Reflecting on the critical intersections between anti-racism and female genital cutting

By Sarah Boudreau

In late July, Sahiyo held its webinar, Critical Intersections: Anti-Racism and Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C). Sahiyo U.S. Executive Director Mariya Taher moderated the panel discussion that included four expert speakers: Leyla Hussein, Aarefa Johari, Sunera Sadicali, and Aissata M.B. Camara. The event included thoughtful commentary on the overlap between racism, oppression, culture, and FGM/C, as well as the struggles the panelists have faced while working to spread awareness and bring an end to FGM/C. 

Hussein is an anti-FGM campaigner and a survivor who shares her personal experience of FGM/C with the goal of protecting girls from this abusive practice. Originally from Somalia, Hussein works as a psychotherapist in the United Kingdom and addresses the prevalence of FGM/C around the world. Johari is a journalist, feminist and activist based in Mumbai, India. Johari is a senior reporter with Scroll.in, where she covers gender and labour. She has been speaking out against female genital cutting since 2012 and is one of the five original co-founders of Sahiyo. Sunera Sadicali grew up in a family that was a part of the Bohra Community; they were (and still are) the only Bohras in the Portugal/Iberic Peninsula. Sadicali is constantly trying to reconcile and find a balance between motherhood, art, her work as a family doctor, and political activism. Camara is a professional with over a decade of program development and management, strategic planning, and relationship-building experience in non-profit, local government, and international affairs. A social entrepreneur and advocate, she was featured in The Guardian, PBS, RFI, Deutshe Welle and Brut for her advocacy to end female genital mutilation/cutting. Camara is also a frequent speaker at conferences, including high-level events at the United Nations.

The four panelists, who are survivors of FGM/C, answered questions about how FGM/C intersects with other forms of oppression, including racism, violence, and “othering.” They also discussed the lack of legislation and law enforcement surrounding the practice, and challenges to passing laws to protect girls at risk. One notable part of the discussion occurred when Hussein made the point that survivors can become gatekeepers and have the opportunity to change the way that they are perceived. She relayed that when people hear about FGM/C, they may dismiss it and attribute it to cultural practice, but by naming FGM/C as child abuse rooted in patriarchy and oppression, survivors can draw attention to the issue for what it is in order to truly show people the harm being done.

Toward the end of the webinar, Camara discussed other movements such as Me Too and Black Lives Matter and how allyships must be formed in order to generate more traction in the media to spread FGM/C awareness. By teaming up with other survivors, resources, officials and organizations, more conversations about FGM/C can lead to change. 

In conclusion, the Critical Intersections webinar allowed panelists from diverse backgrounds to share their views on racism and FGMC. Several ideas were brought up about how to spark change and dialogue in both local communities and globally. But the common thread among all the speakers was that change is not always easy, but always worth fighting for. For the sake of women and girls everywhere, the future holds hope for justice, healing, and change.

Read the webinar transcript.

UnChained At Last: The United States’ Child Marriage Problem webinar reflection

By Cate Cox

On June 17th, UnChained At Last held their webinar, “The United States’ Child Marriage Problem.” Founded by a survivor of forced marriage, Fraidy Reiss, UnChained At Last is the only U.S.-based organization working to end forced and child marriages through direct advocacy and services. During this webinar, they explored their work and research into ending child marriage. At this event, they were joined by advocate Chelsea Clinton, author and influencer Blair Imani, bipartisan state Senators Julia Salazar (New York) and Katrina Shealy (South Carolina), Dr. Yvette Efevbera of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and survivor and advocate Patricia Abatemarco.

Globally, 15 million girls are married before their 18th birthday. In a study conducted by UnChained At Last, they found that between 2000-2018 approximately 300,000 children were married across the United States, the majority of whom were underaged girls marrying adult men. The marriages documented involved girls as young as 10 years old. Also, 60,000 of all documented marriages involved a couple where the age difference between the two would constitute statutory rape if they were not married. Child marriage predicates a multitude of physical and mental health issues: abuse, lack of education, and poverty. Yet, public understanding of the severity of child marriage in the U.S. is very limited. 

