Crave Foundation recognizes Sahiyo co-founder Mariya Taher as 2020 grantee

by Jenny Cordle

The Crave Foundation for Women selected Sahiyo co-founder Mariya Taher as one of their inaugural recipients for an individual grant in recognition for her work to end female genital cutting (FGC) in Asian communities and beyond. In 2015, she co-founded Sahiyo – United Against Female Genital Cutting, an award-winning, transnational organization with the mission to empower Asian communities to end FGC. She is one of five 2020 grantees.

The Crave Foundation acknowledges that “pleasure is a universal human right that can not be fully realized where there is injustice and violence against women.” The foundation recognizes individuals who are working in the gender-based violence areas of female genital cutting and sex trafficking. Their model is unique in that they provide no-strings-attached grants so that grantees can utilize the grants in the most appropriate way they see fit. 

“That is incredibly rare, and I’m brimming with ideas now on how to use these funds to further my work to both support survivors and prevent future generations of girls from undergoing FGC,” Taher said, who is a survivor of FGC. 

Taher’s work at Sahiyo focuses on storytelling programs and creating a critical mass of voices against FGC to “create a culture in which survivors can heal by connecting” to work toward creating a society where FGC no longer occurs.

“I’m constantly learning and adapting my work and Sahiyo programs to fit the needs of both survivors and the communities they belong to in which FGC occurs,” Taher said. “For myself, from the very beginning, I started engaging in anti-gender-based violence work because I had both lived experiences with gender-based violence, and also knew so many other individuals who also had experiences of some form of gender-based violence, whether it was female genital cutting, domestic violence, or sexual assault. I understood how both culture, society, and even one’s family could play a part in perpetuating environments in which violence occurred, and I wanted to learn how to undo that violence.”

In addition to her work at Sahiyo, Taher collaborates with the Massachusetts Women’s Bar Association on passing state legislation to criminalize FGC; an endeavor in which FGC activists and lawmakers had two victories when the Massachusetts House of Representatives and the Senate recently passed bill H.4606 – An Act Relative to the Penalties for the Crime of Female Genital Mutilation. The bill is now on Governor Charlie Baker’s desk to be signed into law. Taher also creates community education and outreach programs within the state on this issue.

Taher serves on the steering committee for the U.S. End FGM/C Network. In 2018, Taher received the Human Rights Storytellers Award from the Muslim American Leadership Alliance. The Manhattan Young Democrats honored her as a 2017 Engendering Progress honoree, and ABC News did a special feature on her, entitled: Underground: American Woman Who Underwent Female Genital Mutilation Comes Forward to Help Others.

Taher has worked in the gender-based violence field for over a decade in the areas of teaching, research, policy, program development, and direct service. She has worked at Saheli, Support and Friendship for South Asian Women & Families, W.O.M.A.N., Inc., Asian Women’s Shelter, San Francisco Department on the Status of Women, San Francisco State University, and was a 2014 Women’s Policy Institute Fellow through the Women’s Foundation of California.

During her journey as an advocate, she has learned that change takes time. 

“We all want change to happen quickly particularly on issues in which violence is connected to children but being an advocate teaches you that change is slow,” Taher said. “It doesn’t mean you won’t feel frustrated, and that there won’t be days when you want to just give up. Change will come. Every time I hear a survivor share her story out loud or learn someone has forgone having the practice done on their daughter even each time that I learn an individual is joining this line of work because they want to make a difference, shows me that change is occurring and people care. All those examples give me hope, and it’s why I keep at this work.”

Sahiyo co-founders include Aarefa Johari, Priya Goswami, and Insia Dariwala.

 

Sahiyo and StoryCenter win the #EndFGM Positive Action Challenge

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In May 2018, Sahiyo and StoryCenter, hosted a digital storytelling workshop where FGC survivors from across the U.S. could come together to share their experiences. In September 2018, the digital stories were released online and several screenings of the digital stories have occurred. Now, Sahiyo and StoryCenter have been named 1 of 3 winners for the ViiV Healthcare #EndFGM Positive Action Challenge. The #ENDFGM Positive Action Challenge supports innovative interventions to bring about a sustained change in attitudes and social norms towards ending FGC. In 2019, Sahiyo and StoryteCenter will work to expand the digital storytelling project to become “Voices to End FGM/C” by creating a web-based format so that survivors from around the world can use personal storytelling for social norm change on a global level.

Other winners of this challenge include Grandmother Project: Change Through Culture and Circuit Pointe.

If you would like more information about the project, contact mariya@sahiyo.com.

