Sahiyo staff join panel on FGM/C with Drexel University faculty and students

On March 29th, Sahiyo’s Development Assistant Sarrah Hussain and Programs Intern Catherine Cox were invited to speak at a panel discussion on female genital mutilation/ cutting (FGM/C). 

Hosted in partnership with the UNICEF Unite Club at Drexel University, this panel featured three other speakers: Mark Woodland, M.D., activist Cecirahim Sesay, and activist Nera Fernando. Dr. Woodland is a professor and chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Drexel University College of Medicine. He serves on several committees and advisory groups at the Institute for Women’s Health and Leadership. Fernando is a student at Drexel University from Sri Lanka who offered her insight from a social perspective, exploring the underlying causes of FGM/C, and what it is like living in a community where FGM/C is the norm. Finally, Sesay is also a student at Drexel University and a health-equity activist who offered her personal insight into the underlying causes of the FGM/C and community norms. 

Combined, this panel of amazing speakers explored the health consequences of FGM/C, living in practicing communities, and how people can become better activists and allies in empowering communities to end the practice. 

Dr. Woodland explained the medical effects of FGM/C and its global prevalence. Next, Sesay and Fernando used their personal stories to explore the social norms that underpin the practice. Finally, Hussain and Cox from Sahiyo explored Sahiyo’s work and activism in the past, giving the audience a framework for their own activism. They highlighted the concrete steps everyone can take in their day-to-day lives to become better advocates in ending FGM/C. Panelists took audience questions that ranged from the history of law in the United States around the issue, the role that culture plays, and how the people in the audience can take concrete steps toward activism. 

Overall, the panel was an eye-opening exploration of the many issues and concepts surrounding FGM/C and the movement to abandon the practice. 

If you are interested in having a member of Sahiyo speak at an event at your institution, please email our team: info@sahiyo.com. You can also fill out our request for an outreach presentation form at https://sahiyo.com/community-outreach/.

Using Storytelling to Shift Social Norms and Prevent FGM/C: Event Reflection

By Cate Cox

Sahiyo was honored to join StoryCenter to host the webinar, “Using Storytelling to Shift Social Norms and Prevent FGM/C,” during a parallel event for the 65th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women on March 16th. 

Sahiyo and StoryCenter staff had the opportunity to introduce the collaborative Voices to End FGM/C project, which centers on storytelling by survivors and those affected by female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) as a tool to challenge social norms that perpetuate the practice. 

From outlining the storytelling process to hearing from the participants themselves, the parallel event offered an in-depth exploration of the power that storytelling has to heal and create change on a global scale. 

Mariya Taher, a co-founder of Sahiyo and the U.S. Executive Director began by giving the audience an introduction to Sahiyo’s work and the Voices project. Next, the co-founder of StoryCenter’s Silence Speaks program, Amy Hill, explored the methodology behind the Voices project, and why storytelling in general can have such a big impact on individuals, communities, and policy. 

Former Voices participants Aarefa Johari, Severina Lemachokoti, Sunshine Bayor, Zehra Patwa, and Maryum Saifee shared their experiences with the project. Both organizations introduced three new storytellers: Absa Samba, Hunter Kessous, and Somaya Abdelrahman. After watching their amazing Voices videos which will be released in May, each participant had the chance to answer a few questions about their experiences and their plans for moving forward. Panelists emphasized the importance of survivor-centered advocacy, mental health, and trauma services for survivors, as well as encouraged the audience to become involved in advocacy.    

A Chorus of Voices by Aarefa Johari

Panelists also answered select audience questions about their work and experiences of creating their videos. Intimate and brave, the panelists opened up about their fears of backlash and the ways that their videos still impact them. Both organzations shared resources with the audience to further educate themselves about the work Sahiyo and Storycenter are doing and to learn more about the Voices to End FGM/C project. 

“Using Storytelling to Shift Social Norms and Prevent FGM/C” was an ode to the power storytelling has to empower communities to abandon FGC and support survivors’ healing. It also highlighted the amazing work everyone at Sahiyo and StoryCenter are doing in their own capacity to advocate for women’s rights and shined a light on the often-overlooked work being done by grassroots organizations across the world. 

Watch the recording of this event.