Like many types of gender-based violence, including female genital cutting (FGC), child marriage in the U.S. is upheld through complicated systems of patriarchy, economic survival strategies, cultural norms, and legislative inaction. Both Senators Salazar and Shealy agreed that culture and shame are a major cause of the continuation of the practice. Within communities with a history of child marriage, many are unable to understand the multi-layered harms of this practice, and many survivors say their parents forced them into marriages to avoid communal shame from pregnancy or rape. These notions of shame and cultural necessity undermine many forms of gender-based violence, forcing girls to sacrifice their autonomy and future or risk ostracization. 

Yet, the thousands of girls forced into marriage across the U.S. are often unable to access support services to escape dangerous situations. Being underage, in many states they cannot hire a lawyer, file for divorce, go to a domestic violence shelter, file a protective order, and other life-saving support systems if they become trapped in abusive situations. The irony of this is astounding, girls are old enough to be wives but not to be divorced. This loophole traps girls in cycles of violence and destroys families.  

At the beginning of this webinar, UnChained At Last shared their heart-wrenching video: The Girls You Have Destroyed, filmed by survivors of child marriage. By highlighting the stories of survivors (not unlike the Voices to End FGM/C videos by Sahiyo) they were able to show the real impact of this issue and highlight its deeply personal effects on women and girls. 

UnChained At Last staffers explained that they are working state-by-state to outlaw the practice of child marriage, since only five states including New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Rhode Island, have an outright ban on marriages involving persons under-18. There is no federal law against it. In order to push for legislative change, the approach of Sahiyo and other organizations to outlaw FGC in the United States mirrors that of UnChained At Last. Both are using a state-by-state approach, while simultaneously pushing for legislation at the federal level. While there is now a federal law, the STOP FGM Act of 2020, and 40 states with state-specific laws, it took the tireless work of activist across the U.S. to implement the most, seemingly inarguable, protections for girls against FGC. 

In better news, UnChained At Last found that the number of child marriages in the U.S. decreases every year. However, the speakers still stressed the continued importance of raising awareness about this issue. They highlighted that while U.S. foreign policy may condemn child marriage as a human rights abuse, we still allow it to be practiced on our soil. Speaker Blair Imani explained that the notion that child marriage is a “far away problem that requires faraway solutions” is one of the major barriers to addressing this issue in the U.S. 

While watching this webinar, I could not help but notice the similarities between the work to end child marriage and our work here at Sahiyo to end female genital cutting (FGC). From the intergenerational norms to the dismissal of the issue as a foreign phenomenon, the problems at hand are very similar. Both Sahiyo and UnChained At Last have struggled to make people aware of the severity of these issues within the U.S., and the urgency to address them. While discussing legislative action, one of the speakers in the UnChained webinar remembered speaking to a state legislature who told her, “Is it really that bad if a girl marries her rapist?” I was immediately drawn back to similar arguments advocates against FGC have heard such as, “It’s just a prick,” or, “It’s not that bad.” The severe harms caused by FGC and child marriage to women and girls are routinely dismissed, and survivors are left without support systems. 

At the same time both Sahiyo and UnChained At Last stress the importance of uplifting survivors’ voices, both for their personal healing and to create legislative change. Through tireless work, they and Sahiyo are making the world a safer place for girls, and are championing a world free of violence against women. 

You can watch the full webinar here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xKlqmMqePks 

Practitioner and advocate training: Best practices for working with survivors of gender-based violence

In June Sahiyo partnered with Hidden Scars to host a training for practitioners and advocates working with survivors of gender-based violence (GBV) and female genital cutting (FGC). 

Gender-based violence (GBV) is a reality for many women and girls. The World Health Organization reports that one in three women will experience sexual or physical violence in her lifetime. Yet, GBV often remains hidden and shrouded in silence and shame. At the core of providing better prevention, protection, health, and social support services for women and girls are stronger data, enhanced research, and community engagement. Our presentation explored how practitioners can provide trauma-informed care to survivors of GBV, using FGC as a case study. We also provided resources for clinicians and other front-line professionals who may come in contact with women impacted by both, and who are looking to better understand how to provide better care. 

