31 US States Now Have Laws Against Female Genital Cutting, But Government Will Not Appeal in the Federal Michigan Case

On April 10, the U.S. Department of Justice decided not to appeal the November 2018 judgement by a US District Court which ruled that the federal law banning Female Genital Cutting is unconstitutional. The District Court had stated that FGC is a “local criminal activity” to be handled at the state level and that Congress did not have the authority to enact the federal law under the commerce clause. While the Department of Justice cites such technicalities as the reason behind its decision not to appeal the District Court’s ruling, it has also urged Congress to address the flaws and problems with the federal law against FGC so that it can be strengthened.

The District Court’s ruling in November came in the case of Dr. Jumana Nagarwala and others, who were charged with performing/aiding female genital cutting in Detroit, Michigan, on nine minor girls.
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In positive news, however, 31 out of 50 states in the USA now have laws banning Female Genital Cutting after IdahoArkansas, and Utah passed laws to that effect in the past few months.

The Idaho legislature passed a bill outlawing FGC on March 20, and the law will be effective from July. Utah state legislators unanimously passed a bill against FGC a week earlier, on March 14. Meanwhile, the law in Arkansas, passed in February, not only criminalises FGC but also provides for introducing awareness programmes about FGC.
18 states in the US have yet to pass their own laws banning genital cutting for girls and women, which is now vital since the District Court has ruled that FGC is a state-level crime.

Meanwhile, in India, a group of grassroots Muslim women’s organisations in India released a manifesto on March 28 for political parties to take up ahead of the 2019 national Parliamentary election in April and May. The manifesto includes the demand for a special law to ban female genital cutting in India. The Indian Supreme Court is currently hearing a set of petitions demanding a law against FGC, as well as a counter-petition defending FGC on the grounds of the constitutionally-guaranteed right to religious freedom. The liberal Muslim women’s groups that released their “women’s manifesto” hope that India’s leading political parties will commit to ending FGC in their own official election manifestos.

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Sahiyo USA’s Second Annual Activist Retreat: A recap

In March 2019, Sahiyo U.S. hosted our second annual activist retreat for women connected to the Bohra community who are concerned about the issue of FGC within the community. Sahiyo understands it takes many to bring about social change, and as a result, we work with individuals, organizations, and coalitions in a collaborative fashion. As advocates and activists, we are better together and can find the best solutions if we collaborate and work as one.

The Sahiyo Activist retreat helps to build a network of U.S. based Bohra activists by 1) strengthening relationships with one another, 2) sharing best practices and providing tools for activists to utilize in their anti-FGC advocacy work moving forward. The retreat was also an opportunity for advocates/activists to discuss both the challenges and opportunities they face in advocating against FGC. This year, Sahiyo also initiated our peer support program, Saathi, a program attended to build a support system for activists. As per Sahiyo’s 2017 Activists Needs Assessment, findings suggest that having a support system in place was crucial towards building a critical mass of voices seeking to create change. Both the Activist Retreat and Saathi program seek to do so.

To read reflections from participants who attended the retreat, click here.

Seeking Storytellers for Voices to End FGM/C – A U.S. based digital storytelling workshop

For the second year, Sahiyo and StoryCenter will collaborate to host a 3-day in-person, U.S. based digital storytelling workshop from September 20th-22nd, 2019 for survivors of Female Genital Cutting/Mutilation (FGM/C) and/or those who come from FGM/C practicing communities and are advocates against it. This year’s workshop will take place in Asheville, North Carolina and will be supported by Threads Weaving Dreams.

To apply, fill out this form to be selected as one of the storytellers for this workshop.

In 2018, Sahiyo and StoryCenter brought together nine women from across the United States to create personalized digital stories that narrate experiences of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). These women, who differ in identity and experience, each shared a personal story addressing a different challenge with FGM/C. The collection that resulted was called Sahiyo Stories and the digital stories were woven together with a united sentiment and a joint hope that the stories would build a critical mass of voices from within FGM/C-practicing communities, calling for the abandonment of this harmful practice.

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Building from the first digital storytelling workshop, this second iteration will be called Voices to End FGM/C and will seek to gather 8 people from across the United States who are connected to the issue of FGM/C to come together in a workshop dedicated to healing and creating, through sharing their personal stories.

Space is limited to 8 participants, and travel scholarships are available. The application will close on June 30th. Apply here.

