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Discovering female genital cutting in my community

By Mariam Sabir

Country of Residence: United States

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.

Bohra women

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.

 

 

Female genital cutting: A poem

By Zainab Khambata

Country of Residence: India

As the blade pierced through my skin,

All I could feel was pain.

I looked into my mom’s eyes,

And she shrugged helplessly in vain.

I was yet another girl,

Subjected to female genital cutting.

As a mere child of seven,

I did not contest,

I wasn’t even aware,

That all my dignity as well as my rights,

Were stripped from me bare.

“It is done in the name of religion,” they said.

And it is this ideology I dread.

It is done to curb a woman’s desires,

To subdue her voice and her fire.

My grandmother said “It’s all right, all girls must go through this in their life.”

Why has society rendered women unaware?

To the point where they do not know and do not even care.

They torment innocent children,

With everlasting scars,

But yet this practice they refuse to stop,

Fearing from society’s eyes they will drop.

When will this age-old tradition come to an end?

So that without emotional trauma,

The rest of their lives little girls can spend.

It is time to speak up about this,

And make people aware,

It’s time to show that we care.

Female genital cutting: Underacknowledged and underrecognized in the United States 

By Cate Cox

On June 3rd, 2021 Sahiyo partnered with the Connecticut Trauma and Gender Learning Collaborative and The George Washington University associate professor Dr. Karen McDonnell to hold a training for healthcare professionals who may interact with survivors of female genital cutting (FGC). The Connecticut Trauma and Gender Learning Collaborative focuses on trauma-informed and gender-responsive treatment. Many of the participants are actively providing clinical services. 

This presentation explored FGC in the United States and resources available for clinicians and other front-line professionals who may come in contact with women impacted by FGC, as well as how they can provide trauma-informed care. In particular, our training highlighted The George Washington University’s Women and FGM/C Toolkit as a tool to help further their education and to become better prepared to support survivors in their journey toward healing. 

Alongside the GW Women and FGM/C Toolkit, we highlighted Sahiyo resources such as the Trauma Blog Series by Joanna Vergoth, founder and executive director of forma, among others. During the training, we also used some of our Voices to End FGM/C videos to highlight the lack of education on how to support survivors of FGC in the medical field and the imperative practitioners have to fill in those gaps to better support all women.

At the end of the presentation many of the attendees said they didn’t realize how widespread the problem of FGC is in the U.S. They expressed that they are grateful to have had the opportunity to learn how to better support their patients. Overall, trainings such as this one are crucial to help providers learn how to best support survivors and to help expand the understanding that FGC is a problem in the U.S. that we all need to be involved in addressing.

Sahiyo Volunteer Spotlight: Social Media Intern Kamakshi Arora

Kamakshi Arora is a social media intern for Sahiyo. She is a multidisciplinary designer, artist, and researcher. She has a bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering from NC State and a Masters in Product Design from The University of The Arts. Originally from Mumbai, India, she moved to the United States to pursue higher studies. She is particularly interested in using a transdisciplinary, participatory approach to design strategies for addressing current gender inequities, and to co-create meaningful initiatives to tackle women’s rights and health issues. She supports Sahiyo’s mission of empowering women through innovative grassroots initiatives based on storytelling and community engagement and is grateful for the opportunity to learn more about working in a feminist organization. 

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

It was early in the year, and I really wanted to volunteer and support a feminist organization that was working for gender equity and reform. My thesis was on the concept of healing for survivors of sexual assault. I wanted to find an organization that was doing similar work and as soon as I found out about Sahiyo, I knew I had found that place.  Sahiyo’s approach of combining storytelling and advocacy really caught my eye. I’m also from Mumbai so it felt like a great fit to be a part of an organization that was based out of my home.

2) What does your work with Sahiyo involve?

Right now I’m mostly involved in social media. This includes programming and developing content, sharing articles and educational information on our channels, and maintaining our persona online. As a designer, I love that I can be creative as I have used my artwork and drawing as a way to advance Sahiyo’s program. I try to subtly use my training in human-centered design and trauma-informed principles in the work that I create for Sahiyo. 