While Sahiyo’s expertise is in addressing FGC, we acknowledge that FGC is a form of gender-based violence and child abuse. Our team felt that many of the lessons that can be learned about how to help survivors of FGC could also be applied to all forms of GBV. Like other forms of gender-based violence, such as domestic violence, FGC is a learned behavior of childhood, and is often surrounded by a culture of silence and shame, and is a form of generational violence. However, GBV can also include childhood marriage, rape, sexual assault, honor crimes, domestic violence, and other crimes against women. While we used FGC as a case study, our goal was to create a training that would allow practitioners to provide better care to all survivors of gender-based violence. 

During this event, we provided an overview of FGM/C and GBV, as well as shared videos from our Voices to End FGM/C project. These videos helped our audience better understand the complicated emotions and experiences survivors go through, and to begin to think about how they as providers can better support them in their journey toward healing. We also shared tools such as the George Washington University FGM/C Toolkit, Mumkin, and other resources that are available to help them and their organizations think about how to provide better care to surviors.

Finally, in order to facilitate conversations and help our guests practice communicating with survivors, we also hosted mock conversations. These conversations were held with the goal to help practitioners become more comfortable speaking with survivors and to practice having productive conversations with patients.

We strongly encourage anyone who works in healthcare or provides direct services to survivors of GBV or FGC to watch the recording of this event on our YouTube page, or check out these additional resources below: 

Addressing Critical Intersections: Anti-Racism and Female Genital Cutting

Although female genital cutting (FGC) is not limited to any one community, misconceptions rooted in racism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia have still negatively impacted the movement to end FGC – as well as survivors themselves. In our work to end FGC, we must use an intersectional approach to support the needs of all women impacted by FGC and bring about substantial change. First coined in 1989 by professor Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, the term intersectionality was created to help us understand “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.” An intersectional approach to all social movements is crucial to address the intersecting oppressions that impact different communities. 

On July 29th at 1 pm EST Sahiyo will be hosting the webinar, “Critical Intersections: Anti-Racism and Female Genital Cutting.” This webinar will explore the intersection of anti-racism work and the work to end FGC. Four expert speakers, including Leyla Hussein, Aarefa Johari, Aissata Camara, and Sunera Sadicali, will explore intersectionality and FGC in a panel moderated by Sahiyo U.S. Executive Director Mariya Taher. These renowned activists have worked in the field of FGC prevention and survivor support, exploring the critical intersections where this form of gender-based violence meets systemic racism. Our guest speakers’ experiences will expand the conversation on how FGC survivors and advocates for change often have to push back against racist narratives in their work and in their journey toward healing, as well as how systemic racism can delay substantial change on this issue.  

During this webinar, you’ll be able to be a part of the discussion about how we can all become better educated and better advocates in the journey to end systemic racism and FGC. This event is open to anyone who wishes to attend. Register Today: https://bit.ly/CriticalIntersectionsWebinar 

Leyla Hussein is an anti-FGM campaigner and a survivor who shares her personal experience of FGM with the goal of protecting girls from this abusive practice. Originally from Somalia, Leyla works as a psychotherapist in the United Kingdom and addresses the prevalence of FGM around the world. As Leyla reminds us, FGM is a practice of oppressing women and controlling women’s sexuality. It’s not an African issue, it’s not an Asian issue; it’s a global issue that requires a global investment in women.

Aarefa Johari is a journalist, feminist and activist based in Mumbai, India. Aarefa is a senior reporter with Scroll.in, where she covers gender and labour. She has been speaking out against female genital cutting since 2012 and is one of the five original co-founders of Sahiyo. Sahiyo is an organization founded on the belief that storytelling in all forms can create positive social change and help empower communities to abandon the practice of FGC.  