View sample stories from our previous work with survivors of FGM/C, and check out Sahiyo’s blog posts about the first digital storytelling workshop, the Sahiyo Stories project.

If you have any questions, please get in touch with Amy Hill, from StoryCenter, at amylenita@storycenter.org; or Mariya Taher, from Sahiyo, at mariya@sahiyo.com

 

Sahiyo’s New Video Campaign: No More Female Genital Cutting – Volunteers Share Their Stories

As April is known as Sexual Assault Awareness month, as well as a National Child Abuse Prevention Month and Female Genital Cutting (FGC) is an issue which lies at the pivotal intersections between these two issues, Sahiyo has begun a campaign to highlight why the Sahiyo community is working to both support survivors of FGC as well as to work towards preventing FGC form occurring to future generations of girls.

Sahiyo reached out to our community of volunteers- spanning the globe, from Bahrain to Boston, and asked them to share their thoughts on their activism to end FGC, and why this issue matters to them.

Throughout the month, short videos made by our Sahiyo community will be shared via social media. These voices belong to our volunteers, staff, advisory board and storytellers, each of whom has a different history and experience or knowledge of FGC – from beginning volunteers to more experienced advocates

Do help us share this tapestry of powerful voices that are part of the ‘No More FGC- Volunteers Share Their Stories’ campaign by sharing these videos with your own networks. 

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Find them on Sahiyo’s Youtube or Facebook today!

 

 

 

 

Voices to End FGM/C: Seeking artists for social norm change project

Sahiyo is thrilled to announce the “Voices to End FGM/C” global storytelling project in collaboration with StoryCenter , which will 32116875_599132283756674_95332584455667712_n-e1550871714233.jpgsupport a group of ten women who have experienced female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) in telling their stories.

StoryCenter is a community-arts organization that has for 20+ years worked with grassroots groups on participatory digital storytelling and media arts projects.  

DSC_0073We are seeking women artists (illustrators, painters, animators, graphic designers, etc.) to illustrate the stories, as a way of preserving the anonymity of the storytellers. The stories will be recorded in June 2019, and artists will work on illustrations in July, with the goal of completing the videos in August (all video editing will be done by StoryCenter staff).

Check out a sample story from our previous work with survivors of FGM/C.

If you or an artist who you know would like to get involved as an artist with this project, please contact mariya@sahiyo.com no later than June 1, 2019 for details on what will be required.

Each artist will receive a stipend of $200 U.S.

To download this information as PDF, click here.

If you are interested in telling your FGC story and would like to apply to be a participant, click here.

 

Sahiyo and StoryCenter win the #EndFGM Positive Action Challenge

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In May 2018, Sahiyo and StoryCenter, hosted a digital storytelling workshop where FGC survivors from across the U.S. could come together to share their experiences. In September 2018, the digital stories were released online and several screenings of the digital stories have occurred. Now, Sahiyo and StoryCenter have been named 1 of 3 winners for the ViiV Healthcare #EndFGM Positive Action Challenge. The #ENDFGM Positive Action Challenge supports innovative interventions to bring about a sustained change in attitudes and social norms towards ending FGC. In 2019, Sahiyo and StoryteCenter will work to expand the digital storytelling project to become “Voices to End FGM/C” by creating a web-based format so that survivors from around the world can use personal storytelling for social norm change on a global level.

Other winners of this challenge include Grandmother Project: Change Through Culture and Circuit Pointe.

If you would like more information about the project, contact mariya@sahiyo.com.

Reflecting before we move forward: Overview of global FGC news from 2018

For everyone invested in laws and norms around the practices of FGC, 2018 was an incredibly eventful year.

On January 22nd, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former Liberian president and first female head of state in Africa, on her last day in office, signed an executive order to ban FGC for a year. Over half of Liberian women have experienced FGC.

In July, we were reminded again of how deadly FGC can be when a 10-year-old Somali girl died during a traditional genital cutting ceremony. After an investigation, those responsible were prosecuted. The direction of this case has been called a ‘defining moment’ for the country, as hopefully, it can set a precedent for future cases.

August brought the overturning of an Australian case from 2015, in which a Dawoodi Bohra mother and a former nurse were found guilty of cutting the genitals of two sisters, aged six and seven. The overturning of the conviction was based on the grounds of there not being any clearly visible physical scarring of the sisters’ genital tissue, despite the fact that the girls had given testimonies about the emotional trauma they suffered at the time of the cutting. This acquittal was a major news story, as the case had been Australia’s first FGC prosecution.

