Why I shared my experience at Voices to End FGM/C with the medical community

By Mariam Sabir

I had the opportunity to participate in the Voices to End FGM/C project with Sahiyo, StoryCenter and The George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health in November 2019 where a diverse group of survivors and health professionals shared their experiences with FGM/C. 

I am currently a fourth-year medical student at American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine. I will be applying for residency this year to Family Medicine in the hope to provide a form of care that encompasses all factions of patients’ lives.

Meeting and listening to the stories of these wonderful women empowered me to discover my role in ending FGM/C. My role, I determined, was to increase awareness among health professionals. It is vital that physicians learn to identify survivors during a woman’s physical exam and learn how to approach this sensitive subject with discretion.


While having no past experience in presenting FGM/C to the public, I decided that perhaps a poster presentation would be the best initial step. The American Academy of Family Physicians National Conference which is attended by thousands of medical students and residents every year seemed like the perfect opportunity to spark discussion amongst the family physicians who see their patients regularly for annual physicals. My colleague, Zahra Qaiyumi, and I wanted the poster to be engaging while also conveying the statistical data related to FGM/C and a description of the project itself. However, just like the project, it needed to have a personal touch which is why I decided to use pictures of real participants from the project itself, as well as their dialogue.  

Due to COVID-19, the conference shifted to a virtual platform where our poster was displayed in the “Poster Hall” for any member of the conference to view at any time. Although I was unable to engage in lively discussions about FGM/C the way I had imagined, this is just the start to what I hope will be several more medical conferences and presentations.


Utilizing Participatory Storytelling to Educate – A session at APHA 2019

1On Nov 4, 2019, Sahiyo’s co-founder Mariya Taher took part in a round-table session at the American Public Health Association’s (APHA) Annual Conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to discuss the Voices to End FGM/C project. Participants were able to view a sample of the digital stories created by survivors. They were also able to learn how by utilizing participatory storytelling methods, we can educate communities, health professionals, and policymakers on female genital cutting. For more information, visit APHA’s website.

Multiple events on female genital cutting hosted at Women Deliver in Vancouver

From June 2 to June 6th, Sahiyo co-founder, Mariya Taher took part in Women Deliver 2019 held in Vancouver, Canada this year. Over 8,000 participants took part in the conference and for the first time ever, a pre-conference on Female Genital Cutting was held on June 2nd, a day before the official start of the Women Deliver Conference. The preconference, “Uniting Forces to Ensure Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) is a Practice of the Past” was an unprecedented event from civil society for civil society to unite voices and come together around a global Call to Action to end FGM/C and support FGM/C survivors. The event convened civil society organizations, champions, survivors IMG_3341.JPGand other grassroots representatives from across the globe to come together as a sector, to get to know others working globally across this issue, and to discuss what is needed to accelerate ending FGM/C by 2030. A global call to action was created out of the preconference by the participants in attendance, which was referenced throughout the entire duration of the conference and the various side-events on FGM/C held from June 3rd to June 6th.

Other side events in which Sahiyo took part in as a panelist or speaker included:

  • A screening of ‘In The Name of Your Daughter’ with a panel discussion afterwards entitled ‘FGM and the West — Is it our issue too?’
  • ‘It takes a whole community: Ending female genital cutting within a generation’ – hosted by Orchid project, this event was a highly participatory, activist-led, interactive workshop on community-based approaches to ending female genital cutting (FGC) within a generation. Featuring grassroots and civil society activists from East and West Africa, Asia, and North America, this session shined a light on effective community-led strategies to shift social norms and end FGC.
  • ‘Ending FGM by 2030: It’s a global issue’ hosted by Equality Now. With a little over a decade before the 2030 target to end FGC, this interactive panel session and audience Q&A explored two vital challenges/themes/hurdles our international community must address to achieve to protect every woman and girl from FGC: 1) How do we measure, invest and support each of the 193 countries who have committed to end FGM, including especially in Asia Pacific, the Middle-East, the Americas, Europe and Eurasia? 2) How can activists, CSOs, intergovernmental bodies, and funders move forward as one to hold States, International and regional bodies and donors to account to end FGM globally by 2030?