Sunera Sadicali was born in 1982 in Mozambique and moved to Lisbon when she was 2 years old. She grew up in a family that was a part of the Bohra Community; they were (and still are) the only Bohras in the Portugal/Iberic Peninsula. Sunera underwent khatna (FGM Type I) by age of 8 in Pakistan while visiting her grandparents on vacation. She moved to Spain to study medicine by the age of 19 and finished her Family Medicine residency in Madrid. She has been politically active since the birth of her second child in 2012 in women’s issues, decolonial feminism, anti-racism and healthcare activism. Sunera is constantly trying to reconcile and find a balance between motherhood, art, her work as a family doctor, and political activism.

Aissata M.B. Camara is a professional with over a decade of program development and management, strategic planning, and relationship-building experience in non-profit, local government, and international affairs. A social entrepreneur and advocate, she was featured in The Guardian, PBS, RFI, Deutshe Welle and Brut for her advocacy to end female genital mutilation/cutting. She has received numerous awards, including the New York State Assembly Certificate of Merit, Knights of Pythias Medal of Achievement, the Hackett Medal for Oratory Excellence, and the Jo Ivey Boufford Award. Aissata is also a frequent speaker at conferences, including high-level events at the United Nations.

What I learned from survivors and advocates on my podcast about female genital cutting

By Aubrey Bailey

I graduated this April 2021 from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in graphic design. For my senior capstone project I was instructed to choose a topic that I would stick with for a year and then conduct in-depth research, write a research paper, and display my findings visually through an exhibition. In April 2020, I went home to Gilbert, Arizona, to finish my winter semester under quarantine because of COVID-19, and while I was home my dad introduced the topic of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). I was dumbfounded that I had never heard of it before. I could not fathom that so many women were undergoing this practice in different parts of the world and I did not know about it. If I do not know about this, then who else does not know? Who does know? Who is taking action?

I realized FGM/C was a topic about which I needed to learn more. I could not simply move on after understanding this information. Over the past year of my research on the topic, I became passionate about raising awareness of FGM/C, and also in advocating for women’s rights and raising awareness on violence against women. 

For my capstone project, I created a podcast to explain why FGM/C happens, to share women’s stories, to educate listeners on how to help, and to bring outside professional knowledge to help us better understand the topic. Through my research, I found Sahiyo–United Against Female Genital Cutting, and was impressed with their content and purpose. I reached out and asked if they would be willing to help me make this podcast possible. They were so gracious and introduced me to their network of individuals to ask if they would be willing to participate in my podcast. I was able to talk with some of the most incredible individuals and listen to experiences from people with different backgrounds. It was truly eye-opening and life-changing. I learned so much from my time interviewing everyone, and I am so grateful to Sahiyo for making it all happen. 

In addition to the podcast, I designed an exhibition displaying my research on FGM/C at Brigham Young University. For the exhibition, I created a poster series displaying facts about FGM/C by integrating a custom font that I created which has sharp characteristics throughout the posters. I also designed and installed a floral installation that symbolizes women. Flowers are beautiful and represent proud and glorious femininity and within the installation, each flower represents a woman. The hanging flowers represent women who have not been cut and the flowers on the ground represent the women who have been cut. 

Just because these flowers are not suspended from the ceiling does not lessen their value or their beauty in any way. They are still flowers but are just a little different. These women, like the flowers, are unique because they have been cut and have a piece of their body missing. But they are still just as powerful and beautiful. 

My hope through the exhibition was that individuals would feel moved to action and inspired to listen to the podcast to do their part in educating themselves and others on the topic to normalize the conversation so we can finally see it end.

Webinar: Female genital cutting is an under-recognized form of gender-based violence in the U.S.

By Cate Cox

On April 15th, Sahiyo partnered with the U.S. End FGM/C Network and the Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence (APIGBV) for our webinar: Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): An Under-Recognized Form of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) in the Unites States. This webinar was the second in a series that explored the intersection of FGM/C and GBV; how COVID-19 has impacted the prevalence of FGM/C; and how providers can offer better care to survivors. 

