During February, Lesley University and Brandeis University in Massachusetts hosted events to elevate the conversation and build awareness on the topic of FGC as it occurs in the U.S. and the larger global world.
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.
On January 20th, the Modern Abolitionist Global Campaign will start a two day campaign, with a kick -off event that will be a screening of movies dealing with gender violence and discrimination against women.
The following day, on January 21st, the Modern Abolitionist Global Campaign will hold the Frankfurt Women’s March on Washington.
Sahiyo will support the kick-off event, in which there will be a screening of A Pinch of Skin, a documentary produced by Sahiyo’s co-founder Priya Goswami, on the topic of female genital cutting in the Dawoodi Bohra community.
During the event, Sahiyo co-founders will be be joining via Skype for a Q&A session with audience members. The documentary, Girl Rising, about the importance of educating girls to break the cycle of poverty will also be screened. To learn more, contact the organizers here.
On September 3, Sahiyo’s Mumbai team was invited to give a talk to college students enrolled in the Pehchaan programme run by Sahyog, a reputed non-profit organisation providing support to women and children from marginalised communities. Sahyog’s ‘Pehchaan’ initiative offers skills-training and mentorship programmes to students from low-income families at the PN Doshi College for Women. Every few weeks, as a part of Pehchaan, Sahyog invites guest speakers to conduct guest sessions about breakthroughs in their fields of work, and about issues related to identity, gender, women’s rights, character strengths and leadership.
At the event on September 3, my colleague Shaheeda Tavawalla-Kirtane and I conducted a two-hour session with around 100 first- and second-year Home Science students of PN Doshi College. The subject of Female Genital Cutting (FGC) was new to almost all the students, and they participated with great interest and enthusiasm in discussions on various aspects of the topic.
While talking about the female genital anatomy to explain what Bohras typically cut during circumcision, we realised that most of the girls had never heard of the clitoris, and were not taught about its existence in their Home Science anatomy classes. This led to a lively discussion on sexuality and female sexual pleasure.
We also spoke about the journey of Sahiyo, its founders and the phenomenal development of a vibrant movement working to end FGC in the community. We also discussed the obstacles we’ve faced and our efforts to overcome them, encouraging the students to similarly take up issues they feel strongly about in their own contexts and communities.
Most significantly, we talked about how the practice of FGC is a social norm much like many other norms prevalent in all our cultures. The students spontaneously related this to norms that repress women in their own worlds — and most prominent among them were menstrual taboos. The girls spoke about how many of them are not allowed to pray, visit religious sites or even enter the kitchen during their periods, and how superstitions about not touching pickle jars still abound. Among other norms, the students discussed the illogical belief in some of their homes about not cutting hair or nails on certain days, and how, even today, the women of some families don’t eat until the men have eaten first.
For us, it was overwhelming to see how, towards the end of the session, so many students expressed enthusiasm to create small movements against these norms in their own ways. We hope to be able to help them in any way we can!
Finally, we are immensely thankful to Beena Choksi and Megha Dharnidharka of Sahyog, for giving us an opportunity to engage with so many young, bright minds.
Women Of All Religions Unite To Fight Patriarchy Within
Women Demand Equal Rights To Access Of Places Of Worship
Date: 8th March 2016
Venue: Azad Maidan, near CST, Mumbai
Time: 2.00 pm sharp
Organisers: Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, Bhumata Brigade, Sahiyo, Vaghini Sanghatana, Satyashodhak, Roots of Peace, Muslims for Secular Democracy, Gandhi-Ambedkar Vichar Manch & Bharat Bachao Andolan
Religion has been for a long time considered to be the domain of a select few males. Men alone are claimed to have always been the recipients of divine messages, men have been transmitters of the same and men have always kept to themselves the right to read, interpret and apply religious doctrines to the masses. Thus religion has become a tool in the hands of men to suppress women. And this has been going for a very long time. Women on their part have for centuries accepted the hegemony of men over religion thanks to patriarchal socialisation. Men were the givers of religious knowledge and women were the receivers. And if told that they are inferior, that they are impure, women believed in it because it had the force of religion and hence by default the force of God.
With rising consciousness, awareness and an innate confidence in themselves and a strong belief in their own equality before God, women have been raising questions which now are making the men uncomfortable, especially the clergy who have hegemonised religion. It is not surprising that Hindu and Muslim women and women from other minority communities have started raising questions about discrimination within their respective religions. While Hindu women have questioned the restriction on women’s entry into Sabarimala, Shani and Trambakeshwar temples, Muslim women have questioned the decision of the trustees of the Haji Ali Dargah who have stopped women from entering the sanctum sanctorum. Within the Muslim community, Bohra women have begun a campaign to ban the practice of female genital cutting.
Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan has filed a PIL in the Bombay High Court to allow women to enter the sanctum of the Haji Ali Dargah. Bhumata Brigade has made valiant attempts to enter the Shani Shingnapur and Trambakeshwar temples while Sahiyo has been running a campaign to demand a ban on the practice of female genital cutting.
It is important to now celebrate the coming together of women from different religious diversities and to raise a common voice to demand equal rights within religion from the state. Please do join us in large numbers!
In 2012, Sahiyo Cofounder, Priya Goswami released the documentary, “A Pinch of Skin”, which has become a national award-winning documentary on female genital mutilation, in India.
A Pinch Of Skin will be screening in Mumbai on 19th Feb at 7.30 PM at Liberty Cinemas. This screening is organised by Osianama (part of the Oisan’s Film Festival) and they are holding a month long screening on the theme of Womanhood.