3) How has your involvement with Sahiyo impacted your life?

Greatly. For one thing, I saw the power of storytelling in all its forms. Sahiyo taught me to be coherent and persevering with our messages and how we can write a story that supports the purpose of our mission. Second, my perspectives as an intersectional feminist have expanded. I was not aware of female genital cutting (FGC) before. I have learned much about the issue of FGC and its existence in the broader context of women’s subjugation in our society and cultures. I’m now a lifelong advocate and ally of Sahiyo’s mission and will continue to use my own skills to do my bit. 

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

Please do not be afraid to learn and inquire about female genital cutting. By asking questions and speaking actively, we are contributing to Sahiyo’s mission to end FGC. Share our stories, attend our workshops, make a donation, and/or volunteer. It’s all so informative, and you’ll leave with a wealth of resources to do your own advocacy.

What I learned from survivors and advocates on my podcast about female genital cutting

By Aubrey Bailey

I graduated this April 2021 from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in graphic design. For my senior capstone project I was instructed to choose a topic that I would stick with for a year and then conduct in-depth research, write a research paper, and display my findings visually through an exhibition. In April 2020, I went home to Gilbert, Arizona, to finish my winter semester under quarantine because of COVID-19, and while I was home my dad introduced the topic of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). I was dumbfounded that I had never heard of it before. I could not fathom that so many women were undergoing this practice in different parts of the world and I did not know about it. If I do not know about this, then who else does not know? Who does know? Who is taking action?

I realized FGM/C was a topic about which I needed to learn more. I could not simply move on after understanding this information. Over the past year of my research on the topic, I became passionate about raising awareness of FGM/C, and also in advocating for women’s rights and raising awareness on violence against women. 

For my capstone project, I created a podcast to explain why FGM/C happens, to share women’s stories, to educate listeners on how to help, and to bring outside professional knowledge to help us better understand the topic. Through my research, I found Sahiyo–United Against Female Genital Cutting, and was impressed with their content and purpose. I reached out and asked if they would be willing to help me make this podcast possible. They were so gracious and introduced me to their network of individuals to ask if they would be willing to participate in my podcast. I was able to talk with some of the most incredible individuals and listen to experiences from people with different backgrounds. It was truly eye-opening and life-changing. I learned so much from my time interviewing everyone, and I am so grateful to Sahiyo for making it all happen. 

In addition to the podcast, I designed an exhibition displaying my research on FGM/C at Brigham Young University. For the exhibition, I created a poster series displaying facts about FGM/C by integrating a custom font that I created which has sharp characteristics throughout the posters. I also designed and installed a floral installation that symbolizes women. Flowers are beautiful and represent proud and glorious femininity and within the installation, each flower represents a woman. The hanging flowers represent women who have not been cut and the flowers on the ground represent the women who have been cut. 

Just because these flowers are not suspended from the ceiling does not lessen their value or their beauty in any way. They are still flowers but are just a little different. These women, like the flowers, are unique because they have been cut and have a piece of their body missing. But they are still just as powerful and beautiful. 

My hope through the exhibition was that individuals would feel moved to action and inspired to listen to the podcast to do their part in educating themselves and others on the topic to normalize the conversation so we can finally see it end.

Using purity as a means to control women through Christianity and female genital cutting

By Nicole Mitchell

Many communities struggle to accept female sexuality even in today’s modern world. While it is common to see female sexuality in pop-culture, this doesn’t necessarily reflect a universal acceptance. Frequently, a woman’s value is tied to her “purity” or virginity. This prejudice manifests in obvious ways, such as female genital cutting (FGC), and in more subtle ways like  teaching women and girls that their worth is tied to their abstinence. These methods of oppression are also not mutually exclusive and occur in many communities around the world including the Western, Christian community.

