We should all speak up against female genital cutting

By Hatim Amiji

As a man, I found myself extremely nervous sitting in a circle of ten women at Sahiyo’s Voices to End FGM/C workshop. I had entered what I would consider a sacred space, to share my story related to female genital cutting (FGC), but more importantly, to listen to their stories. The air was dense and it was obvious that what was about to be shared would be opening up deep and unhealed wounds. I took part in Sahiyo’s storytelling workshop because I wanted to make a point that FGC is an issue males should be willing to stand against. My story highlighted how the practice alienated the relationship I had with my sister. Only by listening to her story, were we able to recreate a bond we once had as innocent children. 

IMG_7437.JPGAs the women told their stories, I listened to their descriptions of the pain they underwent both during the practice and throughout their lives. The metaphorical microphone had been passed, and I could hear what these women had kept inside for most of their lives. As a man, and therefore, in many ways an observer, I was situated in a derivative of social voyeurism. I was listening to stories that had weighed these women down for decades, but I myself never went through such experiences. And yet, I was accepted into their circle; I was given the chance to listen because they felt it was important for me to listen. In turn, the story I told was important for them to hear as well. It was one of solidarity, one that depicted a mutual understanding that this practice needs to end no matter one’s biological sex.

It is common knowledge in the community in which I was raised that this issue is one males are not to get involved in. As I have learned from women in the workshop, it’s the same for many communities around the globe. I had learned of the practice tangentially by skimming through an online pamphlet, and only learned of the prevalence of the practice by doing research on my own. It was never brought up in religious congregations, Sunday school, or in conversations with my parents. I had to bring it up to my mother in order to learn more about it, and I have yet to even speak with my father because I know he is likely as shielded from the issue as I once was.

Aside from the fact that males are less informed on the issue, it is also apparent that males turn a blind eye even in light of exposure to the practice. We are expected to let the issue stay a female issue: one that we shouldn’t meddle in because we don’t understand. It is true that I will never understand the actual manifestation and perception of pain and lifelong suffering that comes with the practice, but I do understand that this practice is a source of trauma that affects our daughters and sisters and mothers, and this is enough for men to stand up and speak out against it. Around the globe, females are robbed of their innocence in the form of genital cutting and there is absolutely no good reason why. We must speak up because this issue affects us all.

 

Global Call to Action From “Uniting forces to make female genital mutilation/cutting a practice of the past: A gathering for global civil society actors”

On June 2, 2019 in Vancouver, Canada, civil society organisations, champions, survivors and other grassroots representatives came together at Women Deliver 2019 to unite voices around a global Call to Action to end female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C).

The pre-conference was an unprecedented gathering as a sector working globally across the issue to discuss what is needed to accelerate ending FGM/C by 2030. The event put grassroots voices at the centre and worked to strengthen our unified community of practice to support the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 5.3. (eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation).

“Uniting forces to make female genital mutilation/cutting a practice of the past: A gathering for global civil society actors” involved more than 100 participants in Vancouver. More than 270 additional participants shared their expertise and experience through an online survey. The event was co-ordinated through a core group of globally representative organisations that managed logistics:  Amref Health Africa, Coalition on Violence Against Women, End FGM Canada Network, End FGM European Network, Equality Now, Orchid Project, Sahiyo, The Girl Generation, The Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices, The US End FGM/C Network,There Is No Limit Foundation and Tostan

Participants in Vancouver endorsed the following Call to Action:

PREAMBLE

  • FGM/C is a violation of the human rights of women and girls and must be ended in all its forms
  • We need to make FGM/C a global priority, in the same way the global community responded to other global epidemics, such as HIV/AIDs 

SUPPORTING CHANGE FROM WITHIN – CHALLENGING SOCIAL AND GENDER NORMS

  • We share a vision of a world free from FGM/C and 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 SDGs
  • 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
  • Ending FGM/C requires addressing the root causes of gender inequality at the community level, including gender stereotypes, unequal power relations, and negative social norms

