Female genital cutting: A poem

By Zainab Khambata

Country of Residence: India

As the blade pierced through my skin,

All I could feel was pain.

I looked into my mom’s eyes,

And she shrugged helplessly in vain.

I was yet another girl,

Subjected to female genital cutting.

As a mere child of seven,

I did not contest,

I wasn’t even aware,

That all my dignity as well as my rights,

Were stripped from me bare.

“It is done in the name of religion,” they said.

And it is this ideology I dread.

It is done to curb a woman’s desires,

To subdue her voice and her fire.

My grandmother said “It’s all right, all girls must go through this in their life.”

Why has society rendered women unaware?

To the point where they do not know and do not even care.

They torment innocent children,

With everlasting scars,

But yet this practice they refuse to stop,

Fearing from society’s eyes they will drop.

When will this age-old tradition come to an end?

So that without emotional trauma,

The rest of their lives little girls can spend.

It is time to speak up about this,

And make people aware,

It’s time to show that we care.

Female genital cutting: Underacknowledged and underrecognized in the United States 

By Cate Cox

On June 3rd, 2021 Sahiyo partnered with the Connecticut Trauma and Gender Learning Collaborative and The George Washington University associate professor Dr. Karen McDonnell to hold a training for healthcare professionals who may interact with survivors of female genital cutting (FGC). The Connecticut Trauma and Gender Learning Collaborative focuses on trauma-informed and gender-responsive treatment. Many of the participants are actively providing clinical services. 

This presentation explored FGC in the United States and resources available for clinicians and other front-line professionals who may come in contact with women impacted by FGC, as well as how they can provide trauma-informed care. In particular, our training highlighted The George Washington University’s Women and FGM/C Toolkit as a tool to help further their education and to become better prepared to support survivors in their journey toward healing. 

Alongside the GW Women and FGM/C Toolkit, we highlighted Sahiyo resources such as the Trauma Blog Series by Joanna Vergoth, founder and executive director of forma, among others. During the training, we also used some of our Voices to End FGM/C videos to highlight the lack of education on how to support survivors of FGC in the medical field and the imperative practitioners have to fill in those gaps to better support all women.

At the end of the presentation many of the attendees said they didn’t realize how widespread the problem of FGC is in the U.S. They expressed that they are grateful to have had the opportunity to learn how to better support their patients. Overall, trainings such as this one are crucial to help providers learn how to best support survivors and to help expand the understanding that FGC is a problem in the U.S. that we all need to be involved in addressing.

Sahiyo Volunteer Spotlight: Social Media Intern Kamakshi Arora

Kamakshi Arora is a social media intern for Sahiyo. She is a multidisciplinary designer, artist, and researcher. She has a bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering from NC State and a Masters in Product Design from The University of The Arts. Originally from Mumbai, India, she moved to the United States to pursue higher studies. She is particularly interested in using a transdisciplinary, participatory approach to design strategies for addressing current gender inequities, and to co-create meaningful initiatives to tackle women’s rights and health issues. She supports Sahiyo’s mission of empowering women through innovative grassroots initiatives based on storytelling and community engagement and is grateful for the opportunity to learn more about working in a feminist organization. 

1) When and how did you first get involved with Sahiyo?

It was early in the year, and I really wanted to volunteer and support a feminist organization that was working for gender equity and reform. My thesis was on the concept of healing for survivors of sexual assault. I wanted to find an organization that was doing similar work and as soon as I found out about Sahiyo, I knew I had found that place.  Sahiyo’s approach of combining storytelling and advocacy really caught my eye. I’m also from Mumbai so it felt like a great fit to be a part of an organization that was based out of my home.

2) What does your work with Sahiyo involve?

Right now I’m mostly involved in social media. This includes programming and developing content, sharing articles and educational information on our channels, and maintaining our persona online. As a designer, I love that I can be creative as I have used my artwork and drawing as a way to advance Sahiyo’s program. I try to subtly use my training in human-centered design and trauma-informed principles in the work that I create for Sahiyo. 

3) How has your involvement with Sahiyo impacted your life?

