35% of khatna survivors report a negative impact on their sexual lives:

  • fear, anxiety, shame, and difficulty trusting sexual partners 
  • low arousal, inability to feel sexual pleasure and over sensitivity in the clitoral area 

In conversations with women, I’ve also heard about sexual pain, which I addressed in depth in October’s column. In my own process of healing, I’ve needed to understand freeze responses and how to address them through mindfulness.

In the Sahiyo study, another 32% said they “didn’t know” if khatna had an impact on their sexuality, which raises questions for me. I think that most of us are not trauma-informed or sexuality-literate enough to answer this question because we often don’t know how to interpret and trust our feelings and sensations. All of this can lead to confusion and feeling like we’re imagining things.

For example, consider that trauma memories can be inaccessible, or fuzzy, or surreal-feeling:

“Trauma memories are often implicit, because trauma floods our brain with cortisol, the stress hormone, which shuts down the part of our brain that encodes memories and makes them explicit. Our implicit memories can be like invisible forces in our lives, impacting us in powerful ways.” (https://www.psychalive.org/making-sense-of-implicit-memories/)

These invisible forces are the living legacy of trauma. The traumatized part of us can remain on guard even if our adult self intellectually knows we’re safe. 

One way to explore this further is to learn more about trauma and sexuality. Review some of my past columns and peruse some of the short videos and article links. 

Many people find it helpful to talk with a trauma and sexuality trained psychotherapist who can help you to notice, understand and shift your responses. (Check out January 2021’s column for details on how to find someone with those skills.) 

Anam, I hope you’ll offer yourself the gift of this exploration and sexual healing. Sexual pleasure is our birthright!

—Maasi

About Maasi, aka Farzana Doctor: Farzana is a novelist and psychotherapist in private practice. She’s a founding member of WeSpeakOut and the End FGM/C Canada Network. She loves talking about relationships and sexuality! Find out more about her at http://www.farzanadoctor.com

Disclaimer: While Farzana is full of good advice, this column won’t address everyone’s individual concerns and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical or psychological care.

Sahiyo, RAHMA and HEART discuss HIV, FGM/C and sexual health during workshop

by Zahra Qaiyumi

Sahiyo partnered with RAHMA and HEART on March 13 to host the My South Asian Sisters (MYSAS) workshop. The conference engaged women of South Asian descent in Washington, D.C. to take control of their sexual health, embrace their diverse needs, develop a healthy outlook on body positivity, become effective advocates against female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) and gender-based violence (GBV), and address HIV stigma. MYSAS was funded through a grant from the D.C. Mayor’s Office of Asian American and Pacific Islander Affairs. The day-long event brought together South Asian women working in social work, public health graduate students and those completing undergraduate studies, among others. Speakers included Maniza Habib, Mariam Sabir, Navila Rashid, Kiran Waqar, and myself.

The MYSAS workshop was interactive, with ample opportunity for participants to share thoughts, ask questions, and learn from one another. Sharing knowledge about FGM/C and planting seeds for others to become involved with work on gender-based violence was one of the most inspiring parts of the workshop. It can be challenging to find spaces for South Asians to come together and focus on topics affecting the South Asian community as a whole. Workshops like these allow for collaboration between organizations and individuals who are working to empower South Asian communities, and create opportunity for projects and programming that might otherwise not have been possible.

As a workshop host, I spent most of my time-sharing knowledge about FGM/C, including existing research and statistics, as well as personal experiences and advocacy work. However, one of the most salient takeaways from this workshop resulted from a conversation with a participant about inclusive language. There is a general lack of data surrounding who and how many people undergo FGM/C. This includes individuals that do not identify as female and are FGM/C survivors. This prompted a discussion about transitioning to language that focuses on body parts rather than gendering the FGM/C survivor. For example, we discussed utilizing “person with a uterus/vagina/vulva.” This and other conversations during the MYSAS workshop illustrate the importance of programming that brings together those working in the GBV space so they may learn from and collaborate with each other.

Using Storytelling to Shift Social Norms and Prevent FGM/C: Event Reflection

By Cate Cox

Sahiyo was honored to join StoryCenter to host the webinar, “Using Storytelling to Shift Social Norms and Prevent FGM/C,” during a parallel event for the 65th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women on March 16th. 