STRENGTHENING THE EVIDENCE BASE THROUGH CRITICAL RESEARCH

  • Fill the knowledge gap on FGM/C survivors’ specific needs, impact on economic empowerment, and behaviour change around emerging trends such as medicalisation and lower ages of cutting
  • Use community-based participatory approaches within research efforts and ensure that research results and data are synthesised for communities to use
  • Create, test, and implement standardised universal indicators that are informed by context specific measures and demand country-level reporting

IMPROVING WELLBEING VIA SUPPORT AND SERVICES FOR SURVIVORS

  • More support is needed for survivors in various forms, including security and protection for survivors, targeted research and resources to enable health and emotional wellbeing
  • Enable the transformative power of survivors and survivor-led networks through support to connect with each other, other gender-based violence movements and capacity build 

ADDRESSING EMERGING TRENDS AROUND FGM/C 

  • 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 committed to working with religious leaders, health workers and governments to respond to adaptations to the practice which continue to violate women’s rights, such as medicalisation, cross-border practices, and lowering the age at which FGM/C is carried out

INCREASING RESOURCES TO ACHIEVE THE GLOBAL GOAL

  • We call on all stakeholders to prioritise resources towards grassroots and community-led programmes. Funds should be more flexible, sustainable and accessible for communities and grassroots and capacity building should be provided as well as networks
  • Investment is needed in better research into what is working and what is not to end FGM/C. This research needs to be participatory and involve multiple stakeholders and should be made available and accessible
  • We are focused on coming together and working collaboratively to address what existing gaps there are, what are the costs of FGM/C, and what do we need to end this globally

dsGQER

See call to action as PDF here.

Further Women Deliver blog posts:

Looking Back: Sahiyo at CSW/MALA’s March 2019 Event

On  March 18th 2019, the Muslim American Leadership Alliance (MALA) hosted a parallel event on “Addressing FGM in the USA: Safeguarding Survivors and Protecting Victims at the UN Commission on the Status of Women 63rd Session in New York. The panel took place at the UN Church Center. The panel convened survivors, policy makers, non-profit leaders, and community organizers to facilitate the dialogue on what necessary steps are needed to ensure ‘zero tolerance’ towards FGM for both survivors and at-risk women and girls.46892036214_50c0aab75b_o (1)47563340402_20809d8ac6_o

Speakers included: 

  • Mariya Taher, Sahiyo Cofounder 
  • Mary Franson, Minnesota House of Representatives
  • Andrea G. Bottner, J.D., Senior Advisor- Independent Women’s Forum
  • Asad Zaman, M.D
  • Zehra Patwa, WeSpeakOut Co-Founder and Sahiyo Vice-Chair of the U.S. Advisory Board

This panel analyzed the practice of FGC in the United States through a medical, psychological, and legislative lens. The panelists collectively suggested a variety of approaches to bringing communities together to gain knowledge and organize.  

The event was incredibly popular, with the room at full capacity and more guests listening from the hall.    

46892037794_a47e5323f8_oThese types of events are essential towards our progress in creating a world without FGC. 

Sahiyo talks about female genital cutting at 3rd Annual Intersections of Violence conference

On July 16th, Sahiyo Cofounder and U.S. Executive Director, Mariya Taher was invited to attend the 3rd Annual Intersections of Violence:  Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, and Child Abuse Conference in Hampton, VA and host a break-out session on female genital cutting (FGC) in the United States. The conference is dedicated to enhancing the effectiveness of victims service professionals and brought together law enforcement, prosecutors, victim advocates, child advocates, and other allied professionals to highlight promising practices and emerging issues to effectively respond to domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse in our communities.  

Mariya Taher at the 3rd Annual Intersections of Violence conference

Mariya’s presentation, the only one of its kind at the conference, covered an overview of who is affected by FGC, interventions used to address FGC, and how to work/respond to survivors. Most attendees had little experience with FGC and so throughout the presentation, survivor stories, from Sahiyo Stories project were shown to participants to help contextualize that FGC was an issue within the U.S. affecting women of all different backgrounds, including religion, ethnicity, socio-economic status, education level, citizenship status, etc. 

