Our mission is to empower Dawoodi Bohra and other Asian communities to end female genital cutting and create positive social change through dialogue, education and collaboration based on community involvement.
Mariam Sabir was born and raised in Dubai. After completing high school, she moved to the U.S. for further education. She is currently in her third year of medical school at American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine. Her passion is medicine and she believes in having a tangibly positive influence on people and being there for them in their most vulnerable state.
1) When did you first get involved with Sahiyo?
This is actually a great story. I first heard about Sahiyo from a friend and was determined to attend the activist retreat. Alas, I had to work the very same weekend of the retreat and was terribly upset. I filled out a volunteer application in an attempt to get more involved. I am a medical student and was placed in Bakersfield, California, at the time for clinical rotations. Soon enough, I get an email from Mariya Taher, cofounder of Sahiyo, that she is from Bakersfield and was going to be visiting within the next two weeks. I was floored! What are the chances? We met and clicked right away. She has done so much for the cause and has inspired me to do the same. Having to miss the retreat only to meet with the cofounder of Sahiyo instead proved that joining Sahiyo was the right thing for me to do. God has a way of making things work.
2) What opportunities have you been involved with at Sahiyo?
So far, I have been involved with a FGM/C roundtable conference in MA, written a blogpost, contributed to our knowledge about FGM/C by reading and summarizing important articles about FGM/C, as well as contribute ideas and ways to improve and expand Sahiyo.
3) How has your involvement impacted your life?
Prior to being involved, I always felt this suppressed stress/urge to do something about FGM/C. Although, I have not contributed in a big way, being involved with Sahiyo and having open discussions with all the volunteers has put my conscience at ease. Sahiyo has several different ongoing projects in which you can use whatever skill set you have to contribute in any small way. It is the collective effort of everyone’s small contributions and their passion that has allowed Sahiyo to reach where it is and where it will be in the future. I am so happy to be a part of that growth!
4) What pieces of wisdom would you share with new volunteers or community members who are interested in supporting Sahiyo?
Spreading awareness is the most important thing for me. So my piece of wisdom would be to never shy away from discussing FGM/C with someone, whether it is your mom, aunt, cousin or friend. I understand it can be a daunting task, especially if the person you are trying to speak to is strong minded and conservative. But remember, it is not your job to change their mind or have them agree with your opinion. Your job is to simply make them question the tradition. Question the fact that maybe FGM/C, a tradition that has been followed for decades, needs to be reevaluated. Sahiyo has plenty resources you can use on how to approach the subject in the most polite, un-opinionated and non-judgemental manner.
I wasn’t a newbie, I had attended this retreat last year and I recall the immense healing power and strength of spending over two days with ten other Bohra women sharing our deepest feelings about a secret practice that had touched all our lives. When I had the opportunity to help organize the 2nd Annual Sahiyo Activist Retreat, I jumped at the chance! This year the number of attendees had doubled from 11 participants in 2018 to 21 participants in 2019, with many first timers. The retreat seeks to build upon the growing network of Bohra women in the United States who want to end female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C).
Being in the activism field to end FGM/C for a few years now, I have had time to work through my experience and define how I feel about it. What was interesting to me was hearing women speaking out about this practice for the first time as they worked through their personal experiences. It reminded me so much of how I felt when I first started to talk about this issue, yet these women were so eloquent and inspiring in the way they talked about it. It gave me strength to hear so many women express so many different viewpoints.
Although we all had similar khatna (FGM/C) experiences, we all came from different kinds of families, with differing attachment points to the Bohra community and yet, we related so easily to each other. I felt like I could really be myself in a very honest and open way which is not how I always feel when I attend community events. I am so thankful to be connected with this incredible group of strong Bohra women, and I am grateful to Sahiyo for providing a platform to meet in person.
(Editor’s note: Zehra attended last year’s retreat and was on the planning committee for the retreat this year.)