To learn more about Sahiyo’s work, Sahiyo staff will be hosting a webinar in partnership with The US End FGM/C Network and the Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence on April 15th, at 2:30 pm EST over Zoom. Learn more about how to register.

The End FGM European Network hosts webinar: “Addressing female genital mutilation while leaving no one behind”

By Madrisha Debnath

The End FGM European Network hosted a webinar titled, “Addressing female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) while leaving no one behind,” to discuss FGM/C and the framework of intersectionality in February. The speakers of the event included Helena Dalli, EU Commissioner for Equality; Aïda Yancy, an LGBTQ+ feminist, anti-racist activist currently working at RainbowHouse Brussels and an expert on FGM/C; Hadeel Elshak, Youth Ambassador of End FGM European Network; and Sietske Steneker, UNFPA Brussels Director.

Keynote speaker Dalli addressed the data regarding FGM/C among the European Union member countries. According to the European Institute for Gender Equality, 600,000 to 900,000 women and girls are at risk of FGM/C in thirteen European countries alone. The European Commission is working to end the practice of FGM/C with an intersectional approach. Working with ground level activists, community-based workers and survivors to understand the different ways in which each woman is affected is crucial toward encouraging the abandonment of the practice. Avoiding stigmatisation, racism, and xenophobia is imperative for ending gender-based violence and structural inequality.

Yancy explained the concept of intersectionality originating from Black Feminist Theory. The term was coined by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw (1989) in her seminal work, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics.” Intersectionality happens when a person is at the crossroads of more than one systematic oppression. The marginalized people who are standing at the crossroads, for example, a black woman or a woman of colour, is not only facing racism and sexism, but is subjected to something bigger that comprises the effect of both sexism and racism. Intersectionality doesn’t mean simply adding the systemic oppression that a person is facing. Rather, it means that the effect is cumulative instead of being additive since these categories of oppression are not mutually exclusive. Intersectionality is more than a concept; it’s a tool to identify issues of access for marginalized people. Since social institutions work in a single lane fashion, recognising oppressions exclusive of one another by using intersectionality as a tool will help to identify social issues.

Elshak talked about her identities of being black, woman, Muslim, Sudanese, young, and of the first generation to be living in United Kingdom, as well as how her multiple identities have shaped her everyday experiences. She shared her experiences of forming the “Youth Engagement Manifesto: Tackling FGM in Europe- Strategies for Effective Engagement of Youth from FGM-affected communities.” She talked about how, in being young, she has disrupted the general notion of older people being wiser, and made her opinion known in advocating against FGM/C.

Steneker presented the report on the state of the world population on harmful practices titled, “Against My Will: Defying the Practices that Harm Women and Girls and Undermine Equality,” by the United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA) that include nineteen different types of harmful practices, including virginity testing, child marriage, breast ironing, body modifications, female genital cutting, and other harmful practices controlling women’s bodies and sexualities. According to the report, over 200 million girls and women have undergone some form of genital cutting. An estimated 52 million women and girls worldwide have undergone the practice performed by medical practitioners, doctors, nurses or midwives. Girls who are forced into marriage as children may also be survivors of FGM/C or are at a higher risk. Everyday an average of 33,000 girls are being forced into marriage.

Watch “Addressing female genital mutilation while leaving no one behind.”

Four women who were pivotal to the movement to end female genital cutting

By Megan Maxwell

The movement to end female genital cutting (FGC) has been in effect starting as far back as the latter half of the 19th century through the voices, writing, and research of women who have worked for the rights of women and girls. FGC is present in 92 countries. In honor of Women’s History Month, Sahiyo is honoring four women from Egypt, India, Senegal, and Austria who changed the world for women and girls.

Nawal El Saadawi & her brutal honesty

Nawal El Saadawi, a doctor, feminist and writer, who was born in a community outside of Cairo, Egypt, was a survivor of FGC. She campaigned against FGC and for the rights of women and girls throughout her life. She started by speaking out against her family’s preconceived notions about the trajectory of a girl’s life and then used her voice to condemn FGC and women’s rights abuses through her books. 