Greatly. For one thing, I saw the power of storytelling in all its forms. Sahiyo taught me to be coherent and persevering with our messages and how we can write a story that supports the purpose of our mission. Second, my perspectives as an intersectional feminist have expanded. I was not aware of female genital cutting (FGC) before. I have learned much about the issue of FGC and its existence in the broader context of women’s subjugation in our society and cultures. I’m now a lifelong advocate and ally of Sahiyo’s mission and will continue to use my own skills to do my bit. 

4) What words of wisdom would you like to share with others who may be interested in supporting Sahiyo and the movement against FGC?

Please do not be afraid to learn and inquire about female genital cutting. By asking questions and speaking actively, we are contributing to Sahiyo’s mission to end FGC. Share our stories, attend our workshops, make a donation, and/or volunteer. It’s all so informative, and you’ll leave with a wealth of resources to do your own advocacy.

Bhaiyo engages male allies to empower communities to end female genital cutting during June campaign

Launched in 2020, Bhaiyo is Sahiyo’s male allyship program whose aim is to create a space where male allies can come together to collaborate, spark dialogue, and spread information about female genital cutting (FGC) and its harmful impacts. Bhaiyo has been involved in engaging male allies in a multitude of ways, including a webinar on male allyship earlier this year. On June 20th Bhaiyo will begin a Father’s Day inspired social media campaign to promote our program and encourage male allyship in our work to empower communities to end FGC.    

During this month-long Father’s Day social media campaign, we will be highlighting the role men play in empowering their communities to end FGC — particularly focused on their roles and experiences as fathers, or future fathers, and brothers. This project is open to all male-identifying individuals who feel they can speak on this issue. 

We are asking anyone who feels passionate about this issue to send in a short response answering the questions below in video, audio, or photo format. You can also send in a quotation if you are not comfortable with sharing a video or photo. Additionally, we can keep your response anonymous if you wish. Here are the questions we are hoping you can answer. You can answer one, multiple, or all of these questions: 

  • When did you first come to know about FGC? 
  • Why are Bhaiyo and male ally programs in general important? 
  • How can brothers/fathers make an impact? 
  • What message would you like to give to all the fathers out there? 

Please email your video to programscoordinator@sahiyo.com by June 15th if you wish to participate in our program. 

This month-long social media campaign will culminate in a meet and greet event for male activists involved in this work. On July 20th male activists and members of Bhaiyo will have the opportunity to meet with one another, talk about their experiences, and discuss their hopes for Bhaiyo. By culminating this campaign in a meet and greet event, we hope to inspire community and bonding between our male allies so that they can share resources, stories, and keep each other motivated in their crucial work.   

By using social media to share the stories of male allies, we hope to show other men who have not yet become involved in Sahiyo’s work that there is a spot for them and that their voices are crucial in ending FGC. Additionally, we hope to elevate the voices of our amazing male allies who are already engaged in this work so that they can spread their messages of hope and transformation to a larger audience. 

We hope that this campaign will help to break the silence that keeps men from speaking up against FGC and begin to normalize conversations around what men can be doing in their communities to help encourage the end of FGC.

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.

To learn more about the 2021 Activist Retreat, take a look at our Report.

Introducing Nala Feminist Collective: African Women and The 10 Demands, including ending female genital cutting

African women continue to struggle to find the right spaces to speak and share the realities of our generation. We do not lack bravery or confidence, but advocacy spaces that would engage our stories with kindness and actual solutions. Our feminist ancestors have taught us that what brings us together is our Pan-African solidarity. As African women, we will not allow anyone to keep us quiet. We know and recognize that the future cannot be just, peaceful and equal if young women and girls remain subject to gender-based violence such as female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), other forms of domestic violence and femicide. Enough is enough. African women want and expect to be freed from the societal misconceptions which fuel the prevalence of FGM/C. 