Seeking Male Allies to Take a Stand Against Female Genital Cutting
Female Genital Cutting (FGC) is a harmful practice, deeply rooted in misunderstanding, that requires individuals of all genders, sexual orientations, races and backgrounds to come together to ensure that not another woman or young girl is harmed. We at Sahiyo have been so grateful for the outpouring of support from our volunteers and partners all over the globe tirelessly working with us to end FGC, yet we know that more needs to be done. Particularly, we need more male supporters to stand with us and make it known that practices which alter or harm the female body, whether in the name of culture, tradition or religion, will not be tolerated.
Everyone deserves the right to be a free agent acting autonomously over their body, life, and the choices they have been given. When a young girl is told that she needs to be cut, for whatever the reason presented, she loses this right. Many women who have undergone FGC often grapple with difficult emotional and psychological wounds.
Even less talked about, is the negative impact FGC can have on a woman’s relationship with her partner. Frequently, issues arise involving intimacy, sexuality and childbirth making these relationships strained and painful.
Simply put, we must all work together to ensure that we support survivors and prevent FGC from happening to future generations of girls. Speaking out on such a subject can be difficult. However, men must be part of this movement as well, as anti-FGM activist Tony Mwebia powerfully said:
“Not involving men in the fight against FGM is like a doctor treating symptoms of a disease and ignoring the disease itself” #MenEndFGM”
How you can help:
We are seeking various submissions from our male allies by July 20th, explaining why they are united with us in ending female genital cutting.
Types of submissions:
A short, 30 second to 1 minute video. Videos can be taken from a smartphone or from any alternative, digital device available.
Provide a quote explaining why you want to end FGC along with a picture of yourself and your name.
Write a blog post on the need for men to be involved in FGC that is 900 words or less. We accept anonymous submissions as well.
Send all submissions via email to: email@example.com by July 20th. In the subject line, write “Male Ally Campaign to end FGC.”
Please consider being a part of this campaign to help us end FGC, we need everyone’s voice!
If you have any questions, please get in touch with Sahiyo, at Info@sahiyo.com.
This blog post is the third in a four-part series about female genital cutting (FGC) in Singapore. This third installment explains some of the reasons the interlocutors provided for practicing FGC, including tradition and the control of female sexuality within patriarchy. Read part one here. Read part two here.
Reasons for FGC: Tradition
Many of my interlocutors allude to adat or Malay tradition when asked for reasons they practice FGC. They view it as a normalised and long-established cultural tradition, which is often performed without question. There are also some interviewees who believe this leads to the unity of the community and is intrinsic to the Malay identity. However, those who are unsupportive of FGC question the premise of this tradition and that if there is no rational or logical reason behind it, “it doesn’t make sense to blindly follow it.”
According to Gabriele Marranci, “FGC is transmitted generation after generation as an ordinary act of Malay Muslim identity. It can be considered an integral part of Malay Muslim birth rituals and is linked to a specific Malay Muslim identity. Malay Muslims often say, “We do this because it is our tradition. It is something that all Malay Muslims share both here in Singapore and in Malaysia.” Indeed, many of my interlocutors also agree that this practice has been very much normalised in Singapore. “This is tradition: sisters, granddaughters, daughters all do it, said Fauziah, an interviewee. “This is a strong Malay tradition, we can encourage it, but don’t force. It’s a natural next step.”
This tradition is usually passed down a matrilineal lineage, with the grandmothers and mothers of the family encouraging and sometimes even forcing their children to cut their granddaughters. This could be due to the division of labour in Malay families, where women usually take care of matters concerning the children’s development and well-being, while the father provides the economic means to raise them. As such, many men would leave the decision-making regarding the execution of FGC to their wives. They might not even want to know anything about it. It is considered too insignificant for fathers to have a stake or say in the issue.
