Support Sahiyo’s Work this Giving Tuesday

Every Tuesday following Black Friday, millions of people around the United States give back to support non-profit organizations that they believe in. This year we are inviting you to support Sahiyo’s groundbreaking work to end female genital cutting. 

Your generous support is absolutely vital, as so much of what we do is donation-based and dependent on your financial contributions. 

Donate now!

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Thanks to your support, this year we were able to conduct two Voices to End FGM/C workshops in North Carolina and Washington, D.C. At these workshops, 20 individuals affected by FGM/C were able to create digital stories of their experiences that will be used to educate communities on the harms of the practice, and potentially protect future generations of girls from undergoing it. Thank you for making those workshops possible with your financial support! 

We are excited about spreading awareness through these new digital stories, but we can’t stop there! We have big plans for the coming year(s) and need your help with fulfilling these goals. 

If each of our supporters gave $25 to this Giving Tuesday campaign, we would reach our goal of raising $10,000 for more Voices to End FGM/C workshops. Please consider a donation of $25 or more today! 

A donation of $25 will support our work in various ways: 

  • Help pay for participants to host their own community events meant to raise awareness of FGC by showing their films created at the workshops 
  • Help pay for participant’s travel to and from the workshop 
  • Promote the new digital stories on Sahiyo’s social media platforms 

 Find out more information and make your contribution here!

Understanding the Supreme Court’s latest judgement mentioning female genital cutting in India

On November 14, after a year of silence on the female genital mutilation/ cutting (FGM/C) case pending before it, the Supreme Court of India mentioned that the case will be referred to a seven-judge Constitution bench. It is likely that the case will now be heard in conjunction with three other petitions dealing with women’s rights and freedom of religion: cases about Hindu women’s entry into the Sabarimala temple, Muslim women’s entry into mosques, and the entry of Parsi women married to non-Parsis into fire temples.     

Previously, in its September 2018 order, the Court had referred the FGC case to a five-judge Constitution bench. Since then, the case had been pending. 

On November 14, however, the Supreme Court brought up the FGC case while hearing a batch of review petitions in the case about Kerala’s Sabarimala temple, where women of menstruating age were traditionally not allowed to enter. The review petitions challenged the Court’s 2018 order which lifted the ban on women’s entry into the temple. 

In its November 14 judgement, a five-judge Supreme Court ruled that the debate on women’s entry into the temple overlapped with other cases about gender and religious rights that are pending before the Court, including women’s entry into mosques and fire temples and female genital mutilation/cutting among Dawoodi Bohras. It stated that a larger bench first needs to rule on the interpretation of the very principles governing the fundamental right to freedom of religion in the Constitution, before passing judgement on all of those cases from different communities.   

The implications of clubbing these various cases under one umbrella are yet to be seen, but the Court’s judgement does raise some concerns. 

Although these cases share the common theme of women’s rights within religion, the cultural ritual of cutting minor girls’ genitals is very different in substance from the rules restricting women’s entry into places of worship. It would be ideal if each of these issues are evaluated separately, on a case-by-case basis.

Sahiyo believes that the matter of FGC needs to be treated with a little more urgency. Fourteen months have already passed since the Supreme Court first referred the FGC case to a Constitution bench last year. That bench was never formed, and now the Court’s decision to first adjudicate on larger questions of law is likely to stall hearings that may have been scheduled in the FGC case. 

Since the practice of FGC involves causing bodily harm to young girls, every delay puts more girls at risk of being cut. 

A quick recap of the FGC case

In April 2017, Delhi-based lawyer Sunita Tiwari filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court seeking a ban on the practice of female genital cutting (also known as khatna, khafz, sunnath or female circumcision) in India. FGC is practiced among the Dawoodi Bohras and other Bohra sects in India, as well as among certain Sunni Muslims in the state of Kerala. Tiwari’s PIL, however, refers only to FGC among the Dawoodi Bohras.

After Tiwari’s PIL was admitted in the Court, other intervention petitions were also filed in the case, some supporting a ban on the ancient practice, and one party (the Dawoodi Bohra Women’s Association for Religious Freedom) defending FGC on the grounds that it is an essential religious practice for the Bohras. The Dawoodi Bohra Women’s Association demanded that the matter of FGC be heard by a Constitution bench since it was about the Constitutional right to religious freedom. 

The case was heard by a three-judge bench which observed during a hearing in July 2018, that the “bodily integrity of women” cannot be violated. However, in September 2018, the bench referred the case to a five-judge Constitution bench. This meant that the practice of cutting a girl’s genitals — which the United Nations classifies as a human rights violation — would now be scrutinised through the lens of religious freedom. 

In light of the latest Supreme Court judgement, this will continue to be the case, except that now a larger, seven-judge bench will first examine the interpretation of Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution pertaining to the right to religious freedom, before adjudicating on matters of FGC and women’s entry into places of worship.

What the Court said: Majority and Minority judgements

The Supreme Court’s judgement on November 14 was not unanimous. Three of the five judges on the bench delivered the majority judgement, in favour of referring the Sabarimala, FGC and other cases to a seven-judge Constitution bench. This 9-page majority judgement was authored by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi

The other two judges (Justices Nariman and Chandrachud) authored an elaborate 68-page dissent, insisting that there was no merit to the review petitions in the Sabarimala case and that the other cases of FGC, mosque entry or fire temple entry should not be clubbed together with the Sabarimala issue. 