She wrote many books including The Hidden Face of Eve, a powerful account of brutality against women, and saw women live those realities detailed in the book within the communities in which she worked as a medical doctor. She was a crusader but her work was banned. She was imprisoned and suffered death threats. Through her work, she championed for the rights of girls and women globally for decades. She died on March 21st at 89 years old

Rehana Ghadially & All for Izzat

In 1991, Rehana Ghadially wrote an article entitled All for Izzat in which she examined the prevalence of female genital cutting and its justification. For this article, she interviewed about 50 Bohra women and found the three most common reasons given for FGC: it is a religious obligation; it is a tradition; and it is done to curb a girl’s sexuality. 

Through these interviews, Ghadially revealed that the procedure of FGC was anything but symbolic. “The girl’s circumcision has been kept an absolute secret not only from outsiders but from the men of the community,” she said.

Ghadially experienced FGC when she was very young. Her research allowed her to share with the world the reality of what Bohra girls and women go through as a result of FGC.        

Ndéye Maguette Diop & the Malicounda Bambara community

The community of Malicounda Bambara in Senegal, West Africa, was substantially influenced by the Community Empowerment Program (CEP): a program established by Tostan that engages communities in their languages on themes of democracy, human rights (including female genital cutting), health, literacy, and project management skills. In July of 1997, the CEP empowered the women of Malicounda Bambara to announce the first-ever public declaration to abandon female genital cutting to the world. Ndéye Maguette Diop was the facilitator for the CEP in Malicounda Bambara. She guided them through the program, which is designed to not pass judgment on the practice, but simply to provide information regarding FGC and its health risks.

Diop used theater, a traditional mode of African communication and arts, as a means to better facilitate the exchange of ideas. “The women didn’t have any knowledge of these rights beforehand and had never spoken of FGC between themselves,” Diop said. As the result of reenacting a play, these women started to talk about FGC frequently with Diop and she said they “decided to speak about the harmful consequences on women’s health caused by the practice with their ‘adoptive sisters’ [a component of the CEP], as well as with their husbands.” 

Thanks to Diop, the conversation on FGC was opened up to the women of Malicounda Bambara. They took it upon themselves to investigate within their community until they concluded that the practice should be abandoned.

Fran Hosken & her ideas of global sisterhood

In 1975, Fran Hosken began writing her newsletter, Women’s International Network News where she reported on the status of women and women’s rights around the globe. The tagline for her newsletter was, “All the news that is fit to print by, for & about women,” and it featured regular sections on Women and Development, Women and Health, Women and Violence, and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Every issue of her newsletter had a section on FGM, including names and addresses for her subscribers to get more information on activities surrounding FGC around the world. Hosken was an American feminist and writer, but she was very involved in the livelihoods of women and girls around the globe.
Her newsletter became popular for its research into female genital cutting and she ended up writing The Hosken Report: Genital and Sexual Mutilation of Females in 1979. In her book, she reports on the health facts, history, The World Health Organization’s Seminar in Khartoum, The Politics of FGM: a Conspiracy of Silence, Actions for Change, Statistics, Economic Facts, and case histories from several African and Asian Countries as well as the western world. Fran Hosken’s writing and research were extremely influential in the movement to end female genital cutting and continues to be in the modern movement.

Everyone’s Responsibility: Discussing the Role Male Allies Play In Preventing Female Genital Cutting

By Cate Cox

Sahiyo held the a February webinar, Everyone’s Responsibility: Discussing the Role Male Allies Play In Preventing Female Genital Cutting (FGC). This webinar provided the opportunity to hear from four speakers Jeremiah Kipainoi, Khadijah Abdullah, Tony Mwebia, and Hatim Amiji moderated by Murtaza Kapasi about the role men play in ending FGC. From direct action to research to personal conversations, this webinar explored the many ways in which men can involve themselves and women can work to involve men in empowering communities to abandon FGC.     

Mariya Taher, Sahiyo co-founder and the U.S. Executive Director, gave the audience an introduction to Sahiyo’s many programs. Next, Kapasi, founder of Bhaiyo, took us through his work and the motivation for starting Bhaiyo. Bhaiyo is Sahiyo’s groundbreaking new male ally program that seeks to encourage men to become involved in conversations about FGC. After a short introduction to our panelist’s work, and a screening of Amiji’s Voices to End FGM/C Film Listen, the Q&A portion of the event was initiated.. 

