Voices Series: How I reconnected with my purpose through storytelling

This blog is part of a series of reflective essays by participants of the Voices to End FGM/C workshops run by Sahiyo and StoryCenter. Through residential and online workshops on digital storytelling, Voices to End FGM/C enables those who have been affected by female genital mutilation/cutting to tell their stories through their own perspectives, in their own words.

By Nonya Khedr 

Sahiyo and StoryCenter created a remarkable experience for me at the Voices to End FGM/C digital storytelling workshop. The workshop included phenomenal women and men who wanted to use their stories to advocate against the practice. Although sharing my story put me in a position where I felt extremely vulnerable and exposed, I certainly felt safe.

During the workshops, we learned how to create and articulate our stories in order to advocate against the practice. We took breaks to participate in healing exercises such as yoga and meditation. I was very grateful that we took time out of the workshops because it helped me reconnect with myself and acknowledge where I was. It gave my brain time to rejuvenate after revisiting traumatic experiences.

These exercises emphasized the importance of taking time out of my everyday life to take care of my wellbeing in order to strive and grow in my career. A few weeks later, I am now more mindful of how to manage my work, reconnecting with my purpose and remembering why I am doing this work. I am taking better care of my self with prayer, exercise, and downtime. 

The workshop inspired me to keep moving forward with the work I’m doing with my organization, SheFFA. I started SheFFA earlier this year to advocate against FGM/C, and provide support for women who have undergone the practice. Before coming to the conference, I experienced so many stressful and discouraging moments working on it due to the overwhelming amount of work and being a full-time college student. However, being a part of an environment full of powerful women and men who are passionate about eradicating FGM/C gave me more hope to move forward. I have developed lovely relationships with people who are extremely supportive and whose goals align with my mission.

The story that I have created during the workshop will be used to bring more awareness against FGM/C with the intention to empower other people to speak out against the practice and to make a greater impact.

 

 

How COVID-19 may increase gender-based violence, including FGM/C

The UNFPA and UNICEF Joint Program on the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) released a technical note about how the COVID-19 pandemic may affect women and girls adversely in regard to violence and inequalities. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to allow an additional two million cases of FGM/C due to restricted movement and confinement of people globally, disrupting the Sustainable Development Goal 5.3: Eliminating FGM/C by 2030. The closing of schools, restricted mobility and the inevitability of health care workers prioritizing COVID-19 patients heightens the need for supporting community-based women and youth groups identifying at-risk girls vulnerable to violence, including FGM/C.

The brief is meant as a guide for UNFPA and UNICEF Joint Program staff and partners, other United Nations agencies, governments, civil society, and non-governmental organizations, on how to assess the impact COVID-19 may have on FGM/C programs. The call to action includes integrating FGM/C in COVID-19 preparedness and response plans; access to prevention, protection, and care services and community-based protection; alternative approaches to community-based interventions promoting the abandonment of FGM/C; opportunities presented by the pandemic; and adaptive monitoring and evaluation.

 

Voices Series: Why I'm grateful for sharing my story of Female Genital Cutting

This blog is part of a series of reflective essays by participants of the Voices to End FGM/C workshops run by Sahiyo and StoryCenter. Through residential and online workshops on digital storytelling, Voices to End FGM/C enables those who have been affected by female genital mutilation/cutting to tell their stories through their own perspectives, in their own words.

By Anonymous

Honestly, I have never felt like a victim. What I am here to do is to create more awareness about female genital cutting (FGC)  in a creative form. My video touches on other religious issues subtly, and that’s why there is a repulsion to go public from my family, and I absolutely understand that.

Having to do this dialogue with my family and myself about being open or anonymous led me into a phase of depression where I felt locked, felt I cannot speak freely. It actually helped me evolve. This was deep. I have just aged in the process of making this decision to even release the work.