Launching Global Voices to End FGM/C – An Online Digital Storytelling Workshop

On June 1, Sahiyo and StoryCenter launched a pilot online digital storytelling workshop – Global Voices to End FGM/C, which is supporting ten women impacted by female genital cutting in sharing and audio-recording their stories. 

During June, storytellers attended a series of webinars that helped highlight the storyteller process and how to go about drafting their story scripts as well creating a storyboard for their digital story. During July and August, the storytellers will continue working on their digital stories by collecting illustrations for their stories. The stories will be illustrated with a combination of personal images (photos and video clips) provided by the storytellers, and images contributed by participating women artists. 

The storytellers come from a variety of countries including:  Tanzania, United Kingdom, India, Sweden, Singapore, and Bahrain. “As a survivor of FGC, it is empowering to be able to share my story in my own words, with my own choice of visuals, as opposed to my story being told by someone else,” said Aarefa Johari, one of the participants of the workshop. 

All participants’ digital stories will be released in late September.

Sahiyo’s male ally campaign: We need your voice!

Seeking Male Allies to Take a Stand Against Female Genital Cutting

Female Genital Cutting (FGC) is a harmful practice, deeply rooted in misunderstanding, that requires individuals of all genders, sexual orientations, races and backgrounds to come together to ensure that not another woman or young girl is harmed. We at Sahiyo have been so grateful for the outpouring of support from our volunteers and partners all over the globe tirelessly working with us to end FGC, yet we know that more needs to be done. Particularly, we need more male supporters to stand with us and make it known that practices which alter or harm the female body, whether in the name of culture, tradition or religion, will not be tolerated. 

Everyone deserves the right to be a free agent acting autonomously over their body, life, and the choices they have been given. When a young girl is told that she needs to be cut, for whatever the reason presented, she loses this right. Many women who have undergone FGC often grapple with difficult emotional and psychological wounds. 

Even less talked about, is the negative impact FGC can have on a woman’s relationship with her partner.  Frequently, issues arise involving intimacy, sexuality and childbirth making these relationships strained and painful. 

Simply put, we must all work together to ensure that we support survivors and prevent FGC from happening to future generations of girls. Speaking out on such a subject can be difficult. However, men must be part of this movement as well, as anti-FGM activist Tony Mwebia powerfully said: 

“Not involving men in the fight against FGM is like a doctor treating symptoms of a disease and ignoring the disease itself” #MenEndFGM”

How you can help:

We are seeking various submissions from our male allies by July 20th, explaining why they are united with us in ending female genital cutting. 

Types of submissions:

  • A short, 30 second to 1 minute video. Videos can be taken from a smartphone or from any alternative, digital device available.
  • Provide a quote explaining why you want to end FGC along with a picture of yourself and your name.
  • Write a blog post on the need for men to be involved in FGC that is 900 words or less. We accept anonymous submissions as well. 

Send all submissions via email to: info@sahiyo.com by July 20th. In the subject line, write “Male Ally Campaign to end FGC.”

Please consider being a part of this campaign to help us end FGC, we need everyone’s voice! 

#MenToEndFGC

If you have any questions, please get in touch with Sahiyo, at Info@sahiyo.com.

PRESS RELEASE: A pioneering Roundtable to Address Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting in Massachusetts

Download press release as PDF.

New logoPRESS RELEASE: A pioneering Roundtable to Address Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting in Massachusetts

Boston, Massachusetts, 14 June 2019

On June 13, 2019, a collective of almost 60 experts from different disciplines and cultural groups took the first steps to create a ‘Massachusetts End FGM/C Network’, to highlight the largely unrecognized global issue of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting, and to share knowledge and resources to help end the practice.

The experts gathered to attend the first of its kind roundtable to address FGM/C in the state of Massachusetts. They included community leaders, civic society organizations, health professionals, state government officials from the Massachusetts Legislature, and the Massachusetts Office of the Child Advocate, and federal government officials from the Department of Justice, and Department of Homeland Security Investigations.