Evangelical America

I grew up as a minister’s daughter and one of eight children with five sisters and two brothers. My dad was a minister at an evangelical church in Boston, Massachusetts. While the evangelical movement is considered to be one of the more progressive, modern branches of Christianity, we still subscribed to such beliefs that a woman ought to be submissive to her husband by honoring him as head of the household, church and state. If you were to ask my dad and other fellow religious leaders their opinions on this now, they would probably avoid the question. Over the years, evangelical Christians have softened their voices, particularly in regard to the role of women and the LGBTQ community. This may be attributed to the growing resistance from millennials and younger generations against exclusive ideologies. 

As a young girl, I was taught that men and women had different, God-given strengths. Examples of female strength focused on traits such as empathy, caring and kindness, whereas male strengths included leadership, power and physical prowess. While men and women could embody both traits, such as being an empathetic leader — I was taught that a woman could never lead over a man. Essentially, the message was that women aren’t really leaders; they can just help organize other women. When I questioned this, I would often have scripture cited to me: “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet” (1 Timothy 2:11-12). Even more blatantly, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22-24). This belief was demonstrated in both my dad’s church I attended and in the larger, global ministry we were a part of, as there were no female head pastors. Women could be guest speakers during services, but never the head of the church. This idea that certain personality traits are reserved for specific genders, specifically leadership and power belonging to men, highlights a deeper division in how communities view a woman’s overall personhood and more specifically, her sexuality.

The concept of a person being both spiritual and sexual was never discussed in my upbringing. As a woman, I felt that acknowledging sexuality or sexual desires was in direct conflict with being spiritual; one simply could not be both at the same time. Consummating a marriage was fine, but admitting to having sexual urges was considered not godly (i.e., Christian). Leaders and parents exhibited different attitudes in the way a boy versus a girl would be treated when admitting to participating in sexual acts or behavior. 

“Boys will be boys,” was the typical attitude when a young man admitted to sexual behavior before marriage. However, if a girl was promiscuous, within the church and my community, there was a substantial attitude of judgement toward her as if she was now deemed unclean, even sometimes suggesting that she was at fault for the boys “mistake” because of the clothes she wore or the way she carried herself. This wasn’t a direct principle preached in sermons; but it demonstrated the way purity and modesty were so heavily emphasized in my childhood. I know my brothers did not experience this emphasis, certainly not to the level I did. For example, every year my mom would take a few of my sisters and I to a women-only conference in New York called PureLife. Women from our global ministry would speak on a variety of topics with a focus on maintaining purity and a “clean spirit” with God. I remember the shame surrounding impurity was a heavy and distinct feeling. It is possible to surmise that when an idea is subtle or silent, it becomes more powerful because it is more difficult to challenge. This purity prejudice was further backed by scripture.

One of the most fundamental stories in the Bible about Adam and Eve, instructs that mankind was doomed due to a woman pursuing knowledge. Eve’s interest in the tree of knowledge is portrayed as her ultimate downfall. Much like I would have been disgraced for exploring my sexuality at a young age, Eve was banished from heaven for pursuing knowledge according to the story. One could even surmise that the Bible is alluding to sexuality, not knowledge, given the level of shame Eve received. 

This idea that a woman should suppress her knowledge or sexuality is seen clearly in another important story in the Bible. The birth of Jesus Christ comes quite literally from a virgin mother. In theory, this teaches that the “ideal woman” would never explore her sexuality. After all, the “savior of the world” came from a “sexless” and “pure” woman. A woman pursuing her own sexuality or knowledge is not encouraged, but rather a sin. The Bible as it was written by men over time has a unique ability to reward submissive behavior, while inciting fear in women who might explore their own body. As a young Christian girl, it was clear my role model was to be Mary and not curious Eve. Again, while these principles were not overtly stated in the church, they were powerful, nonetheless.