The majority judgement stated the following:

“The issues arising in the pending cases regarding entry of Muslim Women in Durgah/Mosque;…of Parsi Women married to a non-Parsi in the Agyari;…and including the practice of female genital mutilation in Dawoodi Bohra community…may be overlapping and covered by the judgment under review. The prospect of the issues arising in those cases being referred to larger bench cannot be ruled out…The decision of a larger bench would put at rest recurring issues touching upon the rights flowing from Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution of India.” 

The majority judgement specified that the larger bench would essentially have to answer seven questions about the principles of Articles 25 and 26. These questions include these four points:

  • What is the interplay between Constitutional freedom of religion and other rights granted in the Constitution, particularly the right to equality and prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of religion, sex, race, caste, etc?
  • What exactly does “constitutional morality” mean?
  • To what extent can the Court determine whether a practice is essential to a religion or a religious denomination?
  • To what extent can the Court give judicial recognition to Public Interest Litigations questioning religious practices if the PIL has been filed by someone who does not belong to the religious denomination in question?
    (The original PIL in the FGC case in India was filed by Sunita Tiwari, who does not belong to an FGC-practicing community.) 

In their dissenting minority judgement, however, Justices Nariman and Chandrachud pointed out that the meaning of “constitutional morality” has already been defined by the Court in several other Constitution bench judgements, and that it is “nothing but the values inculcated by the Constitution, which are contained in the Preamble read with various other parts, in particular, Parts III [fundamental rights] and IV [fundamental duties] thereof.”

This means that the fundamental right to equality is a part of constitutional morality, and as per Article 25 and 26, freedom of religion is subject to this morality. 

The minority judgement also argued that the review petitions they were addressing specifically dealt with the question of Hindu women’s entry into Sabarimala, and that the cases pertaining to other religions or religious sects should be examined on a case-by-case basis, instead of clubbing them together.

U.S. Sahiyo Board Member Spotlight: A. Renee Bergstrom, EdD

Sahiyo’s U.S. Advisory Board provides strategic advice to the management of Sahiyo and ensures that we continue fulfilling our mission to empower communities to end female genital cutting, and create positive social change through dialogue, education, and collaboration based on community involvement. For November, we are featuring A. Renee Bergstrom, EdD, a survivor who has worked as an advocate for the abandonment of female genital cutting for decades.

1) Can you tell us a bit about your background?

I have been interested in using my story to help end Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) for most of my adult life. I first became involved internationally in 1981 when I applied for a grant from the Women’s Desk of Lutheran World Federation that led to my spending two weeks in Geneva, Switzerland. I spoke with leaders involved in the FGM/C issue, including Marie Assaad, Egypt’s gentle warrior, who was then Deputy Secretary General of the World Council of Churches. The timing was not right politically for my voice to be heard. I would have been seen as another Western woman interfering in other cultures. A group of African women told me to go home and deal with my country’s cultural issues and then come back and compare notes on culture change strategies. This challenge inspired me to continue my college education. I graduated with two bachelor’s degrees from Winona State University in 1988 and 1989, a Master’s degree in adult education from the University of Minnesota in 1992, and a doctorate in education in leadership from Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota in 2009.

My professional career was with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. I served as a phlebotomist for four years, a certified pulmonary function technologist for seven years, and as a patient education specialist for twenty-three years. I also served on the Mayo Clinic Program in Professionalism and Ethics Communication in Healthcare Faculty. I retired from Mayo in 2012. I was an adjunct professor in Women and Gender Studies at Winona State University in 2010 and 2011. In 2008, I became involved with the Academy of Communication in Healthcare and graduated as ACH Faculty in 2017.

My female justice advocacy included mentoring a dynamic young Somali woman, Filsan Ali. In 2015, we produced a brochure for pregnant, infibulated Somali women to share with their physicians or midwives to promote shared decision-making regarding labor and delivery. We distributed the brochures throughout the United States. In the summer of 2016, Filsan and I were interviewed by John Chua, PhD, for his documentary, The Cut. I participated in the End Violence Against Girls Summit on FGM/C in Washington, D.C. on December 2, 2016. On the same day The Guardian published my story including a portion of Dr. Chua’s documentary. I have since been interviewed by several others, including photojournalist Meeri Matilda Koutaniemi of Finland who is writing a book about FGM/C survivors. 

After going public, two other white Christian North American FGM/C survivors reached out to me. They are younger than my children. One woman came to my home, and we worked with the other by phone to write an article that we seek to publish. Although most Christian denominations do not condone FGM/C, we hope to reach Christian readers from churches that do. Our stories may help others have the courage to speak. Christians need to face the damage done by misinterpreting Biblical passages in order to control women. 

2) When did you first get involved with Sahiyo and what opportunities have you been involved in?

I was invited to participate in the Sahiyo Stories in Berkeley, California, in May 2018. I so appreciated the opportunity to decide for myself which aspect of my story to tell and illustrate. After much contemplation, I chose to focus on being silenced because it had the greatest long term impact on my life. The Story Center staff provided excellent professional guidance in shaping the videos. The shared community spirit was an additional blessing and key to our ability to complete the daunting process of revealing such personal parts of our lives. 