Now that it is clear to me, I understand how politically it can affect my family just because my story involves more than just FGC. With that clarity I chose to remain anonymous on this piece, largely the overall impact of having this done makes me more robust, more open with subtle diplomacy and less naivety. This phase strengthened self-belief, maybe in the future being anonymous can become history. Very thankful.

 

Voices Series: Naima Dido

My mother, a woman who has never held a pencil in her life, had a dream of educating me. And so, I became the first woman in my family to learn the power of literacy. Beyond the abilities to read and write for myself, my educational opportunities have empowered me to take control over my own mind and body, to know that I can mold my life and my future into whatever I wish. The differences between my mother and me include making my own choices, taking my own chances, and embracing the resulting changes. And still, my mother and our female ancestors—with all of their obedience to culturally expected behavior—inspire me to reach for my own dreams so that I could tell the stories of the trails they blazed with their blood, sweat, and tears, and most importantly their resilience and survival. In sharing our stories, I hope we inspire and empower other survivors to tell their stories.

I believe powerful narratives and effective storytelling can change cultural norms and create a space for new stories, ideas, and norms to flourish. When it comes to changing deeply held beliefs and traditions, stories are foundational. Supporting and empowering survivors to share their stories and engage with the broader community protects generations of girls to come from this harmful practice. Stories are a powerful tool to generate change. Hidden beneath our “survival stories” are skills, resources, positive values, dreams, and desires. Storytelling can help develop compassion for oneself.

Voices Series: Why I believe in the power of storytelling

This blog is part of a series of reflective essays by participants of the Voices to End FGM/C workshops run by Sahiyo and StoryCenter. Through residential and online workshops on digital storytelling, Voices to End FGM/C enables those who have been affected by female genital mutilation/cutting to tell their stories through their own perspectives, in their own words.

By Shabana Feroze

I participated in the Voices To End FGM/C project by Sahiyo, where I also volunteer. What I really took away from participating in this project is the power of storytelling. In this project, videos are made from our past experiences with female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). Each participant has a unique video. We would have weekly online workshops in which we were guided on how to tell our story and the next steps.

When each of the participants would read out her unique take on their experience, I would get chills. It had so much of an impact, listening to what each survivor went through and how it had affected them. 

It was very educational as well, because we were taught the nuances of storytelling. I found that to be the most interesting part: all the details that make a story more impactful and holds interest. I loved how we had very strict guidelines about story and video length. 

I relate to all this because I’m a marketer by profession. I believe in the power of storytelling for brands and marketing campaigns, so this was a strong reassurance that I was on the right path. All the little things I learned about what makes a story powerful and what makes a story stay with you definitely helped me in my profession as well. I could apply that knowledge to my professional work.

I also learned about teamwork and how step-by-step a big project comes to fruition. I’ve never worked on a project on an international level where the participants are all based in different countries and different time zones. Yet all of us came together and we did what was required of us, thanks to the effort and patience of Mariya and Amy, our facilitators. 

I’ve gained so much from participating in this project, more than I expected. I hope that our voices reach the highest levels and help to create change to stop this tradition.

Voices Series: We should all speak up against female genital cutting

This blog is part of a series of reflective essays by participants of the Voices to End FGM/C workshops run by Sahiyo and StoryCenter. Through residential and online workshops on digital storytelling, Voices to End FGM/C enables those who have been affected by female genital mutilation/cutting to tell their stories through their own perspectives, in their own words.

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. 

As 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.

Asia Network to End FGM/C calls for your participation

Malaysian NGO Asian Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW) and British charity Orchid Project are jointly developing a new Asia Network to End FGM/C, to strengthen movements to end the practice of FGC in Asian communities.

To shape this network and its priorities, all interested organisations, activists, and stakeholders working in the region on FGM/C or related issues in Asia are invited to fill out this consultation survey. The closing date for this survey will be 22nd December 2019.

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.

Support Sahiyo’s Work this Giving Tuesday

Every Tuesday following Black Friday, millions of people around the United States give back to support non-profit organizations that they believe in. This year we are inviting you to support Sahiyo’s groundbreaking work to end female genital cutting. 

