More Than A Survivor: An interview with Zenab

Sahiyo understands that being a survivor of female genital cutting (FGC) is just one moment of your life and only one part of who you are as a person. Oftentimes, being labeled as a survivor can prevent people from seeing a person in any other context beyond survivorship.

Our campaign, #MoreThanASurvivor, explores our individuality and shows the world what makes us unique. After all, who we are is made up of all the moments in our lives, not just one.

Interview:

Where do you live?

Udaipur, Rajasthan

Where’s the favorite place you have traveled to, lived in, or would like to visit?

Kashmir Srinagar

What are some of your passions?

When I see any injustice towards weaker sections of society l become passionate to oppose it. I am also passionate towards patriarchy and religious tyranny.

What does an average day look like for you?

Pleasantly busy  

What are some things you do for self-care? 

Regular exercise, walking, and joking with neighbors and friends  

What are five words to describe you?

Islamic feminist and human rights activist  

What are your hobbies?  

Reading, writing and cooking  

What is your profession or what career would you like to be in?

I was a university teacher.

What did you want to be when you grew up?  

An activist  

What is your favorite food?

I am non-vegetarian but I enjoy vegetarian food, as well.

What is your proudest achievement?

When received retirement 

What is a hidden talent that you possess?

Knitting and stitching 

More Than A Survivor: An interview with Aarefa

Sahiyo understands that being a survivor of female genital cutting (FGC) is just one moment of your life and only one part of who you are as a person. Oftentimes, being labeled as a survivor can prevent people from seeing a person in any other context beyond survivorship.

Our campaign, #MoreThanASurvivor, explores our individuality and shows the world what makes us unique. After all, who we are is made up of all the moments in our lives, not just one.

Interview:

Where do you live?

I live in Mumbai, India.

Where’s the favorite place you have traveled to, lived in, or would like to visit? 

In 2015, I had the opportunity to visit Islamabad, Pakistan. It was a lovely, emotional experience because of the long history between our two countries that are really just like sisters who have been separated by politics. The warmth and hospitality I received because I am an Indian made it the best trip I’ve been on.  

What are some of your passions?

Playing the violin is perhaps my biggest passion.  I started learning at the age of 22 and am still very much an amateur; but it’s something I’ll never give up! 

What does an average day look like for you?

Currently, my average day begins and ends with work, with very little time for myself, my health or my loved ones; but I’m determined to bring more balance to it. 

What are some things you do for self-care?

I’ve paid shamefully scant attention to self-care since the pandemic began; but I now intend to carve out a lot more time for exercise, mental health, music and reading. 

What are five words to describe you?

“So smart, yet so daft”, is how a lot of my friends describe me! 

What are your hobbies?

Music and reading. 

What is your profession or what career would you like to be in?

I wear two main hats.  I’m a journalist, and also an activist speaking out against female genital cutting.  

What did you want to be when you grew up?

A writer and journalist. 

What is your favorite food?

Cheese, chaat, and dairy-based desserts. 

What is your proudest achievement? 

Learning enough of the violin (despite starting at a very late age) to be given an opportunity to play in the second violin section of the amazing Bombay Chamber Orchestra. And of course, playing my part in this inspiring movement to end female genital cutting in my community, by speaking out publicly against the practice since 2011. 

What is a hidden talent that you possess? 

I can daydream for hours. Does that count? 

Dear Maasi: a new sex and relationship column for survivors of female genital cutting

Dear Maasi is a new 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,

In many Bohra families, sex is seen as a duty that a woman performs. To even have conversations about your own pleasure is so difficult. When I talked about khatna and its impact on sexuality, my mother asked me, “Why are you the only one who has a problem with this?” My question is how do you articulate this need to not just want to submit? 

—Anonymous

Dear Anonymous,

You’re addressing two powerful taboos—talking about sex and questioning women’s role in sex. Good for you! 

I think that sex-negativity and misogyny are pervasive and global, and not limited to Bohras. In other words, all around the world sex education is dismal or non-existent, and women and non-binary people learn that sex is shameful, not to be discussed, and not for our own pleasure. In a heterosexual context, we learn that sex is to be “given up” for male partners, and only after marriage.

Khatna, a form of female genital cutting and sexual trauma that is secretive and intergenerational, reinforces these ideas. I can see how it would be challenging to talk to your mother, especially if she hasn’t considered and challenged outdated notions about sexuality. 