I participated with Mariya Taher in showing Sahiyo Stories at the End Violence Against Women Conference at Lesley University, Cambridge, Massachusetts on November 9, 2018. I practiced my ACH Winter Course workshop that uses Sahiyo videos at the Knowledge and Evaluation Research (KER) unit at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN. I was encouraged to discuss with appropriate faculty the inclusion of the videos in Mayo Medical School curriculum on January 9, 2019. I facilitated an ACH Winter Course workshop entitled Patient Engagement Through Brief Focused Videos that featured our Sahiyo stories on January 31, 2019. It was well received, although participants were quite overwhelmed by the content. 

3) How has your involvement impacted your life?

I feel so blessed knowing that my story is now seen as helpful to young women who are standing up to their political, cultural and religious leaders to end FGM/C worldwide. Also, being free of the burden of silence has made me holistically healthier. I experience an ineffable spiritual uplifting.

4) What pieces of wisdom would you share with new volunteers or community members who are interested in supporting Sahiyo?

Sahiyo has wisely broadened their scope to include other cultures besides their original focus on the Dawoodi Bohra community. Universal attempts to control women’s sexuality is something for which we women of the world must unite. 

Op-Ed: A Global Platform to End FGM/C

We must accelerate an end to FGM/C.

Every 11 seconds a girl somewhere in the world will go through female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C.)  The procedure is often extremely painful, and carried out with a crude, unsterilized instrument and without anesthesia.  Every 11 seconds.  

FGM/C has no medical benefits, and often has disastrous effects, including a lifetime of psychological trauma, difficulty urinating and menstruating, maternal and child mortality, lack of sexual fulfilment, and sometimes, most tragically, the loss of a girl’s life afterwards.

This violation of a girl’s fundamental human rights has no place in the world today. It must stop. Now.

Last June at the Women Deliver Conference held in Vancouver, for the first time, global FGM/C activists from Africa to Europe, from Australia to Asia and to North America; women and men, civil society organisations, champions, survivors, and grassroots representatives, all came together to unite voices around a global call to action to end FGM.

Together, we are asking, no imploring, the international community to prioritize the ending of FGM/C worldwide, in the same way it responded to other urgent global issues such as HIV/AIDS. 

It’s estimated that 200 million women alive today are survivors of FGM/C.  It is practiced on every continent except Antarctica. There’s no religious requirement for it, and it is practised in Muslim, Christian, Pagan, and even some Jewish communities.  

There can be little doubt that female genital mutilation/cutting is among the worst human rights violation perpetrated against women and girls in the world today.  The practice continues because it is a social norm held in place by the expectations of whole communities–women, men, elders, even politicians.

And it continues to be a taboo subject, hidden behind a wall of silence around the world.  This too must stop.

Next week, at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Nairobi, where gender equality and reproductive and sexual rights are high on the list of priorities, there is a tremendous opportunity to shine a giant light on the issue of FGM/C and move it firmly to the top of the agenda where it belongs. 

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, sitting beside Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at Women Deliver in Vancouver just a few months ago, courageously committed to ending FGM/C in Kenya by 2022, eight years ahead of the Sustainable Development Goal of 2030.

It’s an ambitious promise, a challenging target for sure–but it shows leadership, it shows vision, it shows a commitment to the idea that girls’ human rights must be cherished, must be protected. We hope that other governments around the world will follow and commit resources, improved data and research, laws and policies to protect girls at risk, and support for survivors, so that together we can end FGM/C around the world.  

 The End of FGM/C is not just the end of a violation of girls’ human rights, it is also the start of increased economic development for practicing communities and has the power to be completely gender transformative. It is a proven fact that when girls and women fully participate in the economy of a country, it results in significant economic advancement.

And so, we ask the global community at the ICPD to join us, to work together on a multi-pronged approach to end FGM/C by 2030.  Whole communities must be mobilized and empowered at the grassroots level. Women and men, girls and boys, health workers, traditional and religious leaders, all have to be empowered to embrace the end of this harmful traditional practice.

We have to address the root causes of gender equality at the community level; we have to listen to and support grassroots organizations that are working in this field; we need an integrated, intersectional approach to ending FGM/C, recognizing the connections with other forms of gender-based violence and linking with existing movements.

We have to work with governments to respond to the adaptations to this violation of girls’ and women’s human rights, include medicalization, cross-border practices, and lowering the age of mutilation/cutting.

Accordingly, we call on all stakeholders to prioritize resources towards grassroots and community led programmes, and to make funding more flexible, sustainable, and accessible.  

Whatever our religion, our gender, our ethnicity, –the time has come for every one of us and all our governments to deploy every tool at our disposal to end this harmful practice.

FGM/C is a human rights emergency that continues to exact untold harm on a daily, hourly basis. Together we can end it. Sign up to the Global Platform for Action to End FGM/C today at www.ActionToEndFGMC.com.