However, those who are against FGC view the unquestioning nature of this practice as symptomatic of a larger problematic trend of traditionalism within the Malay community. “People do not question or discuss this, and it is a problem that it is not critically discussed,” said Ermy, another interviewee. “People just do it blindly, and so this might cause harm and injury.” Many Malay families continue this practice in an inadvertent manner, and one that is continued not because it is “actively better” but because it is just not worse. As such, FGC is simply passed down and accepted rather than its rationale being questioned or challenged.
At the same time, I noticed that amongst those interviewed, younger people (around the ages of 20-40 years old) are unwilling to perpetuate FGC if the sole reason is tradition. “If it’s just based on tradition, it doesn’t make sense to do something like that,” Hanisah, a 38-year old teacher, said. “Culture is not important to keep if it is causing pain.” Many younger Malay Singaporeans do not view FGC as something that possesses active benefits, and therefore, they do not see the point or logic in continuing it.
Control of female sexuality within patriarchy
Seven out of my eight interlocutors who support FGC readily admit that the cut is important to control women’s sexuality. According to them, FGC is to “cut down on the girl’s sexual desires (nafsu).” They suggest that “by nature, women have a higher sex drive, and so this is to lower chances of sex before marriage.” When asked to explain precisely how FGC leads to lowered sexual desire, or how this relationship can be measured, most interviewees are uncertain. In fact, I had a rather drawn-out conversation (complete with drawings on both our ends), about how the removal of the clitoral hood actually reveals the clitorismore, and so that logically follows that it is more easily stimulated, and therefore, might lead to higher sexual satisfaction. Even though supporters of FGC might be unsure how FGC affects sexual desire, the principles they hold for that view is important to acknowledge.
Believing that FGC is important to control female sexuality might be reflective of the prejudices and biases against women in the Malay community. These traditional values may have arisen because women are traditionally seen as the bearers of morality in societies. As such, it is important within the Malay community to ensure that women uphold important societal values and any potential for deviance is weeded out as soon as possible.
(The fourth and final installment will provide an analysis and concrete methods of engaging with discourses on FGC at the individual, community, governmental and international levels.)
Saza is a Senior Executive of service learning at Republic Polytechnic in Singapore. She recently graduated from Yale-NUS College where she spent much of her college life developing her thesis on female genital cutting in Singapore. A highly under-researched, misunderstood and personal issue, Saza sought to understand the reasons behind this practice. She ends her thesis by advocating for medical and religious leaders to step up and clarify the fatwas and medical criteria surrounding this procedure in Singapore. Saza is passionate about women’s rights and empowerment and seeks to assist marginalized populations as much as possible.
I can recall with crystal clear memory my mother taking me at around age 7 to a dilapidated old Chawl style building in a Bohra Mohalla in Bhendi Bazaar. My mom wore a dark orange saree with a green, white and light orange geometrical design. We climbed up broken wooden steps to go to the first floor on which there were several rooms with closed doors. We knocked on one of those doors and a lady quietly let us in.
We sat down on the bare carpet and my mom greeted her with a salaam. The lady disappeared behind a curtained door. I know she came back with washed hands because my mom made me do the traditional salaam that we do to the elders, and her hands were wet and smelled of soap as I kissed them.
The lady sat down across from us and I kneeled down to do the salaam. As I was finishing the salaam the lady pulled my pants down. My mom pulled me back, held my hands and covered my face with her sari and put her face in the sari folds so I could see her face, too. I felt a searing pain between my legs and I began to cry, and my mom made big scolding eyes (that’s how she always silenced me to show me her disapproval), and I reduced my crying to a slow whimper. I was very frightened and had no idea what was happening.
The lady squeezed the tip of my clitoris firmly with a ball of cotton soaked in red mercurochrome as a final move. She told me to keep that ball of cotton in place and not to touch it until it remained stuck to my clitoris. My pants were pulled up and I sat in my mom’s lap sobbing. The lady appeared again from behind the curtained door and was drying her hands now on a napkin. She pried open my clenched fist and forced two Parle G glucose biscuits into it, and I clutched them while clinging to my mom in a petrified state with the other hand. My Mom did salaam to the lady with an envelope filled with money and we began to leave.