If I were in your kitchen with you and your mom when she asked this question, I might coach you to say something like this:

“But mom, it’s not just me. I’m not the only one who is questioning this. I know this might be uncomfortable for you, but I encourage you to think more deeply about how khatna impacts us.” 

If she’s open to hearing more, you might share some research: 

—In a Sahiyo survey conducted in 2017, 35% of respondents reported that FGC had affected their sex life, and of those, 87% felt that it had been impacted negatively. 

—In a 2018 WeSpeakOut study, nearly 33% of respondents said the same. 

You might also share your personal experiences with her, but beware that learned sex-negativity can lead people to be judgemental, and Anonymous, you don’t need that. Seek out friends and others who might be supportive. Watch survivor stories.

It’s also good to correct our own sex misconceptions by collecting as much sexual health information as possible. I highly recommend Come As You Are, a book by Emily Nagoski, and Sex With Dr. Jess, a podcast that offers practical sex advice combined with good psychotherapeutic knowledge. In my last column I also recommended the Sex Gets Real podcast episode in which activist and writer Mariya Karimjee discussed her research and personal experiences with sex and dating. My recent novel, Seven, takes up issues of Bohra women’s sexuality, including infidelity, lack of orgasms, and khatna, and there’s even a scene where my protagonist tried to talk to her mother about sex.

Knowledge is power, Anonymous. And with that knowledge, you’ll be able to articulate—to yourself and others—why it’s our birthright to experience sexual pleasure.

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.

More Than A Survivor: An interview with Jenny

Sahiyo understands that being a survivor of female genital cutting (FGC) is just one moment of your life and only one part of who you are as a person. Oftentimes, being labeled as a survivor can prevent people from seeing a person in any other context beyond survivorship.

Our campaign, #MoreThanASurvivor, explores our individuality and shows the world what makes us unique. After all, who we are is made up of all the moments in our lives, not just one.

Interview:

Where do you live? 

I live in Kentucky.

Where’s the favorite place you have traveled to, lived in, or would like to visit? 

I have lived in many places. Oklahoma was probably my favorite place I lived.

What are some of your passions? 

I am passionate about my kids, about being a mom, and passionate about women’s issues. 

What does an average day look like for you? 

At this time, with Covid-19, an average day will find me homeschooling my kids during the day, and then working as a nurse several nights a week. 

What are some things you do for self-care? 

I enjoy books on tape or just sitting reading. I enjoy lighting a candle and taking a warm bath. I try to take just a few minutes to myself each day. 

What are five words to describe you?  

I am loyal, compassionate, observant, hard working and patient.

What are your hobbies? 

I enjoy hiking, reading, sewing and quilting.

What is your profession or what career would you like to be in? 

I am a registered nurse. I always wanted to be a teacher for the deaf. 

What did you want to be when you grew up? 

I wanted to be a teacher for the deaf.

What is your favorite food?

Anything sweet!

What is your proudest achievement? 

When Kentucky passed a law against FGM/C, knowing I had been a part of something that not only protected my daughters, but also other little girls, too. 

What is a hidden talent that you possess? 

I can play the piano and sing. I can read lips.

More Than A Survivor: An interview with Shehnaz

Sahiyo understands that being a survivor of female genital cutting (FGC) is just one moment of your life and only one part of who you are as a person. Oftentimes, being labeled as a survivor can prevent people from seeing a person in any other context beyond survivorship.

Our campaign, #MoreThanASurvivor, explores our individuality and shows the world what makes us unique. After all, who we are is made up of all the moments in our lives, not just one.

Interview:

Where do you live? 

Mumbai, India 

Where’s the favorite place you have travelled to, lived in, or would like to visit?

Goa traveling

What are some of your passions? 

Cardio followed by stretching

What does an average day look like for you?

I workout.

What are some things you do for self-care?

Motivating myself to make difference

What are five words to describe you?

Moody, sweet, self-absorbed, funny, hopeful

What are your hobbies?

Learn something new

What is your profession or what career would you like to be in?

I am yoga instructor.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I would like to be more self aware.

What is your favorite food?

Street food

What is your proudest achievement?

Able to finish my 21-day task

What is a hidden talent that you possess? 

Not yet found

More Than A Survivor: An interview with Shabana

Sahiyo understands that being a survivor of female genital cutting (FGC) is just one moment of your life and only one part of who you are as a person. Oftentimes, being labeled as a survivor can prevent people from seeing a person in any other context beyond survivorship.

Our campaign, #MoreThanASurvivor, explores our individuality and shows the world what makes us unique. After all, who we are is made up of all the moments in our lives, not just one.