This call to action has been endorsed by Amref Health AfricaCoalition on Violence Against WomenEnd FGM Canada NetworkEnd FGM European NetworkEquality NowOrchid ProjectSahiyoThe Girl GenerationThe Inter-African Committee on Traditional PracticesThe US End FGM/C NetworkThere Is No Limit Foundation and Tostan

I was impressed with the courage of young women at Sahiyo’s Activist Retreat

By Rashida Rangwala

In March 2019, I attended my second Sahiyo Activist Retreat. For me it was an occasion to meet friends I had made last year at the 2018 retreat, share the progress I had made as an activist over the course of the past year, and demonstrate how much the first retreat had helped me in achieving that progress. My anti-female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) activism has involved talking to reporters and young students ranging in age from high schoolers to college students about the practice of FGM/C in the Bohra community. I have also counseled and educated young mothers and girls on FGM/C and its harmful impact on the girl child. 

I learned at the retreat to take a step back, slow down and listen to the pro-FGM/C people. Don’t make them so angry that they won’t talk to you and you reach a zero communication status. Give them a fair hearing, educate them, dispel misconceptions, break—slowly, but surely—break whatever resistance they have and poke holes in their thinking process until it completely falls apart, until they think for themselves, “Oh, wait a minute, I think I’m not going to do it to my daughter.” Start talking to the mother early and make her strong with knowledge about the harmful impacts of the procedure, so that when her child is seven years old, she makes an informed decision.

I spoke to a high school student that Sahiyo connected me with. She was writing a paper for her school project, interviewed me, and cried a little bit with me when I shared my story with her. I sent her pictures of myself to be used when she made her presentation. In the past, I would only give a name when I shared my story. But I realized that unless you have a picture to associate with the name, people can’t relate to your story on the same personal level. I’m now able to give my picture and have become more public when I share my story, something I didn’t do before the Sahiyo retreat because I was afraid to do so. 

Right at the beginning, on day one of the Sahiyo Retreat, I was happy to see that we had nearly doubled the number of anti-FGM/C activist participants attending the retreat from 11 in 2018 at the first retreat to 21 in 2019. This time around, I had the chance to become acquainted with women from ages 21-28 years old. Talking to them over the course of the 3-days was very insightful. What amazed me was how self aware these young girls were about FGM/C. For me, FGM/C was vague knowledge that was always there in the back of my brain, but these girls knew exactly what had happened to them and were so aware of its consequences and so vocal about sharing their stories and being against it. That was a big insight for me. Perhaps this generational change could be because of social media; it’s in the news. They do have that advantage, which my generation did not. They have more sources of information today,

I was impressed with their courageous resolve to bring about change in thought in the Bohra community. To me, these young women were simply brave souls. Some of these young FGM/C survivors had opened up conversations with their mothers about performing the procedure on them. While others had yet to speak to their mothers about FGM/C, they were in the process of building up the stamina they needed to take up that challenging task. I had a chance to tell them, “Don’t delay it.” It’s too late for me. My mom passed away and I never got to talk to her.

It was amazing to see the collaboration between generations of women at this year’s retreat. We are certainly making progress in creating awareness in our community about how harmful FGM/C is to the girl child and we are bringing about a change in the thought process of the new generation so that they will abandon FGM/C. I am looking forward to the 2020 retreat and how it will spread our message slowly, but organically, one activist at a time. 

એક સાઈકોથેરૅપિસ્ટ તરીકે, હું ક્યારેય ખતનાની ભલામણ નહિં કરું

(This article was first published in English on December 10, 2016. Read the English version here.)

લેખક : અનામી

ઉંમર : 36 વર્ષ

દેશ : ભારત

હું એક માનસિક આરોગ્ય ચિકિત્સક છું અને છેલ્લા 16 વર્ષોથી હું તેનું કાઉન્સેલિંગ અને થેરાપી આપી રહી છું. મારા ઘરનાં લોકો મારી એક કઝિનની સેરિમનિ વિષે બોલતા હતા ત્યારે અનાયાસે જ મને ‘ખતના’(ટાઈપ 1 એફ.જી.એમ.) વિષે જાણવા મળ્યું. હું વધારે માહિતી મેળવવા માંગતી હતી. મને સમજાયું નહિં કે હું પણ તે પ્રક્રિયા હેઠળથી પસાર થઈ હતી. મને વધારે કંઈ યાદ નથી, બસ આટલું કે મને બળતરા થતી હતી અને ત્યારબાદ મારી માં અને નાની દ્વારા તપાસવામાં આવી રહી હતી.

તે એક હરામની બોટી હતી જેને મારા શરીરમાંથી કાઢી નાખવામાં આવી હોવાથી મારે તે વિષે ક્યારેય વાત કરવી જોઈએ નહિં તેવા વાતાવરણમાં હું મોટી થઈ. મને કહેવામાં આવ્યું હતુ કે હવે તુ શુદ્ધ થઈ ગઈ છે. હું મોટી થઈ તેમ મેં સાઈકૉલોજીનો અભ્યાસ કર્યો, હું એફ.જી.એમ. વિષેનો એક આર્ટિકલ વાંચતી હતી ત્યારે અચાનક જ મને સમજાય ગયું કે તે દિવસે મારી સાથે શું બન્યું હતુ. મને ધક્કો લાગ્યો પરંતુ, તેને સ્વીકારવા સિવાય મારી પાસે કોઈ વિકલ્પ નહોતો કારણ કે જે કંઈ બન્યું તેની કોઈ અસર સમજાઈ નહોતી – મારા પ્રગતિશિલ માં-બાપને પણ નહિં.