I walked out very slowly holding my mother’s hand and we began to descend the staircase. My mom picked me up and carried me down. I remember that moment most vividly today because my mom had stopped carrying me since I was so tall and grown up. I was relieved and happy that she was carrying me because she had not done that in a very long time.
Mom then called for a passing taxi cab. We took taxicabs only for special occasions like a wedding or if we had too many people in a group. I looked up and asked her, “Mummy, we are going in a taxicab to uncle’s home? It is only half full?” And she just smiled and asked me to eat the biscuits.
The taxicab drove us to my uncle’s home (my mom’s brother) and as I was playing outside a few hours later, I overheard my mom talking quietly to my aunts (her sister and sister-in-law). “Oh, I thought Rashida would cry and scream,” she said. “She was so good, and look she is already running around. You cannot even tell it has happened. I was told she would shout and kick her feet. But she is all okay.” Mom said she was relieved that the deed was done.
Later that afternoon, I told my mom about the bloody ball of cotton that was still loose and lying around in my underwear and she threw it away for me. My brothers were playing around and my 11-year-old brother asked me, “What happened to you? Did somebody do something to you?” He must have overheard the adults talking. He does not remember this incident. I just ran away too scared to answer.
The community is getting regressive and male-dominated and under the influence of clergy clout. Despite FGM/C education, the social pressure to follow the diktats is palpable, real and fearful. Social boycott and fear of Laanat holds back the followers in shackles of complete submission.
The issue of equality is a blatant cover-up. The clitoral hood is clearly called “Haram ni Boti” in all sermons and all discussions that are held privately in the community. “This piece of flesh has to be taken out or the girl will be sexually promiscuous.” The Sabak or lessons given by the priests and their wives at the mosques, preach to the parents and especially to the mothers that “your daughters will have an extramarital affair or pre-marital sex if you do not do this. Save your family’s name by doing khafz.”
I do not hate my mother for doing FGM/C to me. She was an educated woman of her times with a BSc, B.Ed., and an M.S. in Chemistry. She was a teacher and retired as principal of her school. She was a victim of this procedure, too.
My mother thought she was saving me. I am sure there was a lot of social pressure from the family and community. My only conversation with her was a casual single comment she uttered as she overheard my friend complaining about health issues her young daughters were facing. My mom quietly said, “We do a procedure to our girls that prevents urinary tract infections in young girls.” I was embarrassed and knew she was referring to FGM/C. So I said, “No, mom, that is wrong and not true!” Mom just walked away. My friend had no idea what we were talking about.
We had no conversation about FGM/C or what happened to me at all thereafter. My mom passed away very young at 61 years of age and I will never have my questions answered. I love my mother dearly and she will be the strongest woman I will know in this lifetime.
I do know that my mom would support my anti-FGM/C stance today if she were alive, provided that my father would not stop her. My dad would be very angry with me today if he knew I was opposing the Syedna in any shape or form.
I run in full marathons and ran my first marathon at age 46. In total, I have run seven full marathons, including those in New York, Chicago, and Washington, and plan to continue running until I die. Running brings me peace of mind and strength. I truly believe I am the oldest woman of Indian heritage still running in marathons and the only Bohra woman my age running, yet I do not feel that the community acknowledges this accomplishment. I am considered a rebel for this act of running as well as for my stance against FGM/C. I will turn 51 soon and will be running the Philadelphia marathon in November of this year, and it will be my eighth full marathon.
My mom used to say, “There should be hope in life. If there is no hope, there is no life.” I hope to see a law banning FGM/C in India. There is no mention of this practice in the Quran and it actually predates Islam. I hope to see the practice of female khatna/FGM/C stopped globally.