Panelists answered questions about their work, the important role men play in ending FGC, and some challenges they have faced along the way. Our panelists explored how many men are often unaware of the multi-layered impacts of FGC on women and communities, and how FGC is often tied to patriarchal violence. “It’s important that more men kind of speak up about this, and join us, because they can be an ally to prevent this happening to women and girls,” panelist Abdullah said.

At the end of the webinar, the audience had the opportunity to ask the panelists questions about their experience and knowledge. Questions included asking how the panelists’ experiences as brothers and sons of women who have undergone FGC, and how male partners can play a role in helping their wives and girlfriends have safe and pleasurable sex. Once audience member astutely asked about the connection between gender-based violence and FGC. “The deadline to end FGM/C is 2030, but there is no deadline to end patriarchy,” Mwebia said. While we do need to work to fight FGC, it is also important to understand how it is connected to the larger system of violence against women and girls. 

Everyone’s Responsibility: Discussing the Role Male Allies Play In Preventing Female Genital Cutting (FGC) explored the roles that men play in empowering communities to abandon FGC and how people can all work to empower men to have these conversations. It was a reminder that ending FGC is everyone’s responsibility.

Watch the recording of this event.  

Read the transcript.  

In the Name of Your Daughter: A film for change

By Sandra Yu

Healthy Tomorrow hosted a film screening and panel discussion of In the Name of Your Daughter, filmed and directed by Giselle Portenier and released in 2018. The featured speakers of the panel last fall were Portenier, herself, and Susan McLucas, founder of Healthy Tomorrow. Healthy Tomorrow (in partnership with Sini Sanuman) is a U.S.-based group that actively works to stop female genital cutting (FGC) in Mali. A notable Sahiyo volunteer and former programs intern, Hunter Kessous, was involved in the event planning, as well.

The documentary is a deeply intimate piece about young girls in Tanzania who bear the societal pressure to undergo FGC. Following the stories of several young girls in Tanzania and a charismatic African activist, Rhobi Samwelly, the audience is taken on an emotional journey into the heartbreaking circumstances in which daughters flee their families to escape FGC and their planned child marriages.

For me, the topic of FGC was not unfamiliar, but I had always read medical analyses and journal articles that characterized the girls’ bodies by their body parts. To watch the film and hear firsthand from filmmaker Portenier and activist Susan McLucas was eye-opening. I believe the film succeeded beyond expectations.

In the highly divisive rhetoric of anti-FGC activists against cultural traditionalists, Portenier presents the complexities of fighting against an ingrained tradition in detail. Most notably, she wedges parental authority against legal authority. In one scene, the school authorities and police receive notice that parents are preparing for cutting season, the summer months of June, July, and August when thousands of girls in Tanzania undergo FGC from traditional community cutters. Gathered in a small classroom, the local police, schoolteachers, and activists face off with parents. They go head-to-head, arguing about who has the authority to determine their fates. Tears flow, and it is a heartbreaking scene; the parents must decide between a heavily ingrained cultural tradition and the wellbeing of their daughters, while the young girls decide whether they can trust their very own families.

The second front that I believe Portenier succeeds on is to elicit a heart-wrenching response from the audience on behalf of the young girls. She presents a heart-wrenching juxtaposition between the girls’ perceived social roles and their own autonomous dreams. In the initial scenes, we are taken with Samwelly to a community market as she asks men about their beliefs regarding marriage, FGC, and women. One man pointed to the cows surrounding them and commented. “A cut girl is worth ten to twelve cows,” he said. “An uncut girl is worth six cows, sometimes less.” Another man chimed in, “I am an entrepreneur,” he said. “My business comes from selling cloths and items for the ceremonies. If you stop FGC, you are infringing on my rights as an entrepreneur.” 

Throughout the film, young girls are constantly compared to their marriage value or dowry worth in cows, and criticized for promiscuity or uncleanliness. In the last scene, we see a montage of young girls, each with a dream. One wants to become a doctor, another an aerospace pilot. As Portenier commented in the panel discussion after the screening, a human rights perspective is needed in fighting FGC above all else. When the girls realize their autonomy and impact of FGC on their bodies, they instinctively flee because it is an infringement upon their human rights. 