FGM/C is a reality for many women and girls across different communities in the United States. Yet, for centuries, FGM/C has remained a hidden practice. It’s often practiced by women on other females; and girls are raised to believe they must remain silent about what they underwent. Silence is an inherent part of this type of gender-based violence that can lead to lifelong physical and emotional health consequences. At the core of providing better prevention, protection, health, and social support services for women and girls are stronger data, enhanced research, and community engagement. 

Sahiyo co-founder Mariya Taher and members from the U.S. End FGM/C Network and APIGBV began this event by exploring the background of FGM/C and its global prevalence. The speakers dove into the history of FGM/C in the U.S., including legislative history and that of the practice itself. Then our speakers helped the audience make the broader connection between gender-based violence and female genital cutting. The audience, representing mostly Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) domestic violence/sexual assault organizations, identified many similarities including cultures of secrecy and silencing, shame felt by survivors, FGM/C as source of generational trauma, and FGM/C as a form of power and control over women. We also explored the lessons from the Ebola crisis in West Africa that can help us support women and girls during the COVID-19 crisis. Finally, we compiled a list of resources for service providers to further educate themselves on how to both adequately and ethically provide their services to survivors. At the end of the event, our speakers also answered the audience’s questions about their work and experience. 

Like many Sahiyo events, we also utilized the Voices to End FGM/C films throughout the presentation to help contextualize what the audience was learning and help them understand the stories behind the statistics. These films center the voices of activists and survivors advocating for an end to the practice. While data is crucial in order for us to grasp the scope of the issue, Sahiyo believes that storytelling can be just as powerful a tool in educating people and championing the abandonment of this practice.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: An Under-Recognized form of Gender-Based Violence in the U.S. as a webinar was a continuation of the important conversation around FGM/C and GBV that also provided the audience with tools they could use in the real work to better support survivors.  

Our guests had the chance to explore the intervention and community engagement efforts occurring in this country to support survivors, how COVID-19 has impacted FGM/C and GBV, and how they themselves could help prevent future generations from experiencing FGM/C. It also showcased the amazing work, everyone, at Sahiyo, APIGBV, and the U.S. End FGM/C Network is doing in their capacity to advocate for women’s rights and call for the abandonment of the practice of FGM/C. 

If you were unable to attend this event you can find more information here

Watch the recording of this event.

To learn more about APIGBV and the US End FGM/C Network, please visit their websites below: 

Additionally, if you are are service provider you can find some of the resources mentioned at this event below: 

The End FGM European Network hosts webinar: “Addressing female genital mutilation while leaving no one behind”

By Madrisha Debnath

The End FGM European Network hosted a webinar titled, “Addressing female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) while leaving no one behind,” to discuss FGM/C and the framework of intersectionality in February. The speakers of the event included Helena Dalli, EU Commissioner for Equality; Aïda Yancy, an LGBTQ+ feminist, anti-racist activist currently working at RainbowHouse Brussels and an expert on FGM/C; Hadeel Elshak, Youth Ambassador of End FGM European Network; and Sietske Steneker, UNFPA Brussels Director.

Keynote speaker Dalli addressed the data regarding FGM/C among the European Union member countries. According to the European Institute for Gender Equality, 600,000 to 900,000 women and girls are at risk of FGM/C in thirteen European countries alone. The European Commission is working to end the practice of FGM/C with an intersectional approach. Working with ground level activists, community-based workers and survivors to understand the different ways in which each woman is affected is crucial toward encouraging the abandonment of the practice. Avoiding stigmatisation, racism, and xenophobia is imperative for ending gender-based violence and structural inequality.

Yancy explained the concept of intersectionality originating from Black Feminist Theory. The term was coined by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw (1989) in her seminal work, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics.” Intersectionality happens when a person is at the crossroads of more than one systematic oppression. The marginalized people who are standing at the crossroads, for example, a black woman or a woman of colour, is not only facing racism and sexism, but is subjected to something bigger that comprises the effect of both sexism and racism. Intersectionality doesn’t mean simply adding the systemic oppression that a person is facing. Rather, it means that the effect is cumulative instead of being additive since these categories of oppression are not mutually exclusive. Intersectionality is more than a concept; it’s a tool to identify issues of access for marginalized people. Since social institutions work in a single lane fashion, recognising oppressions exclusive of one another by using intersectionality as a tool will help to identify social issues.