Female genital cutting

The continuation of female genital cutting (FGC)  in the modern world is further evidence of the oppressive undercurrent that defines a woman’s value based on her perceived purity. FGC is often practiced as a way to curb female sexual desires by preventing a girl or woman from becoming ‘unclean’ through procreation. While sometimes FGC is viewed as simply a way to preserve tradition, the root of that tradition comes from an attempt to control and suppress a woman’s humanity, which includes her sexual freedom. 

To be human, is to acknowledge and cultivate all parts of yourself: the mental, the emotional, the spiritual and the physical. When a woman is taught to suppress her physicality or passion, she becomes divided within herself. A woman divided, is a woman denied her humanity. Passion, physicality and sexuality should not be shamed, but embraced. Women from all types of communities should be treated as equals and not as a shrine of virginity and purity. This pedestal is misleading and leads to harmful practices such as FGC. It is crucial that we end the shame linked to female sexuality in all communities and promote women’s rights to experience the fullness of what it truly means to be human.

Bhaiyo engages male allies to empower communities to end female genital cutting during June campaign

Launched in 2020, Bhaiyo is Sahiyo’s male allyship program whose aim is to create a space where male allies can come together to collaborate, spark dialogue, and spread information about female genital cutting (FGC) and its harmful impacts. Bhaiyo has been involved in engaging male allies in a multitude of ways, including a webinar on male allyship earlier this year. On June 20th Bhaiyo will begin a Father’s Day inspired social media campaign to promote our program and encourage male allyship in our work to empower communities to end FGC.    

During this month-long Father’s Day social media campaign, we will be highlighting the role men play in empowering their communities to end FGC — particularly focused on their roles and experiences as fathers, or future fathers, and brothers. This project is open to all male-identifying individuals who feel they can speak on this issue. 

We are asking anyone who feels passionate about this issue to send in a short response answering the questions below in video, audio, or photo format. You can also send in a quotation if you are not comfortable with sharing a video or photo. Additionally, we can keep your response anonymous if you wish. Here are the questions we are hoping you can answer. You can answer one, multiple, or all of these questions: 

  • When did you first come to know about FGC? 
  • Why are Bhaiyo and male ally programs in general important? 
  • How can brothers/fathers make an impact? 
  • What message would you like to give to all the fathers out there? 

Please email your video to programscoordinator@sahiyo.com by June 15th if you wish to participate in our program. 

This month-long social media campaign will culminate in a meet and greet event for male activists involved in this work. On July 20th male activists and members of Bhaiyo will have the opportunity to meet with one another, talk about their experiences, and discuss their hopes for Bhaiyo. By culminating this campaign in a meet and greet event, we hope to inspire community and bonding between our male allies so that they can share resources, stories, and keep each other motivated in their crucial work.   

By using social media to share the stories of male allies, we hope to show other men who have not yet become involved in Sahiyo’s work that there is a spot for them and that their voices are crucial in ending FGC. Additionally, we hope to elevate the voices of our amazing male allies who are already engaged in this work so that they can spread their messages of hope and transformation to a larger audience. 

We hope that this campaign will help to break the silence that keeps men from speaking up against FGC and begin to normalize conversations around what men can be doing in their communities to help encourage the end of FGC.

Reflection on Sahiyo’s Activists’ Retreat: Creating an impact to end female genital cutting

By Anonymous

I had the opportunity to attend Sahiyo’s second virtual Activists’ Retreat (my first one) last month and absolutely loved every second of it. I had been feeling extreme Zoom fatigue leading up to the weekend, and wasn’t exactly looking forward to spending an entire weekend on Zoom. But as soon as the weekend started, I forgot about how tired I felt and immersed myself in all of the activities. My favorite part of the entire weekend was definitely just interacting with all the other attendees: getting to know them, hearing their stories and ideas, and feeling a sense of community even though we were all miles apart from each other. Together we created a space that was truly welcoming and inclusive. During one of the sessions, a past participant even privately messaged me. She noticed I had been quiet and encouraged me to share my thoughts. She gave me the push I needed to speak up and share my ideas, something I would not have normally done.