On that note, Portenier makes the violence of the tradition crystal clear. In the film, she juxtaposes the stunning Tanzanian landscape, fields extending far past what the eye can see, with the intense night-time raids, as police rescue girls about to undergo FGC and arrest parents and cutters. Beyond the immediate physiological and psychological trauma, young girls that undergo FGC may hemorrhage or bleed heavily to the point of death. Long-lasting effects include problems with childbirth, pain during sexual intercourse, and sexual dysfunction. Additionally, arresting parents may not be effective for long-term change, as it is not to the benefit of the child in many cases and the girls will likely still be cut. Immediate family members can oversee the cutting without parental permission or in the case of the parents’ imprisonment.

By the end of the film, the audience is left heartbroken for the young girls, forced to make a life-changing decision between their families and their autonomy. Portenier ends on a positive note, highlighting Rhobi’s incredible work, including the Safe House built to house runaway girls. I do wish that she touched more on the relationship between FGC, traditions, and religion, as well as the growing medicalization trend of FGC being performed by healthcare providers. However, in the 1 hour and 25 minutes, In the Name of Your Daughter does a phenomenal job of drawing in and mobilizing the audience. 

After the film screening, McLucas and Portenier discussed the impact of COVID-19 on activists’ efforts. The situation has worsened as families are selling daughters off into marriage at larger numbers due to the economic crisis in Tanzania. While the activists’ previous strategy involved law enforcement, largely through school involvement and night raids, the families have adapted. Cutting season comprises a full year potentially and schools are closed, leaving many girls vulnerable to the tradition. McLucas, whose work is focused on ending FGC in Mali, lamented that it is increasingly difficult to investigate potential cuttings. However, her organization’s strategy now focuses primarily on ensuring that uncut women gain value within their own societies. The task is daunting, to change the minds of a generation and more, but the activists in Tanzania are making an impact. The Safehouse, developed by Samwelly, has saved more than 300 girls so far, and continues to house girls in their time of need.

To learn more about FGC in Tanzania:

https://www.unfpa.org/news/girls-escaping-fgm-rural-tanzania-crowdsourced-maps-show-way-safety

https://tanzania.unfpa.org/en/publications/fact-sheet-fgm-united-republic-tanzania

About the film:

Below is Rhobi Samwelly speaking at a United Nations’ panel in 2018:

Sahiyo and StoryCenter to host parallel session at the 65th Commission on the Status of Women meetings

On March 16th, 10:30 am EST, Sahiyo and StoryCenter will be hosting the parallel session webinar, “Using Storytelling to Shift Social Norms and Prevent FGM/C,” at the 65th session of the Commission on the Status of Women meetings. 

At this event, we will introduce our collaborative Voices to End FGM/C project, which centers on storytelling by survivors and those affected by female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) as a tool to challenge social norms that perpetuate the practice. Using a combination of didactic presentation, audience participation, and short videos, we will explore the theoretical underpinnings of the Voices Project, highlight the success of our digital storytelling workshops, and share how the project has supported women in their healing journey and furthered efforts to prevent future generations of girls from enduring this form of gender-based violence. 

Sure to be an eye-opening exploration of one of StoryCenter’s and Sahiyo’s most impactful and transformative programs, “Using Storytelling to Shift Social Norms and Prevent FGM/C” is open to all who wish to attend. 

In order to attend the event, please follow these registrations steps:

  1. Register to attend and become a CSW advocate on the NGO CSW65 virtual platform here. Registration is free.
  1. Once your registration is confirmed, you can log on to the virtual platform
  1. Navigate to the Agenda page by hovering over the “Schedule” heading in the top navigation bar of the NGO CSW65 virtual platform website and choosing “Agenda”.
  1. Once you are on the Agenda page, choose “Tuesday, March 16th” from the dates listed at the top of the page. When you reach the page that lists all of the events happening on Tuesday, March 16th, scroll down to the 10:30 am time slot. 
  1. Find our event titled “Using Storytelling to Shift Social Norms and Prevent FGM/C.” Click on the ‘plus’ button in the right hand corner of the event description. The platform will automatically add our event to your CSW65 agenda.
  1. You can add our event directly to your calendar by going to the event page and choosing “add to my calendar.”
  1. On the day of the event, just click on the link to our event on your agenda, or find the event again by following steps 1-4. 