With so many issues in the world that need to be addressed, we have to pick and choose our battles, whether it may be poverty, education, inequality, or gender violence. The majority of people choose something that they can most relate to via personal or cultural experiences. With this first blog I will write about my personal journey of discovering female genital cutting (FGC) in 2011 and why it took me eight years to finally do something about it.
My sister is my confidant, as I am hers. I was 17 years old when my sister pulled me aside urgently to talk to me about something she could not fathom. She had just discovered FGC. I was still in high school and did not grasp the gravity of the situation. A few years later, I was sitting in my healthcare ethics course in undergrad and my professor breezed over the topic of female genital cutting. My mind started to spin. This could not possibly be what my sister was talking about? I called her immediately after class and she confirmed it. I was enraged as though I was hearing it and truly understanding it for the first time. It felt like a conspiracy. No one in the community talked about it. How many of my cousins, friends, and aunts had gone through this and had never spoken of it?
I was desperate to talk to someone about this. Surely there must be somewhere I could go to get more information. I called the first person that came to mind, my mother. I could sense her discomfort in talking about this subject. She told me it is a Bohra custom, a social norm within our community that people feel compelled to perpetuate without questioning, even by my grandmother as well. My mother admitted that it was a traumatic experience, but did not want to indulge further.
I was not satisfied. I called my aunt. My aunt is more liberal and expressive; she writes poetry and is an activist in her own ways. Surely, she would have more to say about this. She told me it was done supposedly to moderate a woman’s sexual urges to prevent premarital or extramarital affairs. To my dismay, this was the end of our conversation.
My attempt to gather information seemed like an impossible task. I did not know where to go or who to talk to, so I pushed my thoughts aside until that summer when I went back home to Dubai. I was curious to see how much Bohra men knew about this. I met up with an old Bohra friend and told him what I had discovered. He immediately said, “Well, men get it done, too.” I was disappointed. I told him that male circumcision and FGC were not equivalent, that FGC was much more psychologically and sexually damaging for a female. He continued to defend the custom saying there must be a reason why Moula (the leader of our community) recommends it. There must be a long-term benefit from the procedure that we don’t know about. I was in disbelief. How could he not think it was wrong? I was left more confused and angry after that conversation. Was I making this a bigger deal than it needs to be? Why is no one else speaking up about this?
I attended medical school and the more I learned about female anatomy, the more upset I got thinking about FGC. I felt powerless until I heard a friend talking about Sahiyo. I was shocked and relieved. It was comforting to know that I share the same views as many other women. Up until then, I felt like my emotions of anger and distrust were out of proportion and unjustified. There was finally a safe space to discuss FGC, gather information and truly understand its origins.
Through Sahiyo, I learned more about how we can create awareness and discussion about such a sensitive and taboo subject. In retrospect, I wish I had handled the conversation with my Bohra male friend differently. It was presumptuous for me to think he would understand what women went through. Afterall, it is our body, not his. I wish I had the tact and knowledge to educate him about the long-lasting effects of FGC, to tell him that it is not a small-community problem but a human rights issue. That taking a child at the age of seven and altering her anatomy forever is not okay. That depriving a woman from experiencing pleasure during sexual activity is not okay. That potentially causing severe pain and complications for women’s reproductive health is not okay. That tampering with God’s creation of a perfect body is not okay. That perpetuating patriarchal standards by continuing this practice is not okay.
All the secretiveness around this topic should be a red flag for everyone who blindly follows this practice. So let’s question it. Let’s drop the secrecy. Let’s drop the shame. Let’s create awareness. Let’s educate each other.
PRESS RELEASE: A pioneering Roundtable to Address Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting in Massachusetts
Boston, Massachusetts, 14 June 2019
On June 13, 2019, a collective of almost 60 experts from different disciplines and cultural groups took the first steps to create a ‘Massachusetts End FGM/C Network’, to highlight the largely unrecognized global issue of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting, and to share knowledge and resources to help end the practice.