It seems crazy to say that the Activists’ Retreat created change over the span of three days of virtual sessions. But after participating in it first hand, I can confidently say that it did have an enormous impact on the overall movement to end female genital cutting (FGC). During our closing session, I noticed other attendees, myself included, simply reflecting on everything we had learned. We learned about the long legal history of FGC in the U.S. and globally, about sexual health in the context of FGC, about the experiences, actions, and ideas of other attendees. There were first time attendees who participated in the retreat unsure of where they stood on the issue that ended the weekend with a lot to ponder. We also outlined action items, both individually and as a group, of tangible things we wanted to work on and accomplish over the next year, from raising money so Sahiyo can continue to sustain itself to work toward policy change at the state level. One of my goals was to speak to my own friends from mosque, something I had been wanting to do for a while, but always felt too scared. Last week, I had dinner with one of these friends, and at the end of the night I just decided to go for it and ask her about FGC. We were able to have a long conversation about it and I got to learn her perspective, and she learned mine. She said she didn’t have enough knowledge about the topic but was thankful I had brought it up to her. She said she would do more of her own research when she got home.

Without the Activists’ Retreat, I don’t know if I would have had the courage or mindset to have this conversation with my friend. But knowing there were other people who were also having these difficult discussions and were pushing themselves to advocate against this issue motivated me to do the same. Throughout this year, I am going to continue working toward my goal to talk to more of my friends about FGC, and in doing so, broaden the conversation so we can protect the next generation of girls.

Introducing Nala Feminist Collective: African Women and The 10 Demands, including ending female genital cutting

African women continue to struggle to find the right spaces to speak and share the realities of our generation. We do not lack bravery or confidence, but advocacy spaces that would engage our stories with kindness and actual solutions. Our feminist ancestors have taught us that what brings us together is our Pan-African solidarity. As African women, we will not allow anyone to keep us quiet. We know and recognize that the future cannot be just, peaceful and equal if young women and girls remain subject to gender-based violence such as female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), other forms of domestic violence and femicide. Enough is enough. African women want and expect to be freed from the societal misconceptions which fuel the prevalence of FGM/C. 

It was groundbreaking to bring together 1,500 young people from across the continent during five Africa Young women Beijing + 25 virtual regional barazas (or convenings) hosted by the African Union Special Envoy on Youth, Aya Chebbi, in November 2020. The barazas opened up a space for sharing and speaking on the issues that challenge African women’s access and mobility spatially and socially. This was based on the premise that Africa’s women do not need anyone to speak on their behalf. They have voices and demands that must be heard and acted upon with the respect they deserve. The regional consultations culminated in the Africa Young Women Beijing + 25 Manifesto—a revolutionary feminist document that carries 10 bold demands. These are the hopes and aspirations that come to exist against sexist national laws, marginalization, and the lack of economic justice. 

As expressed by Africa’s young women, FGM/C remains a tool used to oppress their bodies—as an act of gender-based violence which many women have been forced to remain silent about for decades. Unlike other spaces, the manifesto was not built upon the problematic framing which discusses women’s issues without giving them agency. Instead, it was created through their inputs, generous sharing, radical honesty and listening. 

What about the other demands? FGM/C interlinkage with other forms of inequalities must be recognized. Each of the Manifesto’s 10 Demands provides an important roadmap to re-affirm that liberation pathways for young women are multi-layered and include demanding the provision of legal, physical and psychological support, shelters and specialist services to women subjected to all forms of violence, to demanding the removal of taxation on menstrual products, enforcement of progressive period policies in all workplaces, and the provision of free sanitary pads and sanitation in all schools.