You can also watch this short video on YouTube with a step-by-step tutorial of how to register on the NGO CSW65 virtual platform and find events!

Sahiyo partners with GirlUp ESCP for virtual event

On February 2nd, Sahiyo partnered with GirlUp ESCP for their inaugural event to present an introductory overview of the issues surrounding female genital cutting (FGC), and educate their community on what they can do in their individual lives to help empower communities to abandon FGC. ESCP is an internationally recognized university located across Europe whose main focus is on business education. This branch of GirlUp is made up of student leaders and activities from the ESCP school who are passionate about women’s rights and empowering girls.  

This educational and informational event began with a PowerPoint presentation and a screening of a select few of the Voices to End FGM/C videos. These videos helped to give context and personal connection to the often overwhelming statistics about FGC. They also helped to highlight some of the most pressing issues facing survivors, such as medical stigma, community ostracization, and the prejudices coming from non-survivors and people who do not come from practicing communities. These videos helped us to demonstrate the global scope of FGC and the diversity of experiences of survivors. 

The event also gave participants information and tools to help them in their advocacy, including linking them to local organizations focusing on this issue in their area. The participants in this training left with a better, more comprehensive understanding of the issue and with the tools to immediately involve themselves in activism around FGC.

At the end of our presentation, our guests had the opportunity to have their questions answered by Sahiyo co-founder Mariya Taher. 

Trainings like this one are incredibly important as they help to dispel the negative stereotypes that surround FGC and help all people become more enlightened and conscious activists. When done well, education can be a life-changing tool not only to address negative stereotypes, but to empower all communities to end FGC and gender-based violence. Presentations like these are just the start of a lifelong journey to understand how and why FGC happens, and what we all can do about it. 

If you are interested in hosting a presentation such as this one at your institution, please email our team: info@sahiyo.com.

Your questions answered: Moving Towards Sexual Pleasure and Emotional Healing After Female Genital Cutting

Last fall Sahiyo partnered with three award-winning and talented speakers Farzana Doctor, Sarian Karim-Kamara, and Joanna Vergoth to host Moving Towards Sexual Pleasure and Emotional Healing After Female Genital Cutting (FGC). During this webinar, we had the opportunity to hear from these speakers about the mental and emotional consequences of female genital cutting (FGC), how FGC can impact sexuality, and how survivors may be working toward healing. Our guests had a lot of questions for our speakers, some of which we were not able to answer during the webinar. Nevertheless, we felt these questions and their answers were important to share. 

Below you will find the answers licensed psychotherapist Joanna Vergoth graciously answered for our guests. If your question is not addressed below, you may find it answered later in the recorded portions provided by Sarian Karim-Kamara on the Sahiyo YouTube page or on the Dear Maasi page. 

Joanna Vergoth’s responses to participants’ questions:    

  1. Do you have any strategies for breaking the taboo around FGM/C and how community-based organizations can work directly with community members to end the practice in the U.S.?  

Silence regarding FGM/C perpetuates the practice so it is important to find a way to broach the subject sensitively in order to encourage conversation. And, when working with community members, it is advisable to identify and recruit folks who support the abandonment of this practice in order to create dialogues that can help persuade proponents of the practice to reconsider their position. Also, sponsoring a community event that focuses on women’s health and well-being can provide an opening for discussion. In addition, showing a film about FGM/C, such as “Desert Flower,” or “The Cruel Cut,” can also open hearts and minds.

  1. Is part of the healing process ever confronting the person who betrayed you?

Betrayal trauma occurs when the people a person depends on for survival significantly violate that person’s trust or well-being. It is understandable, then, that being cut by a trusted family member can have lifelong consequences with powerful emotions that can be difficult to process. 

Confronting the person who betrayed you can provide psychologically healing relief if your feelings are acknowledged and respected and if the ensuing conversation supports an honest discussion. However, every situation is unique and not everyone will feel the need or desire for confrontation. One can heal without confrontation. It all depends on the individual survivor and her particular circumstances. 