Sahiyo and StoryCenter staff had the opportunity to introduce the collaborative Voices to End FGM/C project, which centers on storytelling by survivors and those affected by female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) as a tool to challenge social norms that perpetuate the practice. 

From outlining the storytelling process to hearing from the participants themselves, the parallel event offered an in-depth exploration of the power that storytelling has to heal and create change on a global scale. 

Mariya Taher, a co-founder of Sahiyo and the U.S. Executive Director began by giving the audience an introduction to Sahiyo’s work and the Voices project. Next, the co-founder of StoryCenter’s Silence Speaks program, Amy Hill, explored the methodology behind the Voices project, and why storytelling in general can have such a big impact on individuals, communities, and policy. 

Former Voices participants Aarefa Johari, Severina Lemachokoti, Sunshine Bayor, Zehra Patwa, and Maryum Saifee shared their experiences with the project. Both organizations introduced three new storytellers: Absa Samba, Hunter Kessous, and Somaya Abdelrahman. After watching their amazing Voices videos which will be released in May, each participant had the chance to answer a few questions about their experiences and their plans for moving forward. Panelists emphasized the importance of survivor-centered advocacy, mental health, and trauma services for survivors, as well as encouraged the audience to become involved in advocacy.    

A Chorus of Voices by Aarefa Johari

Panelists also answered select audience questions about their work and experiences of creating their videos. Intimate and brave, the panelists opened up about their fears of backlash and the ways that their videos still impact them. Both organzations shared resources with the audience to further educate themselves about the work Sahiyo and Storycenter are doing and to learn more about the Voices to End FGM/C project. 

“Using Storytelling to Shift Social Norms and Prevent FGM/C” was an ode to the power storytelling has to empower communities to abandon FGC and support survivors’ healing. It also highlighted the amazing work everyone at Sahiyo and StoryCenter are doing in their own capacity to advocate for women’s rights and shined a light on the often-overlooked work being done by grassroots organizations across the world. 

Watch the recording of this event.

To learn more about Sahiyo’s work, Sahiyo staff will be hosting a webinar in partnership with The US End FGM/C Network and the Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence on April 15th, at 2:30 pm EST over Zoom. Learn more about how to register.

The End FGM European Network hosts webinar: “Addressing female genital mutilation while leaving no one behind”

By Madrisha Debnath

The End FGM European Network hosted a webinar titled, “Addressing female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) while leaving no one behind,” to discuss FGM/C and the framework of intersectionality in February. The speakers of the event included Helena Dalli, EU Commissioner for Equality; Aïda Yancy, an LGBTQ+ feminist, anti-racist activist currently working at RainbowHouse Brussels and an expert on FGM/C; Hadeel Elshak, Youth Ambassador of End FGM European Network; and Sietske Steneker, UNFPA Brussels Director.

Keynote speaker Dalli addressed the data regarding FGM/C among the European Union member countries. According to the European Institute for Gender Equality, 600,000 to 900,000 women and girls are at risk of FGM/C in thirteen European countries alone. The European Commission is working to end the practice of FGM/C with an intersectional approach. Working with ground level activists, community-based workers and survivors to understand the different ways in which each woman is affected is crucial toward encouraging the abandonment of the practice. Avoiding stigmatisation, racism, and xenophobia is imperative for ending gender-based violence and structural inequality.

Yancy explained the concept of intersectionality originating from Black Feminist Theory. The term was coined by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw (1989) in her seminal work, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics.” Intersectionality happens when a person is at the crossroads of more than one systematic oppression. The marginalized people who are standing at the crossroads, for example, a black woman or a woman of colour, is not only facing racism and sexism, but is subjected to something bigger that comprises the effect of both sexism and racism. Intersectionality doesn’t mean simply adding the systemic oppression that a person is facing. Rather, it means that the effect is cumulative instead of being additive since these categories of oppression are not mutually exclusive. Intersectionality is more than a concept; it’s a tool to identify issues of access for marginalized people. Since social institutions work in a single lane fashion, recognising oppressions exclusive of one another by using intersectionality as a tool will help to identify social issues.