African women and the 10 demands: 

  • Economic Justice 
  • The Criminalization of Gender-Based Violence
  • The End of Gender-Based Discrimination
  • Access to Justice and Protection
  • Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights
  • Mental Health and Well-Being
  • Inclusive, Equitable and Quality Education
  • Digital Justice
  • Silencing the Guns
  • Intergenerational co-leadership

What binds the manifesto together is an equitable desire to center women’s voices within policy and decision making spaces in which they are absent— an absence that can be deemed violent. These are spaces in which African women are being spoken for, without inclusion. The Generation Equality Forum in Paris provides us, as the Nala Feminist Collective, with a unique opportunity to advocate for the implementation of these 10 demands. We are powered by African women’s words with a document that unites our voices, across urban and rural, online and offline spaces.

Our Nala Council is made of 17 feminists with a mission to foster, enable and mobilize young women from Africa and the diaspora, bridging the gap between policy and implementation, intergovernmental and grassroots organizations, as well as generational spaces. 

Together—not without Africa’s young women. 

Join our advocacy. We have launched our 10,000 Signature Campaign. We need your support. The fight cannot be solo. Lend your voice to African young women and sign the Manifesto

A reflection on Sahiyo’s Activists’ Retreat: A sense of belonging

By Amena

I attended Sahiyo’s Activists’ Retreat because it stands for a cause I believe in to end female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) for future generations of girls. This was the first time I was able to connect with people who have a similar stance on this cause and meet allies and people who have been through a similar experience as me, or know someone who has been through it. It was such a pleasure to be a part of something like this retreat. 

I learned and realized that everyone has different experiences regarding FGM/C. For something that is so taboo to talk about, it’s hard to know, understand, and even accept that there are allies out there creating change in our community to end FGM/C. To be specific, women often feel like they are alone in regard to this subject. Having men actively wanting to be allies and support our efforts to create change is nice to see, and so it was helpful for me to know there were male participants at our Activists’ Retreat.

I’m also currently an intern for Sahiyo U.S., and I’m hoping to make some significant contributions during my time with them. I think attending this retreat was a great way for me to get my foot in the door with this cause, and that it can help others who may want to get involved. It can also give you a sense of community as it did for me. 

I look forward to attending the Activists’ Retreat in the future, hopefully in person next time.

Dear Maasi: “How do I move past the shame of being cut?”

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 a question about the deep shame I hold for being cut. It is so toxic and permeates throughout my life. How can I move past it?

Anonymous

Dear Anonymous,

Shame is an important topic that doesn’t get addressed enough—thanks for asking this question. 

Shame results when our inner critic judges us harshly, most often about things we’ve had little or no control over. These judgements come from the negative or abusive messages imposed on us as children. Shame doesn’t just criticize our behaviours but something more integral: our worth as human beings. For this reason it can impact all aspects of our lives.

Khatna, or female genital cutting, stamps shame on the body. As kids, we don’t have the capacity to understand why a confusing and painful thing is happening to us. The taboo and secretive nature of the practice reinforces the shame. Most children turn the blame and shame inward, rather than pointing it at the trusted caregivers who are betraying us.

So how do we begin to resolve shame? There are many paths to healing:

  • Begin to intentionally cast a compassionate gaze upon yourself. At first, your affirmations may feel false, but with repetition, that will change.
  • View your inner shamer as a child-like protector who functions to keep you feeling small and worthless in order to avoid further harm. Thank it for its diligent work and remind it that you’ve grown up and have other resources for feeling safe. This is an Internal Family Systems approach. Learn more through this 14-minute video.
  • Seek out a trauma therapist who can help you work through the khatna. Doing so enabled me to identify the child-logic (the ways I made “sense” of the traumatic moment as a kid) that led to me internalizing the blame. This child-logic had long legs that impacted many aspects of my life, including self-expression, romantic relationships, friendships and work. Check out my January 2021 column for tips on finding a therapist.
  • Debunk the myths you’ve learned about your sexuality and body. Most of us have learned that our genitals are “bad” or “wrong” or “dirty.” If we don’t shame our elbows, why would we shame our vulvas?  
  • Talk to other khatna survivors or listen to their stories. This will remind you that you’re not alone, and not to blame.

Anonymous, healing from shame takes time and effort, but it is possible. I wish you all the best in this journey! 

—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.