To learn more about Women Deliver and impact of the Preconference and side-events, check out related media coverage:

Further Sahiyo Blog Posts on Women Deliver:


Joint Press Release: ENDING FGM/C BY 2030: Uniting forces to make FGM/C a practice of the past

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Download Press Release as PDF


ENDING FGM/C BY 2030: Uniting forces to make FGM/C a practice of the past

2nd June 2019, Vancouver (Canada)

3.9 million girls are at risk of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) every year. On the 2nd June 2019, for the first time ever, NGOs, grassroots and survivor-led organizations from around the world came together at the Women Deliver conference around a common goal: to end FGM/C by 2030 and to support survivors of the practice. This is our Call to Action.

FGM/C is happening on every continent except Antarctica: it is a global issue that needs a global response, which is why we have come together – across Asia, Africa, Europe and North America – to build a unified platform for action. Together, we represent no less than 38 countries from all regions of the world. The time has come to make FGM/C a global priority, in the same way the community responded to urgent global epidemics, such as HIV/AIDs.

FGM/C is a violation of the human rights of women and girls and must be ended in all its forms. Whole communities must be mobilised and empowered at the grassroots level if we are to end FGM/C – women and girls, men and boys, traditional and religious leaders, health workers, law and policy makers. During the opening plenary of the Women Deliver conference, His Excellency Uhuru Kenyatta, President of Kenya, committed to end FGM/C in Kenya by 2022. We welcome this and call on all global leaders at the conference, and beyond, to commit to end FGM/C.

To put an end to the harmful practice of FGM/C, we will work in partnership with each other, all communities, governments, donors, multilateral bodies and others to end the practice by 2030 in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) determined by the UN. Together, we will challenge the social and gender norms by addressing the root causes of gender inequality at the community level, including gender stereotypes, unequal power relations, and negative social norms. Because this is what holds the continuation of FGM/C in place: control of the female body, of women’s sexuality and of their freedom to decide for themselves.

We must also acknowledge our current failure in providing adequate support systems for FGM/C survivors. We need to provide security and protection, targeted research and resources to enable health and emotional wellbeing as well as post-trauma support. We also need to better understand and respond effectively to adaptations to the practice which continue to violate women’s rights, such as medicalization, cross-border practices, and lowering the age at which FGM/C is carried out.

Investment is needed in increased and better research into what is working, and what is not working, to end FGM/C. Funds should be more flexible, sustainable and accessible for communities. We need an integrated, intersectional approach to ending FGM/C, recognising the connections with other forms of gender-based violence and linking with existing movements. We are focused on coming together and working collaboratively to address what existing gaps there are, making sure that FGM/C is a practice of the past.



What is FGM/C?

It is estimated that 3.9 million girls and women underwent the practice of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) in 2015 alone (source: UNFPA). FGM/C

comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female

genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

FGM/C is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. It is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children. The practice also violates a person’s rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruelty, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the

procedure results in death.


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Further Women Deliver blog posts:


World Bank Group hosts an informative workshop on FGM/C

On September 13, the World Bank Group hosted an informative workshop titled, “Emotional and Psychological Impact of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting.” Experts and activists shared their research, experiences, and approaches used to address FGM/C. The workshop also focused on a discussion around meeting the psychosocial needs of those affected by FGM/C. Speakers included Leyla Hussein (keynote speaker), Mariya Taher, Ghada Khan, Angela Peabody, Seydou Bouda, Sameera Maziad Al Tuwaijri, and Khama Rogo.

To watch a recorded video of the event, click here.

Sahiyo participates in Canadian webinar on FGC

On May 23, the Canadian Partnership for Women and Children’s Health (CanWaCH) hosted a unique webinar to help Canadian social sector organisations get acquainted with the practice of Female Genital Cutting. As an organisation working to end the practice in India and other Asian countries, Sahiyo was invited to present some of its work during the webinar.