Elshak talked about her identities of being black, woman, Muslim, Sudanese, young, and of the first generation to be living in United Kingdom, as well as how her multiple identities have shaped her everyday experiences. She shared her experiences of forming the “Youth Engagement Manifesto: Tackling FGM in Europe- Strategies for Effective Engagement of Youth from FGM-affected communities.” She talked about how, in being young, she has disrupted the general notion of older people being wiser, and made her opinion known in advocating against FGM/C.

Steneker presented the report on the state of the world population on harmful practices titled, “Against My Will: Defying the Practices that Harm Women and Girls and Undermine Equality,” by the United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA) that include nineteen different types of harmful practices, including virginity testing, child marriage, breast ironing, body modifications, female genital cutting, and other harmful practices controlling women’s bodies and sexualities. According to the report, over 200 million girls and women have undergone some form of genital cutting. An estimated 52 million women and girls worldwide have undergone the practice performed by medical practitioners, doctors, nurses or midwives. Girls who are forced into marriage as children may also be survivors of FGM/C or are at a higher risk. Everyday an average of 33,000 girls are being forced into marriage.

Watch “Addressing female genital mutilation while leaving no one behind.”

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.  

Your questions answered: Moving Towards Sexual Pleasure and Emotional Healing After Female Genital Cutting

Last fall Sahiyo partnered with three award-winning and talented speakers Farzana Doctor, Sarian Karim-Kamara, and Joanna Vergoth to host Moving Towards Sexual Pleasure and Emotional Healing After Female Genital Cutting (FGC). During this webinar, we had the opportunity to hear from these speakers about the mental and emotional consequences of female genital cutting (FGC), how FGC can impact sexuality, and how survivors may be working toward healing. Our guests had a lot of questions for our speakers, some of which we were not able to answer during the webinar. Nevertheless, we felt these questions and their answers were important to share. 

Below you will find the answers licensed psychotherapist Joanna Vergoth graciously answered for our guests. If your question is not addressed below, you may find it answered later in the recorded portions provided by Sarian Karim-Kamara on the Sahiyo YouTube page or on the Dear Maasi page. 

Joanna Vergoth’s responses to participants’ questions:    

  1. Do you have any strategies for breaking the taboo around FGM/C and how community-based organizations can work directly with community members to end the practice in the U.S.?  

Silence regarding FGM/C perpetuates the practice so it is important to find a way to broach the subject sensitively in order to encourage conversation. And, when working with community members, it is advisable to identify and recruit folks who support the abandonment of this practice in order to create dialogues that can help persuade proponents of the practice to reconsider their position. Also, sponsoring a community event that focuses on women’s health and well-being can provide an opening for discussion. In addition, showing a film about FGM/C, such as “Desert Flower,” or “The Cruel Cut,” can also open hearts and minds.

  1. Is part of the healing process ever confronting the person who betrayed you?

Betrayal trauma occurs when the people a person depends on for survival significantly violate that person’s trust or well-being. It is understandable, then, that being cut by a trusted family member can have lifelong consequences with powerful emotions that can be difficult to process. 

Confronting the person who betrayed you can provide psychologically healing relief if your feelings are acknowledged and respected and if the ensuing conversation supports an honest discussion. However, every situation is unique and not everyone will feel the need or desire for confrontation. One can heal without confrontation. It all depends on the individual survivor and her particular circumstances. 

  1. I hope you can answer this question, please. Is it normal to not feel any impact by FGM? I am Iraqi and had FGM when I was around 7. I have no memories of this. I don’t have problems climaxing, and I am worried I may be blocking all of this out but I have no recollection of this at all.

