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.