મારૂં જીવન અન્ય છોકરીઓની જેમ આગળ વધવા લાગ્યું. મારૂં લગ્ન જીવન, ખાસ કરીને સેક્સ પર તેની કોઈ અસર થઈ નહિં. મારૂં સેક્સ્યુઅલ જીવન અને ઑર્ગેઝમ્સ પણ સંતોષપૂર્ણ હતા અને મેં મહેસુસ કર્યું કે મારા પર ખતનાનીં કોઈ મોટી અસર થઈ નહોતી અથવા સાત વર્ષની ઉંમરે હું જે પ્રક્રિયા હેઠળથી પસાર થઈ તેનાં આઘાતનો સામનો કરવા મેં એ બાબતને એકદમ દબાવી દીધી હતી.

જો કે, મને યાદ છે કે બાળકનાં જન્મ સમયે મારે એપિસિઓટોમી પ્રક્રિયા કરાવવી પડી હતી. UNFPA દ્વારા કરવામાં આવેલ એક સ્ટડી અનુસાર, એક સામાન્ય બૈરીની સરખામણીએ જે બૈરી પર જેનિટલ કટિંગની પ્રક્રિયા કરવામાં આવી હોય તેને સિઝેઅરિયન સેક્શન અને એપિસિઓટોમી ની વધારે જરૂર પડે છે અને બાળકનાં જન્મ પછી વધારે સમય હૉસ્પિટલમાં રહેવું પડે છે.

આ વર્ષની શરૂઆતમાં પીઅર સુપરવિઝનમાં, મારી સાથે જે કંઈ બન્યું તેની પ્રક્રિયાને મેં ધીરે-ધીરે સમજી અને તેને જીવનનાં એક ભાગ રૂપે લીધી. મને એ બાબત પાછળથી સમજાઈ કે એફ.જી.એમ. ની અસરો થાય છે. હકીકતમાં તે આત્માને જખમો આપે છે અને આપણને આશ્ચર્ય થાય કે શું આ પ્રક્રિયા કરવી ખરેખર જરૂરી છે.

ખતના પ્રક્રિયા લાંબા સમય સુધી માનસિક તણાવ આપી શકે છે. કુટુંબનાં સભ્યો દ્વારા ભરોસો તોડવાની લાગણીને કારણે તે બચ્ચાઓનાં વર્તનમાં ગરબડ પેદા કરી શકે છે. મોટી છોકરીઓ પણ બેચેની અને તણાવ મહેસુસ કરી શકે છે.

જે આવી બધી બાબતો સમજે છે, તેવા એક મનોચિકિત્સક તરીકે શું હું ખતનાની ભલામણ કરીશ? ના, હું ભલામણ નહિં કરું કારણ કે, મને લાગે છે કે તેનો મુખ્ય હેતુ બૈરીઓની સેક્સ્યુઆલિટી પર નિયંત્રણ લાવવાનો છે. હું તેની વ્યાખ્યા લિંગ આધારીત હિંસા રૂપે કરીશ.

Sahiyo U.S. Advisory Board Spotlight: Melody Joy Eckardt

As Sahiyo’s U.S. operations and programs have grown, in 2018, we invited various individuals from a host of backgrounds and professions to join our inaugural U.S. Advisory Board. The advisory board provides strategic advice to the management of Sahiyo and ensures that we continue fulfilling our mission to empower communities to end female genital cutting (FGC) and create positive social change through dialogue, education, and collaboration based on community involvement.

This month, we are pleased to highlight Melody Joy Eckardt, who has graciously agreed to serve on the U.S. Advisory Board.

1) Can you tell us a bit about your background?

I am an obstetrician and gynecologist who specializes in global health. I graduated from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, did my ob/gyn residency at Tufts New England Medical Center in Boston and practiced ob/gyn on the South Shore of Massachusetts before returning to get my Masters in Health from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. After that time I began working internationally with the Division of Global Health and Human Rights at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) on issues related to women’s reproductive health and maternal mortality in developing country contexts.

I also had a faculty position in obstetrics and gynecology at Boston Medical Center (BMC) with a focus on Women’s Refugee Health. It was at BMC that I learned about Female Genital Cutting (FGC), and learned to do surgical procedures and specialized treatment for this issue. I now work full-time in global health at the Division of Global Innovation (Formerly the Division of Global Health and Human Rights) at MGH to train health care providers around the world on maternal health emergencies.

2)  When did you first get involved with Sahiyo and what opportunities have you been involved in?

I met Mariya through our work advocating for the FGC law in Massachusetts. We had the chance to testify and speak at a few engagements together. Through these times, I learned more about Sahiyo and the great work advocating to stop FGC with an emphasis on storytelling, which is such a powerful tool!

3) How has your involvement impacted your life? 

Sahiyo opened my eyes to just how far-reaching the practice of FGC is around the world. So many women are not even counted among the statistics. Furthermore, I am so inspired by women who join together to tell their stories, empower one another, and fight for a kinder, more respectful future for our daughters.

4) What pieces of wisdom would you share with new volunteers or community members who are interested in supporting Sahiyo?

You are joining a group of amazing people with the vision to truly change the world for future women. Don’t ever forget what a privilege it is to be part of such an amazing team and that your cause is just and worth every ounce of effort you give it.