In September, the Indian Supreme court referred a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) on FGC to a five-judge constitution bench. The PIL had been filed in 2017 by a Delhi-based lawyer seeking a ban on the practice of FGC in India. While other survivors of the practice joined in the petition against FGC, they were opposed by a counter-petition filed by a pro-FGC group within the Dawoodi Bohra community, which claimed that FGC is not harmful and should be considered a part of their Constitutional right to religious freedom. Accordingly, they demanded that the practice be scrutinized through this lens by a larger constitution bench of the Court – an appeal that the Court finally granted.

From September to November, as the Sri Lankan government considered a ban on FGC and gave a platform to survivors to privately share their experiences of harm and trauma, a number of Muslim Sri Lankan groups came together to defend their version of female “circumcision”. They claimed that circumcision is not the same as genital mutilation. Various leaders stated to parliament that they support the medicalization of the practice, but to prohibit the practice would be an infringement on their religious freedom rights.

In November, a federal judge in Detroit declared a US federal law banning female genital mutilation unconstitutional. As a result, several charges against two doctors and others were dismissed in the first US criminal case of its kind. However, in December, federal prosecutors signaled that they would appeal the judge’s decision. The case has helped to bring more media attention to the issue of FGC both in the U.S. and more broadly and it’s lasting effects remain to be seen.

Around the same time, the United Kingdom government pledged £50m to help end FGC across Africa by 2030. Their commitment has been the biggest investment made in history to address FGC and provide support to girls who are at-risk.

This year the British Medical Journal published a study looking at the prevalence of FGC since 1990, globally. The trends discovered varied, with the practice continuing full strength in Iraq and Yemen but decreasing drastically in East African countries.

In all, the last year was one full of pain and hope, but also moments of triumph. As 2019 just begins, we at Sahiyo hope the year brings forth more voices, more protection for women and girls and more progress in this area. We continue to believe that we can create a world where FGC is no longer practiced.

Reflections on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting & Intergenerational Trauma

By Anonymous

Country of Residence: United States

I am not a survivor of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). In fact, my father is vehemently opposed to the practice. Even though I was shielded from FGM/C, I know loved ones who have undergone the procedure. One of those survivors is my mom.

 

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My parents are from Somaliland, which lies on the northwestern part of Somalia, but we now live in the United States. FGM/C has evolved into a cultural practice in Somaliland that has strong social roots. There is a lot of stigma if you aren’t cut (guilt, shame, neglect). My experience within the Somali community is that FGM/C has been discussed within the realm of religious theology as an acceptable form of practice. The only problem is that there is no religious text in the Quran that advocates or allows this practice. Granted, FGM/C is practiced around the world for a variety of reasons. But it is vital to highlight our personal experiences which will enable us to find collective solutions to end the practice.

I didn’t know much about FGM/C until I immigrated to the United States. The irony is that it’s a common practice passed down through generations, but it’s a closely guarded secret. No one talks about it unless it’s your time to undergo the procedure. After I looked into the different forms of FGM/C and the harmful effects, I was immediately repulsed by the actions of my community. I was enraged that the perpetrators of FGM/C were not held accountable for committing a human rights violation. I just can’t fathom how my community would eagerly rally against islamophobia, but turn a blind eye to FGM/C.

I faced a dilemma. I was harboring these feelings against my community because I just couldn’t understand the rationale of the people who are advocates of FGM/C. I was concerned that my emotions were clouding my judgment. One day I built up the courage to ask someone who could provide me some context: my mom. I am not sure why I waited until the end of this year to ask my mom why FGM/C is so prevalent in our community, but perhaps I was petrified of how she would react. I was fortunate to have the guidance of Mariya Taher (co-founder of Sahiyo) to prepare me for this day.

The type of FGM/C procedure that my mom endured is common amongst Somali women. Known as infibulation, it is typically the most severe form. My mom was very candid in her experience as she vividly disclosed the trauma and pain she went through. During our intense conversation, I interrupted her because at some point, it was too painful to digest. In the end, she confided in me. “We weren’t educated at that time, and we just did what we thought was right,” she said.