Elshak talked about her identities of being black, woman, Muslim, Sudanese, young, and of the first generation to be living in United Kingdom, as well as how her multiple identities have shaped her everyday experiences. She shared her experiences of forming the “Youth Engagement Manifesto: Tackling FGM in Europe- Strategies for Effective Engagement of Youth from FGM-affected communities.” She talked about how, in being young, she has disrupted the general notion of older people being wiser, and made her opinion known in advocating against FGM/C.

Steneker presented the report on the state of the world population on harmful practices titled, “Against My Will: Defying the Practices that Harm Women and Girls and Undermine Equality,” by the United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA) that include nineteen different types of harmful practices, including virginity testing, child marriage, breast ironing, body modifications, female genital cutting, and other harmful practices controlling women’s bodies and sexualities. According to the report, over 200 million girls and women have undergone some form of genital cutting. An estimated 52 million women and girls worldwide have undergone the practice performed by medical practitioners, doctors, nurses or midwives. Girls who are forced into marriage as children may also be survivors of FGM/C or are at a higher risk. Everyday an average of 33,000 girls are being forced into marriage.

Watch “Addressing female genital mutilation while leaving no one behind.”

Four women who were pivotal to the movement to end female genital cutting

By Megan Maxwell

The movement to end female genital cutting (FGC) has been in effect starting as far back as the latter half of the 19th century through the voices, writing, and research of women who have worked for the rights of women and girls. FGC is present in 92 countries. In honor of Women’s History Month, Sahiyo is honoring four women from Egypt, India, Senegal, and Austria who changed the world for women and girls.

Nawal El Saadawi & her brutal honesty

Nawal El Saadawi, a doctor, feminist and writer, who was born in a community outside of Cairo, Egypt, was a survivor of FGC. She campaigned against FGC and for the rights of women and girls throughout her life. She started by speaking out against her family’s preconceived notions about the trajectory of a girl’s life and then used her voice to condemn FGC and women’s rights abuses through her books. 

She wrote many books including The Hidden Face of Eve, a powerful account of brutality against women, and saw women live those realities detailed in the book within the communities in which she worked as a medical doctor. She was a crusader but her work was banned. She was imprisoned and suffered death threats. Through her work, she championed for the rights of girls and women globally for decades. She died on March 21st at 89 years old

Rehana Ghadially & All for Izzat

In 1991, Rehana Ghadially wrote an article entitled All for Izzat in which she examined the prevalence of female genital cutting and its justification. For this article, she interviewed about 50 Bohra women and found the three most common reasons given for FGC: it is a religious obligation; it is a tradition; and it is done to curb a girl’s sexuality. 

Through these interviews, Ghadially revealed that the procedure of FGC was anything but symbolic. “The girl’s circumcision has been kept an absolute secret not only from outsiders but from the men of the community,” she said.

Ghadially experienced FGC when she was very young. Her research allowed her to share with the world the reality of what Bohra girls and women go through as a result of FGC.        

Ndéye Maguette Diop & the Malicounda Bambara community

The community of Malicounda Bambara in Senegal, West Africa, was substantially influenced by the Community Empowerment Program (CEP): a program established by Tostan that engages communities in their languages on themes of democracy, human rights (including female genital cutting), health, literacy, and project management skills. In July of 1997, the CEP empowered the women of Malicounda Bambara to announce the first-ever public declaration to abandon female genital cutting to the world. Ndéye Maguette Diop was the facilitator for the CEP in Malicounda Bambara. She guided them through the program, which is designed to not pass judgment on the practice, but simply to provide information regarding FGC and its health risks.

Diop used theater, a traditional mode of African communication and arts, as a means to better facilitate the exchange of ideas. “The women didn’t have any knowledge of these rights beforehand and had never spoken of FGC between themselves,” Diop said. As the result of reenacting a play, these women started to talk about FGC frequently with Diop and she said they “decided to speak about the harmful consequences on women’s health caused by the practice with their ‘adoptive sisters’ [a component of the CEP], as well as with their husbands.” 

Thanks to Diop, the conversation on FGC was opened up to the women of Malicounda Bambara. They took it upon themselves to investigate within their community until they concluded that the practice should be abandoned.