We should all speak up against female genital cutting

By Hatim Amiji

As a man, I found myself extremely nervous sitting in a circle of ten women at Sahiyo’s Voices to End FGM/C workshop. I had entered what I would consider a sacred space, to share my story related to female genital cutting (FGC), but more importantly, to listen to their stories. The air was dense and it was obvious that what was about to be shared would be opening up deep and unhealed wounds. I took part in Sahiyo’s storytelling workshop because I wanted to make a point that FGC is an issue males should be willing to stand against. My story highlighted how the practice alienated the relationship I had with my sister. Only by listening to her story, were we able to recreate a bond we once had as innocent children. 

IMG_7437.JPGAs the women told their stories, I listened to their descriptions of the pain they underwent both during the practice and throughout their lives. The metaphorical microphone had been passed, and I could hear what these women had kept inside for most of their lives. As a man, and therefore, in many ways an observer, I was situated in a derivative of social voyeurism. I was listening to stories that had weighed these women down for decades, but I myself never went through such experiences. And yet, I was accepted into their circle; I was given the chance to listen because they felt it was important for me to listen. In turn, the story I told was important for them to hear as well. It was one of solidarity, one that depicted a mutual understanding that this practice needs to end no matter one’s biological sex.

It is common knowledge in the community in which I was raised that this issue is one males are not to get involved in. As I have learned from women in the workshop, it’s the same for many communities around the globe. I had learned of the practice tangentially by skimming through an online pamphlet, and only learned of the prevalence of the practice by doing research on my own. It was never brought up in religious congregations, Sunday school, or in conversations with my parents. I had to bring it up to my mother in order to learn more about it, and I have yet to even speak with my father because I know he is likely as shielded from the issue as I once was.

Aside from the fact that males are less informed on the issue, it is also apparent that males turn a blind eye even in light of exposure to the practice. We are expected to let the issue stay a female issue: one that we shouldn’t meddle in because we don’t understand. It is true that I will never understand the actual manifestation and perception of pain and lifelong suffering that comes with the practice, but I do understand that this practice is a source of trauma that affects our daughters and sisters and mothers, and this is enough for men to stand up and speak out against it. Around the globe, females are robbed of their innocence in the form of genital cutting and there is absolutely no good reason why. We must speak up because this issue affects us all.

 

महिला जननांग विकृति के प्रति एक माँ का बहादुर फैसला

(यह लेख पहली बार 23 मई 2017 को अंग्रेजी में साहियो द्वारा प्रकाशित हुआ था. Read the English version here and the Gujarati translation here.)

लेखक: अज्ञात

उम्र: 30
देश: यूनाइटेड स्टेट्स

खतना शब्द और इस प्रथा से मेरा पहली बार आमना-सामना तब हुआ जब मैं 15 साल की थी। मैं एओएल इंस्टैंट मैसेंजर पर एक दोस्त के साथ चैटिंग कर रही थी और उसने मुझे पूछा क्या मेरा कभी खतना हुआ था। उस समय तक, मैं इस प्रथा के बारे में या इस बात से पूरी तरह अनजान थी कि इसे मेरे बोहरा समुदाय में कम उम्र की लड़कियों पर किया जाता है।  मुझे पता नहीं था कि मैं अपनी दोस्त को क्या जवाब दूँ। मैंने सोचा कि शायद मेरा खतना मेरे जन्म होने पर ही किया गया होगा, ठीक वैसे जैसे बच्चे के जन्म पर छट्ठी (नामकरण) या अक़ीका (बकरे की कुर्बानी) किया जाता है।  

मैंने फौरन ही अपनी माँ से खतना के बारे में पूछा और यह भी पूछा क्या उन्होंने मेरा कभी कराया था या नहीं। उनका जवाब था, “नहीं बेटी, मैंने तुम्हारा नहीं होने दिया था।” और अधिक फुसफुसाहट और काफी घबराई हुई आवाज़ में उनहोंने कहा, “लेकिन किसी को बताना नहीं।” मैंने उनका पीछा किया, मैं उनसे पूछ रही थी आखिर यह होता क्या है। मेरी माँ को यह समझाने में मुश्किल हुई कि यह क्या है या यह क्यों किया जाता है। वह कह पाईं कि लड़कियों के “गुप्तांग” में काटा जाता है। उन्होंने आगे कहा कि हाँ, सात साल की उम्र में वह इससे गुजर चुकी थी, लेकिन उनहोंने अपनी बेटियों के साथ ऐसा नहीं होने दिया, क्योंकि उनके खतना ने उनको भयानक शारीरिक और भावनात्मक दर्द दिया था और वो दर्द उनके साथ जीवन भर रहा है।

उस समय, मैं इस बात की अहमियत नहीं समझ पाई कि क्यों मेरी माँ ने मेरे और मेरी बहनों पर खतना नहीं करवाने का फैसला लिया और क्यों वह चाहती थी कि इसके बारे में मैं किसी से कुछ न कहूँ।