We can’t trace when the practice of FGM/C had its initial roots in my family, but something clicked inside my head in relation to intergenerational trauma. My grandmother was exposed to the same FGM/C procedure as my mom. Despite the agony, my grandmother is convinced it was the right thing to do. After all, that’s all she knows. Even though my grandmother made the decision for my mom to go through FGM/C, it doesn’t mean that she is a terrible individual. If I had to describe my grandmother, the first thing that would come to mind is her independence. She is fierce, loving, generous and vocal. She would never hesitate to express her opinion. It’s a shocking that my grandmother advocated for the practice of FGM/C because it just didn’t fit in with her persona. This is where intergenerational trauma comes into effect.You endure a traumatic experience and one of the ways to cope with that specific experience is to normalize it. If you are not provided the proper mechanisms to manage trauma, it will manifest itself often at the expense of your loved ones.

For a long time, I believed that FGM/C was only practiced in my community. Then I was exposed to data that demonstrated the wide reach of FGM/C. I believe that education and dialogue are crucial to creating solutions for the practice to end. We must not shame communities, but bring awareness of the life threatening risks associated with the procedures that so many girls endure. I believe in humanity and even though the practice of FGM/C is harmful, there is still room for hope.

Sahiyo Stories screened in Massachusetts

In May 2018, the Sahiyo Stories project brought together nine women from across the United States to create personalized digital stories that narrate the experience of undergoing female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) and/or the experience of their advocacy work to end this form of gender violence.

The video stories created at the workshop have since then been released on YouTube (you can watch them here). In November a public screening of Sahiyo Stories was held in Massachusetts.

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Lesley University, Massachusetts

On November 9th, Sahiyo took part in Violence Against Women Conference hosted by Lesley University. This day-long, interdisciplinary event aimed to “provide a platform for scholars, artists and community activists to explore the interplay between global representations of violence against women and historical and contemporary discourses.” Sahiyo held a screening of the Sahiyo Stories digital stories, with an introduction on ‘What is Female Genital Cutting’ by Sahiyo co-founder Mariya Taher, and a post-viewing Questions & Answers session with Renee Bergstrom, one of the Sahiyo story participants.

At the Lesley University screening, the audience included a mixture of folks, with a majority of the participants being Lesley students interested in gender equity, human rights, international women’s issues or a unique cross of these fields.

Here’s what Lara Kingstone, Sahiyo’s Communication Assistant had to say about the event:

The Q&A session allowed for followed was a frank and informative discussion of FGC, social change, and the nature of community traditions. Having both Mariya and Renee present added a layer of personal connection to the screening, and I believe that guests and facilitators alike (and myself, the Communications Assistant!) came away feeling energized, informed and connected by the session. ~ Lara

 

Intern Spotlight: Sahiyo editorial intern Jenny Cordle

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Jenny Cordle joined Sahiyo’s team as an editorial intern in October 2018. She is currently researching the intersection of maternal and child health, traditional healing and spiritual beliefs in Northern Ghana through Georgetown University for her Master’s of Science in Global Health. Jenny’s passions include documenting human rights issues through photography and nonfiction writing. In 2016, she received a Certificate in Documentary Photography and Nonfiction Writing from Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies, with her work focusing on female genital cutting in Mali, West Africa. She worked as a communications associate for Tostan. Read about Jenny’s experience with Sahiyo below:

1) When and how did you first get involved with Sahiyo?

I became an editorial intern in October of this year. I learned about Sahiyo’s work through a network of people in Washington, D.C, working to encourage abandonment of female genital cutting.

2) What does your work with Sahiyo involve?

I have the honor of honing the voices of many who share their experiences on the blog with FGC through storytelling and editing.

3) How has your involvement with Sahiyo impacted your life?

I have been on a journey to work in some capacity on FGC as a human rights issue since I lived in a small community in Mali, West Africa, where girls were cut. Sahiyo has given me that opportunity. I have been writing about my time in Mali and I will get to share those stories through Sahiyo’s platform, which is an honor. Working with Sahiyo has been an educational experience that has taught me more about FGC in Asian communities. It has also connected me to a network of tireless human rights activists.

4) What words of wisdom would you like to share with others who may be interested in supporting Sahiyo and the movement against FGC?

Sahiyo is an incredible organization with dedicated global advocates. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have an interest in human rights advocacy. We need as many passionate people as possible to speak out in support of ending FGC. Check out our website on ways to get involved!