Interview:

Where do you live?

The Kingdom of Bahrain

Where’s the favorite place you have traveled to, lived in, or would like to visit? 

I would love to visit New Zealand. It looks like a beautiful place to explore. 

What are some of your passions? 

Traveling, writing, reading, soft sciences, art, health and fitness, and caring for animals.

What does an average day look like for you? 

I wake up, journal, do a workout, shower, start work (from home) running my creative agency, wind down with family or a good book in the evening, play with my cat, journal, meditate, sleep. Throw in a zillion cups of coffee.

What are some things you do for self-care? 

I workout, take a steam in our bathroom-turned-into-a-sauna at home, read, journal, meditate, get a facial and a massage when salons were open.

What are five words to describe you? 

Content, peaceful, loving, passionate, eccentric.

What are your hobbies? 

Gardening, reading, sketching, listening to music

What is your profession or what career would you like to be in?

I am the founder and managing director of a creative agency, a freelance group fitness instructor, and a published author. 

What did you want to be when you grew up? 

It varied from ballet dancer to some sort of writer or artist, to a job in marketing.

What is your favorite food?

Thai cuisine

What is your proudest achievement? 

Not conforming to society and living life the way I want to

What is a hidden talent that you possess? 

Healing others through meditation

More Than A Survivor: An interview with Samina

Sahiyo understands that being a survivor of female genital cutting (FGC) is just one moment of your life and only one part of who you are as a person. Oftentimes, being labeled as a survivor can prevent people from seeing a person in any other context beyond survivorship.

Our campaign, #MoreThanASurvivor, explores our individuality and shows the world what makes us unique. After all, who we are is made up of all the moments in our lives, not just one.

Interview:

Where do you live?

Amchi, Mumbai!

Where’s the favorite place you have traveled to, lived in or would like to visit?

It’s this place in Himachal Pradesh called Kalpa, Narkanda & Naldehra. I have been to these places and must say, it’s heaven on earth; and one more place which is my favourite is on the outskirts of Bangalore. It’s a farmhouse called LUSH.

What are some of your passions?

Traveling, especially road trips are my favorite.

I love visiting/exploring places which are not tourist spots.

I am a passionate biker (Royal Enfield) and I love driving, too (Mahindra Thar Jeep)

Any form of adventure is welcome!

What does an average day look like for you?

A normal weekday starts at 5.30am…First it’s a 10-minute meditation followed by surya namaskar.

Then it’s kids’ school lunch prep and sending them off to school, followed by cooking and breakfast!

10am I am ready to leave for work.

Back home by 4:30-5 p.m.

Some me time and then kids’ studies, walk for 20 minutes, past 9 p.m. it’s no gadget time, then dinner for kids and post their sleep, it’s dinner and the day ends by 11p.m., off to bed post 11:30-12 

What are some things you do for self care?

Self care was never my priority until some months back!

But now self care is my priority. Meditation, walk, me time, break from the routine once a month, salads in my diet, learned to say NO when required (This is the best self care to do.)

What are five words to describe you?

Patient, emotional, people person, multitasker, and  I am who I am with everyone and everywhere; there is no mask behind my smile (I won’t and can’t change to fit in at places for people.)

What are your hobbies?

My hobbies are my passion but include reading and I enjoy making creatives for posts (for anyone, any topic)

What is your profession or what career would you like to be in?

Currently I work at Bombay Trophies as the marketing and customization head and handling of all corporate clients. But the career I would love to be in is as an event organiser.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

Too many career options I had, and every stage they changed. But if I had to say my very first thought as a child of what I wanted to be when I grew up was to be a journalist who would organise events, too!

What is your favourite food?

I am a foodie good with everything!

What is your proudest achievement?

Being a super mom with three Kids and multitasking, work, home and my passions

What is a hidden talent that you possess?

No one cannot love me once they meet me. 

But if I said it, it wouldn’t be a hidden talent any more! Honestly, I don’t know. I need to find this one out!

More Than A Survivor: An interview with Saleha

Sahiyo understands that being a survivor of female genital cutting (FGC) is just one moment of your life and only one part of who you are as a person. Oftentimes, being labeled as a survivor can prevent people from seeing a person in any other context beyond survivorship.

Our campaign, #MoreThanASurvivor, explores our individuality and shows the world what makes us unique. After all, who we are is made up of all the moments in our lives, not just one.

Interview:

Where do you live?

I currently reside in Hyderabad, India.

Where’s the favorite place you have traveled to, lived in, or would like to visit?