खतना के बारे में प्राथमिक जानकारी लेने के कुछ वर्षों बाद, मैं मेरी स्थानीय मस्जिद में औरतों की मीटिंग में थी। किसी ने हमारी मौलवी की बीबी, जिनको बहनसाब कहते हैं, उनसे खतना के बारे में पूछा। बहनसाब ने जवाब़ दिया कि यह औरतों में यौन आनंद को बढ़ाने के लिए किया जाता था और यह समुदाय की सभी औरतों के लिए जरूरी है। मैंने अपनी माँ से कुछ साल पहले इससे ठीक उल्टी बात सुनी थी, और बहनसाब की बातें मुझे चक्कर में डाल रही थीं। हाँ, जब बहनसाब ने कहा कि यह प्रथा सब औरतों के लिए जरूरी थी, तब मुझे समझ में आया की क्यों मेरी माँ ने मुझे किसी को यह बताने से मना किया था कि मेरा खतना नहीं हुआ है। मेरी माँ को डर था समुदाय के आदेश के खिलाफ जाने पर उनके या उनके परिवार के साथ बुरा हो सकता था, और इसीलिए, उनहोंने अपना प्रगतिशील फैसला सब से छुपा के रखा।

आज, एक व्यस्क महिला के रूप में मैं खतना के शारीरिक और भावनात्मक नुक्सान को समझ सकती हूँ, और मैं अपनी माँ के फैसले की सराहना करती हूँ। मैं सोच भी नहीं सकती हूँ जिन महिलाओं के साथ यह हुआ उनको अपनी रोजमर्रा की जिंदगी में क्या झेलना पड़ता होगा। मुझे लगातार डर लगता है कि यह प्रथा अभी भी जारी है (हालाँकि यह अधिकतर गुप्त है) और “परंपरा” के अलावा अधिकतर लोगों के पास कोई वाजिब मेडिकल कारण नहीं हैं इसे  जारी रखने के लिए। मुझे उम्मीद है कि जैसे-जैसे लोग इस प्रथा और इससे जुड़े नुक्सान के बारे में जानते जाएँगे, समुदाय के भीतरसे परंपरा के नाम पर छोटी बच्चियों के अंग की विकृति की इस नुक्सानदायक प्रथा को रोकने की कोशिशें बढ़ती जाएँगी।

मैंने अपनी मां से मेरा खतना नहीं करने की विनती की। उन्होंने मेरी बात सुनी

(This article was originally published in English on November 8, 2016. Read the English version here.)

नाम: अज्ञात

उम्र: 26

देश: संयुक्त राज्य अमेरिका

शनिवार की स्कूल की क्लास में मैंने पहली बार इसके बारे में सुना। एक पुरुष शिक्षक उस शनिवार की सुबह हमारी क्लास में पढ़ा रहे ते, और विषय था खतना। उस 14 वर्ष की उम्र में, मुझे वास्तव में पता नहीं था कि इसका मतलब क्या है, लेकिन मुझे पता था कि इसमें कुछ ऐसा शामिल था जो यौन-शिक्षा से संबंधित था। मैं शर्मिंदगी भरी स्थिति में कमरे के दाईं ओर लड़कियों के साथ बैठी थी, और लड़के कमरे के बाईं ओर बैठे थे। शिक्षक ने पुरूष खतना के बारे में बोलना शुरू किया; कहा कि उसमें त्वचा को सर्जरी के द्वारा हटा दिया जाता है, स्वच्छता के लिए। उसके बाद उन्होंने महिला खतना के बारे में बताया; कि यह एक लड़की की यौन इच्छा पर अंकुश लगाने के लिए किया जाता था। लड़कियों को पवित्र, शांत और आज्ञाकारी बनाना था। छोटी लड़कियों का खतना करना उन्हें असंयमित होने से बचाने का एकमात्र तरीका था। यह उनके परिवारों को शर्मिंदा होने से रोकने का एकमात्र तरीका था।

मुझे याद है कि वहां बैठकर मुझे पता नहीं था कि मेरे शिक्षक किस बारे में बात कर रहे हैं। मुझे यकीन था कि मैं कभी भी इस प्रक्रिया से नहीं गुज़री थी। मैं उस दिन उस कमरे में बैठी हुई बहुत असहज और अशांत महसूस कर रही थी।

मुझे याद है कि उसी शनिवार को हम सहेलियां क्लास की एक बड़ी लड़की के घर रहने गए थे, जहाँ पर उस दिन क्लास में जो सुना था उस विषय पर बात होने लगी। मैं चुपचाप बैठी रही जब एक दूसरी लड़की ने समझाया कि यह प्रक्रिया लड़कियों पर क्यों की जाती है, कैसे यह हमें बेहतर मुसलमान और बेहतर बोहरा बनती है, क्योंकि खतना यह सुनिश्चित करता है कि हम में यौन इच्छाओं और विवाह पूर्व संभोग की चाह नहीं जगेगी। खतना ने हमें पवित्र किया था, हमें शुद्ध किया था। मैंने गौर से सुना जब अन्य लड़कियों ने अपनी खतना की कहानियों बताई। मुझे धोखा महसूस हो रहा था क्योंकि मुझे पता था कि मैं कभी भी इस “ज़रूरी प्रथा” से नहीं गुजरी थी। उस वक़्त मुझे इस ‘ज़रूरी प्रथा’ का सही मतलब नहीं पता था। मेरी समझ में सिर्फ यह आ रहा था कि मै उन लड़कियों के जैसी नहीं थी, कि मैं एक “बुरी लड़की” थी, कि मैं गंदी थी, और मैं सिर्फ एक अच्छी मुस्लिम होने का नाटक कर रही थी।