Mariya Receives Human Rights Storytellers Award

The Muslim American Leadership Alliance (MALA), a civic and community organization committed to promoting individual freedom and diversity, and to celebrating Muslim American heritage, honored Sahiyo Co-founder, Mariya Taher with the first annual MALA Human Rights Storytellers Award. This award recognizes Mariya and Sahiyo’s outstanding contribution to defending human rights through storytelling, in particular, working to protect women’s bodies from cutting – and bringing together women who have been cut on a journey of healing and empowerment. The award was given in recognition of the U.S. Sahiyo Stories project and the Human Rights Storytellers Award was presented to Mariya at MALA’s Third Annual Gala at the Chicago History Museum on November 6, 2018.

Read more at MALA’s Third Annual Gala Honors Leaders, Storytellers.

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Global Women P.E.A.C.E Foundation 5 K Walk Against FGM

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Each year, the Global Women P.E.A.C.E. Foundation hosts a 5K Walk Against FGM in Washington, D.C., and activists working to end FGC around the world come to participate. This year, the event was extended to 2-days and commenced with a Global Woman Awards ceremony on Friday, Oct 26th at the Milken Institute of George Washington University.  Two of the award recipients, included Maria Akhter and Severina Sangurikuri, two women who took part in the U.S. Sahiyo Stories project. They each received a Global Woman Awards from the Global Woman Peace Foundation in the categories of Student Ambassador and Survivor Activist respectively.

Here’s what Maria has to say about receiving her award:

I am thrilled, honored and humbled to receive the Global Woman Award in the Student Ambassador category from the Global Woman Peace Foundation. With boundless support from friends, family, and the hardworking activists in Sahiyo and other organizations working to end FGM/C, I’ve been able to turn my quiet interest in activism into a bold passion and lifelong commitment to a cause I hold near and dear to my heart. Receiving this award reinforces and challenges me to continue working in new ways to break the silence around FGM/C and end the practice for future generations.

The 5K Walk, scheduled for October 27th was at the last minute cancelled due to severe winds and rains. Yet, prior to the walk, people still gathered to listen to the guest speakers such as FGC survivor, Lola Oje from Nigeria who shared that she refuses to allow her beautiful daughter to be subjected to FGC. To learn more about the event, visit ‘A Mini United Nations Convenes in Washington, D.C.

Sahiyo co-founders win Laadli and ShoorVeer Awards in India

Sahiyo’s investigative report on the previously unknown prevalence of Female Genital Cutting in the Indian state of Kerala won the prestigious Laadli Media and Advertising Award for Gender Sensitivity for the year 2017. The report was authored by Sahiyo co-founder Aarefa Johari and independent writer and activist Aysha Mahmood.

Johari received the Laadli award on behalf of both authors at an event in Delhi on September 14 by Laadli’s founding organisation, Population First. Eminent journalist P Sainath was the chief guest at the event.

Johari and Mahmood’s investigation uncovered, for the first time, that FGC was being practiced covertly by two doctors in a clinic in the city of Kozhikide (Calicut) in Kerala. The doctors admitted to cutting girls and women of all ages from various Sunni Muslim sects in Kerala. Previously, it was widely believed that the Bohras were the only community practicing FGC in India. (Read the Sahiyo investigation report here.)

The Sahiyo investigation caused a furore in Kerala after Mathrubhoomi, a prominent Malayalam newspaper, conducted a follow-up exposé of the same clinic, and published a first-person account of a young woman from Kerala who had undergone FGC as a child. The exposés led to a temporary shut down of the clinic in Calicut where girls were being cut and prompted several religious leaders to publicly condemn the practice. The health minister of Kerala also ordered the state police to take strict action against anyone found practicing FGC.

ShoorVeer Awards

Sahiyo’s co-founders Insia Dariwala and Aarefa Johari won the ShoorVeer Awards 2018 in Mumbai on August 10. The awards, given by the organisation Ample Missiion, were instituted to honour the bravery and courage of “common men and women who have done uncommon things”. The word “ShoorVeer” is Hindi for a brave warrior.

A total of 14 individuals from across India were awarded ShoorVeer awards this year, including two police officers who have excelled in their duties, two children who saved their friend’s life, an amputee sportsman and several women and men working in the fields of education, health, and human rights.

Aarefa won the award for her work as a Sahiyo co-founder to end the practice of Female Genital Cutting. Insia’s award was a recognition of not just her work to end FGC, but also her work to raise awareness about child sexual abuse through her organisation, The Hands of Hope Foundation.

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Insia Dariwala receiving her ShoorVeer Award.
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Aarefa Johari receiving her ShoorVeer Award.