A reflection on Sahiyo’s virtual U.S. Activists’ Retreat

By Anonymous

The aim of Sahiyo’s third annual Activists’ Retreat in the United States was to continue to work toward building a network of U.S.-based Bohra activists against female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) by strengthening relationships with one another, sharing best practices, and providing tools for activists to utilize in their advocacy work moving forward. Below, a participant shares their experience from the virtual Activists’ Retreat.

Why did you want to attend the virtual retreat?

The main reason was because I had attended the in-person retreat in 2019. I made it a goal to keep attending. In 2020, I was planning on going to the in-person one. I wanted to participate. I have a personal experience with FGM/C. It was kind of a big deal that I attended in 2019 and it was quite eye opening. There was a lot about the issue I didn’t really know or understand and going was quite an experience in a good way, in a positive way, and I just wanted more. It was definitely something I want to continue to learn about. Apart from my own experience, I don’t know much about it as far as facts and figures are concerned, tangible facts. It was very helpful. It was interesting to understand. It was an emotional rollercoaster. There’s so much more to do and learn. 

What have you learned or most enjoyed at the virtual retreat?

The biggest thing I enjoyed was seeing all these new people. I was proud to see so many more people join this. I had an idea that a lot more people were going to join. But seeing so many people attend and engage was really nice. It was really cool to see people not let the virtual aspect of it simmer everything down. Newer people were still engaging and wanting to learn more about it. Men joined this time, and it was cool to see them engage and ask questions and try to understand. It’s never something that people talk about within our own age group.

How and why are you involved in the movement to end FGC?

To be totally honest, I am still trying to figure out the how part. Maybe it’s part of my personality. I get very overwhelmed by so many things. Just the fact that I attended the retreat and I’m so glad I didgoing there was a huge step for me, in general. As much as I enjoyed it, I was able to participate in something I hadn’t before. Toward the end, I felt like I could do a little bit more. I attended the retreat with friends and there was more confidence to participate in something like the retreat because we had a level of comfort. And we all agree that a group like Sahiyo is doing good work.

How do you think this virtual retreat will inform your work as an individual and/or activist?  

It definitely showed us that it’s a lot easier to connect with more people this way. One thing I noted after the in-person oneI know that they had calls after the in-person retreat. Attending this virtual retreat, you definitely don’t have an excuse to not interact or reach out to people who attended. In that sense, it was encouraging to see that people were in completely different parts of the country and we could attend. We’d never met before and interacted in person. I wish that we had more time. Action planning was really informative.

What work are you doing currently or hoping to do in the future?

I think the most immediate thing that I feel like I could do, and I had offered to participate in that part as well. We have physicians in our family and I know 100 percent that they would advocate against FGM and we were trying to figure out how to put together a network of physicians and informing or coming up with informational texts to [explain] what happens with your body. Most people I know who have undergone it, just plain and simple [don’t know] the effects of it. My reaching out to some of the physicians of our family to help out with that is an immediate goal. I know some people that are my age. We’ve briefly spoken on the subject and I would really like them to join the next retreat. These couple of things are things I could actually do something about. 

Have you attended a Sahiyo retreat in the past, and, if so, what was it like to attend this virtual activist retreat in comparison to the in-person retreat?

The virtual retreat went a lot better than I expected. It’s so easy to mute yourself and turn your video off versus to participate. There was way more participation than I expected and good conversations. I still think the in-person one made me feel like you are part of this community. There was a sentiment there that everyone was sharing and the organizers, the way they set it upit wasn’t super formal. People were comfortable and friendly. Just the experience of it was very comforting and safe; and I think that made a really big difference overall for the weekend. They did this over the virtual retreat, too, and they did what they could, and that was very well appreciated.

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.

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.