Although post-traumatic stress symptoms can remain in remission for years, I don’t think you should think you have a problem because you can’t remember undergoing FGM. There are many women who do not remember their FGM/C [experience]. And, FGM/C is not necessarily an impediment to sexual function. In fact, many women report that they have no difficulties experiencing orgasm.  

  1. How do you offer community support to white women who have survived FGC from surviving cults, since their experience is different from women of color who may have community/cultural support?

Unfortunately, I do not know of any community support for Caucasian FGC survivors who have also survived cults. Here is the first link and the second link of resources for cult survivors. Hopefully, these women may be able to find support and other FGC affected survivors

  1. Any experience with sexuality after clitoral restoration?

The procedure, often called clitoral reconstruction or restoration, is viewed with caution by some medical experts. The World Health Organization says that while there are some promising reports that the operation may relieve pain, there is not yet enough evidence of safety and effectiveness. The organization advises against raising unrealistic expectations, especially for women seeking sexual improvement. However, that being said, a recent systematic review evaluated the effects of reconstructive surgery. The results indicate that about three women out of four regain a visible clitoris. Self-reported improvements in pain during sex, clitoral function/pleasure, orgasm, and desire are in the 43– 63% range; but up to 22% reported a worsening in sexual outcomes.  It is important to remember that female sexuality is a complex integration of biological, physiological, psychological, sociocultural, and interpersonal factors that contribute to a combined experience of physical, emotional, and relational satisfaction.  And within this combination of factors, every woman is uniquely different.

Hear about one FGM/C survivor’s successful experience of her clitoral restoration surgery.

Art, Activism, And Healing: Reflecting on our conversation around female genital cutting

By Cate Cox

On January 19th, Sahiyo held the webinar, Art, Activism, And Healing: In Conversation Around Female Genital Cutting (FGC). During this webinar, we had the opportunity to hear from four speakers Owanto, Naomi Wachs, Sunera Sadicali, and Andrea Carr about how they have used art as a tool to encourage the abandonment of FGC and to work toward healing. From sculptures to videos and sound bites, this webinar explored how art in all its many forms can be used to uplift the voices of survivors and continue to push the conversation around FGC.     

Mariya Taher, a co-founder of Sahiyo and U.S. Executive Director, began our webinar by giving the audience an introduction to Sahiyo’s many programs that involve art and activism, including Sahiyo’s Voices to End FGM/C and #MoreThanASurvivor campaigns. Next, our speakers Owanto and Andrea Carr introduced us to their work as career artists, and how they are championing this cause in some of the most prestigious galleries and institutions around the world, as well as in community settings. They reminded us that art can be a tool to spark hard discussions and give people the space to have their own stories seen and heard. Sunera Sadicali and Naomi Wachs helped to expand on that conversation by taking us through their own journeys and explaining the psychological reasons behind why art is such an effective tool for trauma healing. The insight and experience of our panelists not only helped our audience to understand what has been done in the field of art and activism surrounding FGC, but stood as an inspiration for how we all can engage in art and activism in our own personal lives. 

At the end of our webinar, our audience had the opportunity to ask our panelists questions about their experience and knowledge. The questions explored how our panelists were able to get people to open up about their experiences with FGC and how they were able to use art to encourage education and conversation around this issue. Coming from their multi-disciplinary backgrounds, each of our panelists were able to speak to a unique aspect of these questions. Despite their diversity of experience, they each emphasized the importance of art as a conversational medium, that allows people to take control of their own narrative, and when a safe space is created, encourages healing. 

Art, Activism, And Healing: In Conversation Around Female Genital Cutting (FGC) explored the often underutilized tool that is art to empower communities to abandon FGC and support survivors’ healing. It reminded us that activism and healing take many forms, and that, as Owanto said, “There is light.” For those who are interested in learning more about art and activism, Sahiyo is hosting a screening of our Voices to End FGM/C videos coming up this February. You can register here to attend!  

If you were unable to attend this webinar, or would simply like to learn more about this event, the transcript and recording of this event are attached below.

Watch the recording of this event.  

Read the transcript.