The event was organized and led by Sahiyo, a storytelling organization working to support survivors of FGM/C, with support from co-sponsors Muslim American Leadership Alliance (MALA), Tostan, MassNOW, Lesley University, the US End FGM/C Network, and the Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts.

A prevalence study conducted by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention reveals that in 2012, over half of a million women and girls in the United States had FGM/C performed on them or were at risk of FGM/C. Massachusetts ranks 12th in the nation for at-risk populations, totalling 14,591, with the largest at-risk metro areas being Boston, Newton, and Cambridge.

“I’ve undergone FGM/C and I know FGM/C is a global issue affecting women of all different ethnicities, religions, cultures, socio-economic status, and more,” said Mariya Taher, Sahiyo Cofounder and U.S. Executive Director. We need a global response to ensure future girls do not undergo it. We need to think globally and act locally.”

“All are about the cultural control of women’s bodies,” s aid Representative Jay Livingstone in reference to FGM/C. Livingstone is a former prosecutor and co-lead sponsor of the Massachusetts FGM/C criminal bill – H. 3332 who connected the dots between this recent bill to Massachusett’s Equal Pay Act and other pending state legislation, such as The Roe Act. Rep. Livingstone expressed his hope that the FGM/C had bi-partisian support during this legislative session and would pass this session.

Dr. Melody Eckhart, an OB/GYN at Massachusetts General Hospital, and Dr. Sondra Crosby, an internist at Boston Medical Center, spoke about their experiences working with patients who have undergone FGM/C and physical complications that can result, including shock, pain, hemorrhage, infection, and anemia. They warned of the long-term consequences of scar tissue and cyst formation impeding proper urination and menstruation, sexual dysfunction, and complicated labor and delivery, as well as fetal demise. They also called on the urgent need for educating health professionals on how to care for survivors — including addressing their psychological and emotional needs.

“FGM/C is shrouded in secrecy even in the medical community,” said Dr. Crosby. “Health professionals need training in how to work with women in non-judgemental ways, how to make referrals, and how to treat the medical and psychological consequences of FGM/C, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. Medical personnel need to understand the women’s FGM/C experience before they could diagnose and treat it.”

The roundtable was a vital first step to create a multi-disciplinary working group that works to protect all girls in Massachusetts from experiencing this form of gender-based violence.

For more information, contact Lara Kingstone at communications@sahiyo.com

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:

 

‘A Pinch of Skin’ to Screen in Berlin

Sahiyo co-founder’s documentary ‘A Pinch of Skin’ will be screening at NaturFreudeJungend in Berlin on the 25th May. 25th May is also the one-year anniversary of the historic repealing of the ban on abortion in Ireland, also known as the 8th Amendment. This is especially significant as a successful contemporary feminist movement, where women of Ireland voted against the ban on abortion, influencing pro-choice ideas in the Irish constitution.

Goswami will be joined by a pro-choice activist from Ireland, Dervla O’Malley and Dr. Tobe Levin von Gleichen, Female Genital Cutting/Mutilation activist, for a panel discussion post the screening. The discussion will aim to look at practices and cultural ideas such as Female Genital Cutting, stigma on abortion, menstruation taboos which try to control the female body and sexuality. 

Sahiyo Stories Shown at Reconference In Nepal

From April 10 to 12, Sahiyo co-founder Mariya Taher attended Reconference, a three-day conference hosted by CREA, to address today’s most challenging socio-political issues and their intersections with feminism, art, and technology by rethinking, reimagining, and rebooting how to build an inclusive feminist vision of justice. 

Sahiyo Stories, a digital storytelling project organized and created by Sahiyo and StoryCenter, was selected to be part of Day 2 of Reconference, and Mariya presented the collection of 10 digital stories created by women living in the US who had undergone female genital cutting (FGC) or had family members who had undergone it, in order to highlight that FGC is a global issue affecting women of all different backgrounds. Her workshop was the only one highlighting FGC at the three-day conference.