Bhaiyo Spotlight: Honoring Donald Strong

Sahiyo was saddened to hear of the recent passing of Donald Strong, a true male ally in the work to end female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), whose advocacy provided energy towards propelling the Stop FGM Act of 2020 into law. As Director of Research Coordination and a Practicum Director in the Department of Prevention and Community Health with George Washington University, Mr. Strong worked closely with nonprofit organizations, health departments, and healthcare providers serving the African immigrant community in the DMV, in the work to eliminate the practice of FGM/C. 

Some of us at Sahiyo were lucky enough to work with him directly on this effort; co-founder Mariya Taher collaborated with Don on the GW Dean’s Seminar Series: Addressing Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting (FGM/C) in the DMV. Sahiyo U.S. Advisory Board Member Maryum Saifee recognizes Don as someone who “really laid the groundwork for GW’s role in becoming a leader in the anti FGM/C advocacy efforts in the United States.”

Sahiyo would like to commemorate him through a spotlight with our Bhaiyo initiative (something Don was really excited about), which aims to create a space where male allies can come together to collaborate, spark dialogue, and spread information about this form of gender-based violence and it’s harmful impacts. 

There is perhaps no one better to commemorate Don than those who knew him best. We’ve asked some of his colleagues, and those who were lucky enough to know him personally, to provide reflections on his legacy.

Don Strong, a connector, a cheerleader, a community activist, and confidant. When he walked into any meeting, within five minutes, he made sure everyone knew one another and how we were all connected. I remember we were giving a presentation at the UN about FGM/C, and the storytelling we were engaging in was getting emotionally heavy. Don, sensing the tension, stood up and started engaging with the room. The participants didn’t know one another when they entered the room, but Don was connecting people, connecting lives, and within minutes had the entire room, standing up and sharing their stories. By the end of the session Don had us all exchanging contact information and taking group photos. He was incredibly humble and wouldn’t let us tell people that it was his advocacy, his storytelling that put the Stop FGM ACT of 2020 into action. As one of our community partners stated “It was easy to see that Don was an advocate to his core. His motivation to end FGM/C, and to get men involved in the process, was inspiring and contagious. I know he will be dearly missed by GW, the field, and most of all his family.” 

Don, my friend, I’m going to miss you. May you rest in peace and may your power be instilled in each of us to continue your mission. 

-Karen A. McDonnell

Don was a colleague, a friend, and an advocate against FGM/C. He worked quietly in support of organizations in the nonprofit community. 

Don was partly responsible for the relationship GWPF has with George Washington University today. He had called my office in search of information on FGM/C, and we ended up chatting for a while. At the end of our conversation, he invited me to meet with Dr. Karen McDonnell, Dr. Ghada Khan, and him. On a bitterly cold February morning in 2017, I met with Don, Karen, and Ghada for the first time. That meeting was the birth of the current relationship GWPF has with George Washington University.

I admired the passion Don possessed for this work. He was passionate about young men becoming involved in the work against FGM/C. He will always be remembered, and most definitely missed. May his soul find rest and peace.

-Angela Peabody

I met Don a few years ago, and since that day he has inspired me everyday with his immense passion and dedication to ending FGM/C. His ability to foster connections was simply unparalleled. His energy and charisma would light up every room he walked into and liven every conversation he had. Anyone who met him could immediately tell that he was such a radiant and incredible human being. He always cheered me on and I will be forever thankful for his friendship and mentorship through the years. Along with our GW community, and his friends and family, I will miss him so much. But, his legacy will live on. Rest in power, Don.

-Krishna Patel

I first met Don in 2015 when he and his colleague, Karen McDonnell, were thinking through the process of building a strategy to counter Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in the US. I remember sharing both my personal story as a survivor, but also my experiences as a policymaker trying to move the needle on addressing the issue globally. I told him how important it was that we focus on FGM — filling the data and research gaps domestically— to have the credibility and moral authority to advocate for the same calls to action with counterparts overseas.

I was struck by Don’s kindness during the meeting and over the many years, the strength of his conviction to keep pushing and elevating an issue that is frankly still taboo and squeamish for many to absorb. That took courage and his bravery has made a difference in the lives of so many of us, both in the present moment and future generations, carrying his legacy forward.  I am forever grateful to have been blessed with the opportunity to partner and learn from such a powerful advocate for human rights and gender equity.

-Maryum Saifee

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 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.

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.