  1. I hope you can answer this question, please. Is it normal to not feel any impact by FGM? I am Iraqi and had FGM when I was around 7. I have no memories of this. I don’t have problems climaxing, and I am worried I may be blocking all of this out but I have no recollection of this at all.

Although post-traumatic stress symptoms can remain in remission for years, I don’t think you should think you have a problem because you can’t remember undergoing FGM. There are many women who do not remember their FGM/C [experience]. And, FGM/C is not necessarily an impediment to sexual function. In fact, many women report that they have no difficulties experiencing orgasm.  

  1. How do you offer community support to white women who have survived FGC from surviving cults, since their experience is different from women of color who may have community/cultural support?

Unfortunately, I do not know of any community support for Caucasian FGC survivors who have also survived cults. Here is the first link and the second link of resources for cult survivors. Hopefully, these women may be able to find support and other FGC affected survivors

  1. Any experience with sexuality after clitoral restoration?

The procedure, often called clitoral reconstruction or restoration, is viewed with caution by some medical experts. The World Health Organization says that while there are some promising reports that the operation may relieve pain, there is not yet enough evidence of safety and effectiveness. The organization advises against raising unrealistic expectations, especially for women seeking sexual improvement. However, that being said, a recent systematic review evaluated the effects of reconstructive surgery. The results indicate that about three women out of four regain a visible clitoris. Self-reported improvements in pain during sex, clitoral function/pleasure, orgasm, and desire are in the 43– 63% range; but up to 22% reported a worsening in sexual outcomes.  It is important to remember that female sexuality is a complex integration of biological, physiological, psychological, sociocultural, and interpersonal factors that contribute to a combined experience of physical, emotional, and relational satisfaction.  And within this combination of factors, every woman is uniquely different.

Hear about one FGM/C survivor’s successful experience of her clitoral restoration surgery.

Art, Activism, And Healing: Reflecting on our conversation around female genital cutting

By Cate Cox

On January 19th, Sahiyo held the webinar, Art, Activism, And Healing: In Conversation Around Female Genital Cutting (FGC). During this webinar, we had the opportunity to hear from four speakers Owanto, Naomi Wachs, Sunera Sadicali, and Andrea Carr about how they have used art as a tool to encourage the abandonment of FGC and to work toward healing. From sculptures to videos and sound bites, this webinar explored how art in all its many forms can be used to uplift the voices of survivors and continue to push the conversation around FGC.     

Mariya Taher, a co-founder of Sahiyo and U.S. Executive Director, began our webinar by giving the audience an introduction to Sahiyo’s many programs that involve art and activism, including Sahiyo’s Voices to End FGM/C and #MoreThanASurvivor campaigns. Next, our speakers Owanto and Andrea Carr introduced us to their work as career artists, and how they are championing this cause in some of the most prestigious galleries and institutions around the world, as well as in community settings. They reminded us that art can be a tool to spark hard discussions and give people the space to have their own stories seen and heard. Sunera Sadicali and Naomi Wachs helped to expand on that conversation by taking us through their own journeys and explaining the psychological reasons behind why art is such an effective tool for trauma healing. The insight and experience of our panelists not only helped our audience to understand what has been done in the field of art and activism surrounding FGC, but stood as an inspiration for how we all can engage in art and activism in our own personal lives. 

At the end of our webinar, our audience had the opportunity to ask our panelists questions about their experience and knowledge. The questions explored how our panelists were able to get people to open up about their experiences with FGC and how they were able to use art to encourage education and conversation around this issue. Coming from their multi-disciplinary backgrounds, each of our panelists were able to speak to a unique aspect of these questions. Despite their diversity of experience, they each emphasized the importance of art as a conversational medium, that allows people to take control of their own narrative, and when a safe space is created, encourages healing. 

Art, Activism, And Healing: In Conversation Around Female Genital Cutting (FGC) explored the often underutilized tool that is art to empower communities to abandon FGC and support survivors’ healing. It reminded us that activism and healing take many forms, and that, as Owanto said, “There is light.” For those who are interested in learning more about art and activism, Sahiyo is hosting a screening of our Voices to End FGM/C videos coming up this February. You can register here to attend!  

If you were unable to attend this webinar, or would simply like to learn more about this event, the transcript and recording of this event are attached below.

Watch the recording of this event.  

Read the transcript.