It was groundbreaking to bring together 1,500 young people from across the continent during five Africa Young women Beijing + 25 virtual regional barazas (or convenings) hosted by the African Union Special Envoy on Youth, Aya Chebbi, in November 2020. The barazas opened up a space for sharing and speaking on the issues that challenge African women’s access and mobility spatially and socially. This was based on the premise that Africa’s women do not need anyone to speak on their behalf. They have voices and demands that must be heard and acted upon with the respect they deserve. The regional consultations culminated in the Africa Young Women Beijing + 25 Manifesto—a revolutionary feminist document that carries 10 bold demands. These are the hopes and aspirations that come to exist against sexist national laws, marginalization, and the lack of economic justice. 

As expressed by Africa’s young women, FGM/C remains a tool used to oppress their bodies—as an act of gender-based violence which many women have been forced to remain silent about for decades. Unlike other spaces, the manifesto was not built upon the problematic framing which discusses women’s issues without giving them agency. Instead, it was created through their inputs, generous sharing, radical honesty and listening. 

What about the other demands? FGM/C interlinkage with other forms of inequalities must be recognized. Each of the Manifesto’s 10 Demands provides an important roadmap to re-affirm that liberation pathways for young women are multi-layered and include demanding the provision of legal, physical and psychological support, shelters and specialist services to women subjected to all forms of violence, to demanding the removal of taxation on menstrual products, enforcement of progressive period policies in all workplaces, and the provision of free sanitary pads and sanitation in all schools.

African women and the 10 demands: 

  • Economic Justice 
  • The Criminalization of Gender-Based Violence
  • The End of Gender-Based Discrimination
  • Access to Justice and Protection
  • Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights
  • Mental Health and Well-Being
  • Inclusive, Equitable and Quality Education
  • Digital Justice
  • Silencing the Guns
  • Intergenerational co-leadership

What binds the manifesto together is an equitable desire to center women’s voices within policy and decision making spaces in which they are absent— an absence that can be deemed violent. These are spaces in which African women are being spoken for, without inclusion. The Generation Equality Forum in Paris provides us, as the Nala Feminist Collective, with a unique opportunity to advocate for the implementation of these 10 demands. We are powered by African women’s words with a document that unites our voices, across urban and rural, online and offline spaces.

Our Nala Council is made of 17 feminists with a mission to foster, enable and mobilize young women from Africa and the diaspora, bridging the gap between policy and implementation, intergovernmental and grassroots organizations, as well as generational spaces. 

Together—not without Africa’s young women. 

Join our advocacy. We have launched our 10,000 Signature Campaign. We need your support. The fight cannot be solo. Lend your voice to African young women and sign the Manifesto

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.

To learn more about the 2021 Activist Retreat, take a look at our Report.

Women should not be harmed because of societal norms 

By Sakshi Rajani 

Age: 17

Country: India

Female genital cutting (FGC): the term sounded ruthless the first time I heard it. It was not long ago that I was introduced to this term. While going through my Instagram feed, I read a story about a law student who was spreading awareness about FGC, and I was clueless about what it was. Immediately I searched this issue online and learned how serious it was. Then, I pondered why I hadn’t known about it earlier. Why had no one around me talked about it? 

Upon researching it further, I came to know how deeply rooted this problem was in communities and cultures. My will to do something to end it became stronger. I looked for organisations working to end FGC and came across Sahiyo. I soon joined the organisation. 

The first time I spoke about FGC to my friends they said, “What is that?” I wasn’t surprised by their reaction because I, too, was unfamiliar with it. I asked them to research it on their own, and then I explained more about the harms. I told them the World Health Organization and the United Nations declared FGC a human rights violation. Then I introduced them to the groundbreaking Mumkin app created by two co-founders of Sahiyo, Priya Goswami and Aarefa Johari, where my friends could learn more valuable information about this issue.

What are the hurdles in encouraging abandonment of or ending FGC? FGC is also often seen as a necessary ritual for initiation into womanhood and can be linked to cultural ideals of femininity, purity and modesty. A strong incentive to continue the practice is family pressure to adhere to conventional social norms. Women who break from this social norm can face condemnation, abuse and rejection from family or community members. Patriarchal society can help perpetuate it generation after generation. 

Female genital cutting should stop immediately, as a woman should have full rights over her body and no woman should be harmed because of societal norms and expectations. I am now an advocate to make sure FGC ends.

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.