The experts gathered to attend the first of its kind roundtable to address FGM/C in the state of Massachusetts. They included community leaders, civic society organizations, health professionals, state government officials from the Massachusetts Legislature, and the Massachusetts Office of the Child Advocate, and federal government officials from the Department of Justice, and Department of Homeland Security Investigations.
The event was organized and led by Sahiyo, a storytelling organization working to support survivors of FGM/C, with support from co-sponsors Muslim American Leadership Alliance (MALA), Tostan, MassNOW, Lesley University, the US End FGM/C Network, and the Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts.
A prevalence study conducted by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention reveals that in 2012, over half of a million women and girls in the United States had FGM/C performed on them or were at risk of FGM/C. Massachusetts ranks 12th in the nation for at-risk populations, totalling 14,591, with the largest at-risk metro areas being Boston, Newton, and Cambridge.
“I’ve undergone FGM/C and I know FGM/C is a global issue affecting women of all different ethnicities, religions, cultures, socio-economic status, and more,” said Mariya Taher, Sahiyo Cofounder and U.S. Executive Director. We need a global response to ensure future girls do not undergo it. We need to think globally and act locally.”
“All are about the cultural control of women’s bodies,” s aid Representative Jay Livingstone in reference to FGM/C. Livingstone is a former prosecutor and co-lead sponsor of the Massachusetts FGM/C criminal bill – H. 3332 who connected the dots between this recent bill to Massachusett’s Equal Pay Act and other pending state legislation, such as The Roe Act. Rep. Livingstone expressed his hope that the FGM/C had bi-partisian support during this legislative session and would pass this session.
Dr. Melody Eckhart, an OB/GYN at Massachusetts General Hospital, and Dr. Sondra Crosby, an internist at Boston Medical Center, spoke about their experiences working with patients who have undergone FGM/C and physical complications that can result, including shock, pain, hemorrhage, infection, and anemia. They warned of the long-term consequences of scar tissue and cyst formation impeding proper urination and menstruation, sexual dysfunction, and complicated labor and delivery, as well as fetal demise. They also called on the urgent need for educating health professionals on how to care for survivors — including addressing their psychological and emotional needs.
“FGM/C is shrouded in secrecy even in the medical community,” said Dr. Crosby. “Health professionals need training in how to work with women in non-judgemental ways, how to make referrals, and how to treat the medical and psychological consequences of FGM/C, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. Medical personnel need to understand the women’s FGM/C experience before they could diagnose and treat it.”
The roundtable was a vital first step to create a multi-disciplinary working group that works to protect all girls in Massachusetts from experiencing this form of gender-based violence.
For more information, contact Lara Kingstone at firstname.lastname@example.org
From June 2 to June 6th, Sahiyo co-founder, Mariya Taher took part in Women Deliver 2019 held in Vancouver, Canada this year. Over 8,000 participants took part in the conference and for the first time ever, a pre-conference on Female Genital Cutting was held on June 2nd, a day before the official start of the Women Deliver Conference. The preconference, “Uniting Forces to Ensure Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) is a Practice of the Past” was an unprecedented event from civil society for civil society to unite voices and come together around a global Call to Action to end FGM/C and support FGM/C survivors. The event convened civil society organizations, champions, survivors and other grassroots representatives from across the globe to come together as a sector, to get to know others working globally across this issue, and to discuss what is needed to accelerate ending FGM/C by 2030. A global call to action was created out of the preconference by the participants in attendance, which was referenced throughout the entire duration of the conference and the various side-events on FGM/C held from June 3rd to June 6th.
Other side events in which Sahiyo took part in as a panelist or speaker included:
A screening of ‘In The Name of Your Daughter’ with a panel discussion afterwards entitled ‘FGM and the West — Is it our issue too?’