Fran Hosken & her ideas of global sisterhood

In 1975, Fran Hosken began writing her newsletter, Women’s International Network News where she reported on the status of women and women’s rights around the globe. The tagline for her newsletter was, “All the news that is fit to print by, for & about women,” and it featured regular sections on Women and Development, Women and Health, Women and Violence, and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Every issue of her newsletter had a section on FGM, including names and addresses for her subscribers to get more information on activities surrounding FGC around the world. Hosken was an American feminist and writer, but she was very involved in the livelihoods of women and girls around the globe.
Her newsletter became popular for its research into female genital cutting and she ended up writing The Hosken Report: Genital and Sexual Mutilation of Females in 1979. In her book, she reports on the health facts, history, The World Health Organization’s Seminar in Khartoum, The Politics of FGM: a Conspiracy of Silence, Actions for Change, Statistics, Economic Facts, and case histories from several African and Asian Countries as well as the western world. Fran Hosken’s writing and research were extremely influential in the movement to end female genital cutting and continues to be in the modern movement.

Everyone’s Responsibility: Discussing the Role Male Allies Play In Preventing Female Genital Cutting

By Cate Cox

Sahiyo held the a February webinar, Everyone’s Responsibility: Discussing the Role Male Allies Play In Preventing Female Genital Cutting (FGC). This webinar provided the opportunity to hear from four speakers Jeremiah Kipainoi, Khadijah Abdullah, Tony Mwebia, and Hatim Amiji moderated by Murtaza Kapasi about the role men play in ending FGC. From direct action to research to personal conversations, this webinar explored the many ways in which men can involve themselves and women can work to involve men in empowering communities to abandon FGC.     

Mariya Taher, Sahiyo co-founder and the U.S. Executive Director, gave the audience an introduction to Sahiyo’s many programs. Next, Kapasi, founder of Bhaiyo, took us through his work and the motivation for starting Bhaiyo. Bhaiyo is Sahiyo’s groundbreaking new male ally program that seeks to encourage men to become involved in conversations about FGC. After a short introduction to our panelist’s work, and a screening of Amiji’s Voices to End FGM/C Film Listen, the Q&A portion of the event was initiated.. 

Panelists answered questions about their work, the important role men play in ending FGC, and some challenges they have faced along the way. Our panelists explored how many men are often unaware of the multi-layered impacts of FGC on women and communities, and how FGC is often tied to patriarchal violence. “It’s important that more men kind of speak up about this, and join us, because they can be an ally to prevent this happening to women and girls,” panelist Abdullah said.

At the end of the webinar, the audience had the opportunity to ask the panelists questions about their experience and knowledge. Questions included asking how the panelists’ experiences as brothers and sons of women who have undergone FGC, and how male partners can play a role in helping their wives and girlfriends have safe and pleasurable sex. Once audience member astutely asked about the connection between gender-based violence and FGC. “The deadline to end FGM/C is 2030, but there is no deadline to end patriarchy,” Mwebia said. While we do need to work to fight FGC, it is also important to understand how it is connected to the larger system of violence against women and girls. 

Everyone’s Responsibility: Discussing the Role Male Allies Play In Preventing Female Genital Cutting (FGC) explored the roles that men play in empowering communities to abandon FGC and how people can all work to empower men to have these conversations. It was a reminder that ending FGC is everyone’s responsibility.

Watch the recording of this event.  

Read the transcript.  

Dear Maasi: “How do I tell my husband I haven’t enjoyed sex for 15 years?”

Dear Maasi is a column highlighting everything you want to know about sex and relationships, but were afraid to ask! It’s a partnership between Sahiyo and WeSpeakOut. It’s for all of us who have questions about female genital cutting (FGC) or khatna, and how it impacts our bodies, minds, sexuality and relationships. We welcome you to submit your anonymous questions.

Dear Maasi,

I have been married for 15 years and my husband is a decent, caring man, but we don’t talk about sex and I have not talked about my khatna experience with him. I don’t enjoy sex and am always on edge during it. I feel that I should cater to his needs as a loving wife, but this leaves me feeling empty. How do I start a conversation about my lack of enthusiasm for physical interaction without making him feel like he has done something wrong?

—Bilkis

Dear Bilkis

Thanks for writing in. Here are a few things I’d like to convey upfront:

  • You’re not alone. Women are given the message that it’s their duty to self-sacrifice and to defer to men’s needs. 
  • For many women, khatna has had a negative impact on their sexuality. See February’s column for more info. 
  • Many couples have trouble talking about sex. We don’t get enough sex education to allow us to speak neutrally or frankly about sexuality.
  • Talking about khatna is hard for most of us. Check out September’s column for more info. Consider using that as a guide for talking to your husband about it.
  • Trust your body. Those feelings of emptiness and being on edge deserve your attention. 