CanWaCH is an Ottawa-based umbrella organisation with a focus on women’s health and gender equity. Its members come from across civil society, research and health sectors. The webinar on May 23 was for CanWaCH’s member organisations as well as the wider public, and it aimed to stimulate greater participation from Canadian NGOs, charities and institutions in the global movement to end FGC. Through presentations by various global organisations already working in the field of ending FGC, the webinar focused on sharing knowledge and best practices with the audience.


Participants included Anne-Marie Kamanye and Peter Nguura from Amref, a CanWaCH member organisation that has anti-FGC programmes in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda; Jenna Richards from Orchid Project, a UK-based organisation that supports anti-FGC partners in Senegal, Kenya and India, among others; Aarefa Johari from Sahiyo; and Alissa Koski from McGill University in Canada. Sahiyo shared information about the key elements required in an individual or organisation’s efforts to end FGC. Koski discussed the methods and challenges of conducting monitoring and evaluation of anti-FGC programmes.

Penn State Law School Host Conference on Female Genital Cutting

On April 12-13th, the Dickinson Law’s FGM Legislation Project hosted a conference, “Crafting Legislative and Medical Solutions to Address Female Genital Mutilation Locally and Internationally,” at Dickinson Law. This conference aimed to educate the public, lawyers and medical professionals about the legal, social, psychological and medical consequences of FGC. Experts and practitioners gathered to address the medical implications for women who have undergone it, the need for legislative action, and cultural competencies and prevention. Sahiyo Cofounder, Mariya Taher participated in a panel session, “Effective FGM Prevention and Survivor Advocacy.” A live stream of the event can be found here. On April 13th, a working group gathered to create and discuss an optional protocol to the Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women that focuses primarily on Female Genital Cutting.

DC Meeting – Expert Consultation on FGC and Mental Health


DCOn Feb 27th, Sahiyo’s Mariya Taher attended a roundtable discussion in DC on FGC and Mental Health hosted by the Wallace Global Fund and the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) Although the global development community has increasingly acknowledged the adverse physical health complications that can result from FGC, there has been little action to address its psychological impact. The roundtable served as a first step to bring together experts from bilateral and multilateral agencies, donor institutions, academia, policy-makers, civil society and program implementing organizations in the United States to gain a better understanding of FGC and mental health, as well as to drive a collaborative, coordinated and appropriately sized response across the globe.

Throughout the day, the panelists and attendees discussed the short and long-term mental health of survivors and activists who engage additional barriers when advocating to end FGC. In addition, dialogue about research needs, support programs, and prevention in connection with mental health occurred. Mariya served on a panel to discuss the findings of Sahiyo’s Needs Assessment. Sahiyo had recently partnered with a healthcare market research consultancy to conduct primary market research with activists speaking out against FGC, in an effort to better understand activists’ challenges and hopes for the future.
To learn more about this research, visit Sahiyo’s website.

Sahiyo participates in 2017 Hilton Humanitarian Foundation Symposium

On October 11th, Mariya was invited to take part in the 2017 Hilton Humanitarian Foundation Symposium. Mariya, along with Tostan’s founder Molly Melching, and Safe Hands for Girl’s, Jaha Dukureh, was on a panel titled “Empowering the Silent to Speak, Engaging Communities to Respond”, to discuss FGC and the work being done to end it.

To watch a recap of the event, click here.


This year’s 2017 Hilton Humanitarian Prize was presented to icddr,b. To learn more about award recipient, click here.

Working Together To Address FGC: Michigan Roundtable

On October 9th, Sahiyo, along with Equality Now, Tahirih Justice Center, and forma came together in a roundtable discussion with Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to engage in cross-discipline dialogue on the challenges and best practices regarding how to respond to FGC in the United States. The roundtable discussion helped attendees to increase their knowledge base on FGC, understand the medical circumstances associated with FGC, and identify strengths, gaps, and policy/law implications that could improve outcomes for children and families. Sahiyo’s Mariya helped to facilitate this initial roundtable, and continues to work with DHHS on next steps to ensure that we work to address the issue of FGC, and how to support survivors,  in a holistic manner.