‘It takes a whole community: Ending female genital cutting within a generation’– hosted by Orchid project, this event was a highly participatory, activist-led, interactive workshop on community-based approaches to ending female genital cutting (FGC) within a generation. Featuring grassroots and civil society activists from East and West Africa, Asia, and North America, this session shined a light on effective community-led strategies to shift social norms and end FGC.
‘Ending FGM by 2030: It’s a global issue’ hosted by Equality Now. With a little over a decade before the 2030 target to end FGC, this interactive panel session and audience Q&A explored two vital challenges/themes/hurdles our international community must address to achieve to protect every woman and girl from FGC: 1) How do we measure, invest and support each of the 193 countries who have committed to end FGM, including especially in Asia Pacific, the Middle-East, the Americas, Europe and Eurasia? 2)How can activists, CSOs, intergovernmental bodies, and funders move forward as one to hold States, International and regional bodies and donors to account to end FGM globally by 2030?
To learn more about Women Deliver and impact of the Preconference and side-events, check out related media coverage:
Sahiyo co-founder’s documentary ‘A Pinch of Skin’ will be screening at NaturFreudeJungend in Berlin on the 25th May. 25th May is also the one-year anniversary of the historic repealing of the ban on abortion in Ireland, also known as the 8th Amendment. This is especially significant as a successful contemporary feminist movement, where women of Ireland voted against the ban on abortion, influencing pro-choice ideas in the Irish constitution.
Goswami will be joined by a pro-choice activist from Ireland, Dervla O’Malley and Dr. Tobe Levin von Gleichen, Female Genital Cutting/Mutilation activist, for a panel discussion post the screening. The discussion will aim to look at practices and cultural ideas such as Female Genital Cutting, stigma on abortion, menstruation taboos which try to control the female body and sexuality.
Sakina Sharp is a corporate attorney and co-founder of a domestic violence organization in San Antonio. Sakina is vice president and managing attorney at USAA, which is a financial services company. She has been a practicing in-house attorney for 20 years, specializing in insurance regulatory law and consumer privacy. Approximately 8 years ago, she co-founded a nonprofit in San Antonio, Awaaz, to serve South Asians who are survivors of domestic violence. She served on the board for 7 years. She recently joined Sahiyo as a volunteer.
1) When did you first get involved with Sahiyo?
Early this year, I discovered Sahiyo when searching for an organization that advocates against female genital mutilation/cutting. This issue has been on my mind for decades and at the same time, it was hidden under the surface. I did not know, realize or understand that there were so many other Bohri women who felt the same way I do, and were doing something about it. I found Sahiyo on Facebook, and was taken aback. I felt like I found a forum to express my hidden story. I wanted to share my experience, and I thought getting involved with Sahiyo would be a way to do it. My first involvement was attending the annual retreat. The conversations in the retreat were very powerful. They helped me process my own experience. I had a hidden story inside me for many decades. The retreat allowed me to express it and then verbalize it into a blog.
2) What opportunities have you been involved with at Sahiyo?
I attended the annual retreat a few months ago. The experience was impactful. Since then, I volunteered to be the newsletter coordinator. I also draft the legislative and regulatory updates, allowing me to apply my legal training to my volunteer work.
3) How has your involvement impacted your life?
My involvement has helped me express myself and feel part of a bigger cause. I feel like I do my little bit to give a voice to an important gender-violence issue, which I personally have not been able to express in public. Perhaps if each one of us does our bit, we can encourage just another person to speak up, and then that person encourages another, and we eventually make a systematic change.
4) What pieces of wisdom would you share with new volunteers or community members who are interested in supporting Sahiyo?
Sahiyo provides a very safe place to advocate against FGM/C. Each of us can volunteer in our own ways. We can be private advocates, talking to our family members and friends, or pubic advocates, talking to the larger community by attaching our names to our stories. Whatever we want to do, whenever we want to do it, Sahiyo is there to provide the tools we need to tell our stories. And, if we just want to listen, and do it anonymously, Sahiyo provides a venue for that as well. My advice is to reach out as you are not alone.