Here are some guidelines for initiating difficult conversations about intimacy: 

  • Start with finding a good time to talk when you are undistracted and relaxed.
  • Next, use a “love sandwich”. (Loving statements are the bread, the filler is the “problem”). Here is an example:
    • “I love you so much, and there’s something I want to tell you with the goal of making our bond stronger. I’m feeling nervous to say it but I want to tell you that I’m having difficulties with sex connected to khatna [and the fill in the problem.] None of this is your fault. We’ve been through so much in our relationship, and I’m confident that by sorting through this, we can solve this problem together.”
    • Consider putting it in writing if that is easier. Watch this video. At the 4.5-minute mark, Esther Perel, a psychologist, offers an example.
  • Allow your body to guide you as you move forward. Do you want to expand your sex life? Which sexual experiences (with or without your partner) have you enjoyed or might you like to try? Make a list of these so you can communicate them. 
    • Psychologist Esther Perel encourages us to offer invitations versus complaints. For example: “I really loved it when we [fill in the blank]. Want to do that again?” Or “I think if we [fill in the blank], I’ll feel more relaxed. Would you like to try that?” instead of “I don’t enjoy sex with you.”
    • Use mindfulness to help you pause when something doesn’t feel right and to deepen pleasure.
    • If you need some guidance on how to sexually “start again”, read or listen to the book Come As You Are. Do this together. Consider seeking a couples or sex therapist who is trauma-trained to help you further the conversation and help you brainstorm new approaches to sex.

Bilkis, it can feel vulnerable to open up this conversation, but vulnerability also builds intimacy and connection. Your decent and caring partner might initially feel embarrassed or uncomfortable. He might even question why it took you so long to say something. He might also feel incredible relief that the two of you are talking about something so important. Perhaps he’s wondered how to have this conversation, too. Remember sexual pleasure is natural, normal and our birthright!

—Maasi

About Maasi, aka Farzana Doctor: Farzana is a novelist and psychotherapist in private practice. She’s a founding member of WeSpeakOut and the End FGM/C Canada Network. She loves talking about relationships and sexuality! Find out more about her at http://www.farzanadoctor.com

Disclaimer: While Farzana is full of good advice, this column won’t address everyone’s individual concerns and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical or psychological care.

Sahiyo’s U.S. Communications Manager is awarded a Masters degree with merit

Lara Kingstone, Sahiyo’s U.S. Communications Manager, was awarded a Masters of Science in Social Development Practice with merit from University College, London. Her dissertation is entitled, “The Cultural Battlefield of Localized Comprehensive Sex Education: A Comparative Study From North East Africa to India.”

This dissertation sought to contextualize the dynamics around Comprehensive Sex Education (CSE) to draw conclusions about how this globalized philosophy of teaching gets localized. Lara examined the concepts of universality versus relativity, and applied this tension to global sex education efforts. She problematized the dynamic of Western hegemony in the rights-based approaches to sex education whilst recognizing the need for education that protects youth, regardless of cultural setting. Her thesis faced the uncanny contradiction we must grapple with — that CSE has been deemed a universal right, but many cultures are opposed to CSE perspectives on homosexuality, female genital cutting, gender roles and more. Furthermore, progressive local CSE advocates are often questioned about their legitimacy and authentic claim to ‘localness.’ Lara dug into these questions in several case studies including Sahiyo and a small program in Addis Ketema, Ethiopia.

Lara started her career in a youth-focused program designed to integrate London communities and empower young people to become active and engaged citizens. She earned a B.A. in Political Communications at IDC Herzliya, while working as a journalist at The Culture Trip and producing and hosting a human rights radio program. While studying, she worked at an educational center which aimed to help Palestinian and Israeli young people learn together. Since then, she has worked with human trafficking prevention and gender-based violence prevention on the Thai-Lao border, and has worked as a community outreach coordinator to connect youth in foster care with mentors in Boston. 

Lara hopes to use this degree to further her goals of working for gender equity, the LGBTQ+ community and international human rights.