Ever since I watched the movie Under the Tuscan Sun, I have been dreaming to visit or maybe live in Tuscany, Italy. 

What are some of your passions?

Music is my biggest salvation, and I have been working hard to make a career out of it. 

What does an average day look like for you?

If it isn’t a holiday, my day begins with some cuddles from my cats followed by office work. A major part of my day goes into brainstorming about new music!

What are some things you do for self-care?

I make sure to detox once a week and also indulge in some skincare routine. Oh, I love cooking, as it is quite therapeutic to me.

What are five words to describe you?

It is difficult to say as we as humans keep on changing for good. 

What are your hobbies?

I love reading books and binge-watching series on Netflix.

What is your profession or what career would you like to be in?

I am a Content Developer at an International School, currently. I want to see myself as an established musician and also start an NGO that works towards girls’ education.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

So many things, but I am on my way to be what I have always dreamt the most to be!

What is your favorite food?

Chicken, spaghetti and pizza

What is a hidden talent that you possess?

Oh, I recently discovered that I not only love cooking, but am good at it!

More Than A Survivor: An interview with Sakina

Sahiyo understands that being a survivor of female genital cutting (FGC) is just one moment of your life and only one part of who you are as a person. Oftentimes, being labeled as a survivor can prevent people from seeing a person in any other context beyond survivorship.

Our campaign, #MoreThanASurvivor, explores our individuality and shows the world what makes us unique. After all, who we are is made up of all the moments in our lives, not just one.

Interview:

Where do you live?

I live in Texas.

Where’s the favorite place you have traveled to, lived in, or would like to visit?

My favorite place I have traveled to is Portugal. 

What are some of your passions?

I like listening to podcasts and walking.

What does an average day look like for you?

My average day is very average. I get up, have coffee with my husband, take care of the dogs, work, have dinner, chat with family and friends on the phone, watch some TV with my husband, and then go back to bed.

What are some things you do for self-care?

Get up late and watch mindless TV

What are five words to describe you?

Loyal, pragmatic, hardworking, thinker, and introverted

What are your hobbies?

Walking. Netflix.

What is your profession or what career would you like to be in?

I am a lawyer.

What did you want to be when you grew up? 

I grew up in a traditional Bohra family, where dreams were limited to having a good marriage and a family.

What is your favorite food?

Pani puri and pizza

What is your proudest achievement?

I am a work in progress.

What is a hidden talent that you possess?

I have not discovered it yet.

More Than A Survivor: An interview with Renee

Sahiyo understands that being a survivor of female genital cutting (FGC) is just one moment of your life and only one part of who you are as a person. Oftentimes, being labeled as a survivor can prevent people from seeing a person in any other context beyond survivorship.

Our campaign, #MoreThanASurvivor, explores our individuality and shows the world what makes us unique. After all, who we are is made up of all the moments in our lives, not just one.

Interview:

Where do you live?

I live in Lanesboro, Minnesota.

Where’s the favorite place you have traveled to, lived in, or would like to visit? 

My favorite places that I have traveled to are New Zealand, Kenya, South Africa, Alaska and United States National Parks.

What are some of your passions?

I am passionate about ending female genital mutilation and racist policies in our country, as well as spending time with our grandchildren.

What does an average day look like for you?

An average day starts with a glass of cold water, a cup of tea, Nordic nut bread, hand exercises, yoga, a good breakfast including Aronia berries, weeding the garden or working on an art project, cooking vegetarian meals, reading books, bicycling five to fifteen miles on the bike trail, visiting a friend, and helping my husband with his projects.

What are some things you do for self-care?

My self-care regimen includes good nutrition, exercise, relaxation, philosophical discussions, walks in nature, regular bedtime and 8-9 hours sleep each night.

What are five words to describe you?

Five words to describe me: artistic, athletic, energetic, compassionate and curious.

What are your hobbies?

My hobbies include gardening, weaving, watercolor painting, knitting, jigsaw puzzles, and playing board games.

What is your profession or what career would you like to be in?

I am retired from my profession as a Patient Education Specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

As a little girl I herded cattle on horseback, and wanted to be a cowgirl all my life. As a teenager, I wanted to be a chemical engineer when I grew up.

What is your favorite food?

My favorite food is salmon, wild rice, kale salad and peach pie.

What is your proudest achievement? 

My proudest achievement was obtaining my doctoral degree in education and leadership.

What is a hidden talent that you possess?

A hidden talent that I possess is baking great bread and pies.