मुझे याद है कि आखिरकार कुछ हफ्तों बाद मैंने अपनी माँ से इसके बारे में पूछने की हिम्मत जुटाई। उम्मीद भरी आवाज़ से मैंने उनको पूछा कि क्या मेरे साथ यह हुआ था, और बस मुझे याद नहीं था? उनका चेहरा बदल गया । उन्होंने अपना सिर हिलाया। जब हम भारत में थे तब उनको हमेशा मेरे मेरा खतना करवाना था, लेकिन कभी मौका नहीं मिला। मैंने उनको अपने दोस्तों से सुनी हुई कहानियाँ सुनाईं और उनसे पूछा, क्या वह मुझे इस प्रक्रिया को समझा सकती हैं, क्योंकि मुझे अपनी क्लास में इसे समझने में परेशानी हुई थी। उन्होंने मुझे खतना की प्रक्रिया समझाना शुरू किया; कैसे एक लड़की के भगशेफ या क्लाइटोरिस से त्वचा को हटाया जाता है, उसे पवित्र और शुद्ध बनाने के लिए। जैसे ही मैंने पूरी बात सुनी, मैं डरकर पीछे हट गई। उन्होंने मुझे कुछ मिनटों तक देखा, और फिर अधिकार के साथ कहा कि अगली बार जब हम भारत जाएंगे, तो वह मुझे मेरी चाची, जो एक डॉक्टर हैं, उनके पास ले जाएँगी जो मुझ पर खतना करवाएंगी। मैं उनके सामने अपने घुटनों के बल बैठ गई, उनसे भीख माँगते हुए कि मेरे साथ यह न करें, भीख माँगते हुए कि इस अकल्पनीय दर्दनाक प्रक्रिया से ना गुजरने दें। मैंने उनसे वादा किया कि मैं अच्छी रहूँगी, मैं स्वच्छ रहूँगी, मैं वह कुछ भी करूँगी जो वह चाहती थी अगर वह इस पूरी बात को भूल जाएँगी। उनहोंने सिर्फ इतना कहा कि “हम देखेंगे।”

मुझे याद है बड़े होते हुए, मैं खतना के बारे में और अधिक शोध करती रही यह जानने के लिए कि आख़िर यह होता क्या है। एक बार मेरे चचेरे भाई ने बड़े जोश से बताया कि यह कितना गलत है। तब मुझे एहसास हुआ कि मेरी माँ ने मुझे कितने बड़े नुकसान से बचाया है।  आज मैं खतना को बहुत अलग नज़र से देखती हूँ।

कई युवा लड़कियों से उनका चुनने का अधिकार छीन लिया गया है। किसी ने उनसे नहीं पूछा कि क्या वे खतना कराना चाहते हैं। उनके परिवारों ने उनके अस्तित्व के एक हिस्से को चुराने का फ़ैसला कर लिया, इस बारे में कोई परवाह किए बिना कि इसका उन पर क्या असर होगा, और अक्सर अपनी अनमोल छोटी बच्चियों को अस्वच्छ और अनुभवहीन हाथों में देने का निर्णय लिया।

मुझे याद है कि महीनों पहले एक बड़ी फेसबुक चर्चा खुलकर बाहर आई, जिसमें मेरे पहचान की एक बहुत ही मुखर लड़की ने खतना के खिलाफ आंदोलन करने वालों पर पर आरोप लगाया कि वे बोहरा समुदाय की “गंदगी” को पब्लिक में बाहर ला रहे थे। उस पल के पहले मैंने अपने समुदाय के किसी व्यक्ति पर इतनी शर्म महसूस नहीं की थी। यह प्रथा गलत है, और इसका गैर-रजामंदी वाला स्वरूप मेरे लिए इसे और भी दिल दहलाने वाला और निंदनीय बनाता है। जब आपका समुदाय कुछ ग़लत कर रहा है, और इसे पैगंबर (अल्लाह उनको शांति दे) द्वारा सिखाई गई एक धार्मिक प्रथा के रूप में बता रहा है, तब आप इससे छिपकर भाग नहीं सकते हैं। आपको बहस करने के लिए मुँह खोलना पड़ेगा और चर्चा करना होगा कि हम एक समुदाय के रूप में बेहतर कैसे बन सकते हैं। आपको चर्चा करना होगा कि हम अपने समुदाय की युवा लड़कियों और युवा महिलाओं की सुरक्षा कैसे कर सकते हैं।

एक वैश्विक समुदाय होने के नाते हम इसे रोकने के लिए बहुत कुछ कर सकते हैं। मेरी मां ने मुझे बचाया था। उन्होंने मेरे लिए अपने प्यार को सबसे पहले रखा, और आज उनकी वजह से मैं एक पूर्ण महिला हूँ। मैं उनकी सुरक्षा और मार्गदर्शन के लिए हमेशा आभारी हूं। सभी युवा महिलाएँ अपने शरीर पर समान सुरक्षा, समान प्रेम, समान सम्मान और समान अधिकार की हक़दार हैं। इतना तो कम से कम हम कर सकते हैं।