Your generous support is absolutely vital, as so much of what we do is donation-based and dependent on your financial contributions. 

Donate now!

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Thanks to your support, this year we were able to conduct two Voices to End FGM/C workshops in North Carolina and Washington, D.C. At these workshops, 20 individuals affected by FGM/C were able to create digital stories of their experiences that will be used to educate communities on the harms of the practice, and potentially protect future generations of girls from undergoing it. Thank you for making those workshops possible with your financial support! 

We are excited about spreading awareness through these new digital stories, but we can’t stop there! We have big plans for the coming year(s) and need your help with fulfilling these goals. 

If each of our supporters gave $25 to this Giving Tuesday campaign, we would reach our goal of raising $10,000 for more Voices to End FGM/C workshops. Please consider a donation of $25 or more today! 

A donation of $25 will support our work in various ways: 

  • Help pay for participants to host their own community events meant to raise awareness of FGC by showing their films created at the workshops 
  • Help pay for participant’s travel to and from the workshop 
  • Promote the new digital stories on Sahiyo’s social media platforms 

 Find out more information and make your contribution here!

Understanding the Supreme Court’s latest judgement mentioning female genital cutting in India

On November 14, after a year of silence on the female genital mutilation/ cutting (FGM/C) case pending before it, the Supreme Court of India mentioned that the case will be referred to a seven-judge Constitution bench. It is likely that the case will now be heard in conjunction with three other petitions dealing with women’s rights and freedom of religion: cases about Hindu women’s entry into the Sabarimala temple, Muslim women’s entry into mosques, and the entry of Parsi women married to non-Parsis into fire temples.     

Previously, in its September 2018 order, the Court had referred the FGC case to a five-judge Constitution bench. Since then, the case had been pending. 

On November 14, however, the Supreme Court brought up the FGC case while hearing a batch of review petitions in the case about Kerala’s Sabarimala temple, where women of menstruating age were traditionally not allowed to enter. The review petitions challenged the Court’s 2018 order which lifted the ban on women’s entry into the temple. 

In its November 14 judgement, a five-judge Supreme Court ruled that the debate on women’s entry into the temple overlapped with other cases about gender and religious rights that are pending before the Court, including women’s entry into mosques and fire temples and female genital mutilation/cutting among Dawoodi Bohras. It stated that a larger bench first needs to rule on the interpretation of the very principles governing the fundamental right to freedom of religion in the Constitution, before passing judgement on all of those cases from different communities.   

The implications of clubbing these various cases under one umbrella are yet to be seen, but the Court’s judgement does raise some concerns. 

Although these cases share the common theme of women’s rights within religion, the cultural ritual of cutting minor girls’ genitals is very different in substance from the rules restricting women’s entry into places of worship. It would be ideal if each of these issues are evaluated separately, on a case-by-case basis.

Sahiyo believes that the matter of FGC needs to be treated with a little more urgency. Fourteen months have already passed since the Supreme Court first referred the FGC case to a Constitution bench last year. That bench was never formed, and now the Court’s decision to first adjudicate on larger questions of law is likely to stall hearings that may have been scheduled in the FGC case. 

Since the practice of FGC involves causing bodily harm to young girls, every delay puts more girls at risk of being cut. 

A quick recap of the FGC case

In April 2017, Delhi-based lawyer Sunita Tiwari filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court seeking a ban on the practice of female genital cutting (also known as khatna, khafz, sunnath or female circumcision) in India. FGC is practiced among the Dawoodi Bohras and other Bohra sects in India, as well as among certain Sunni Muslims in the state of Kerala. Tiwari’s PIL, however, refers only to FGC among the Dawoodi Bohras.

After Tiwari’s PIL was admitted in the Court, other intervention petitions were also filed in the case, some supporting a ban on the ancient practice, and one party (the Dawoodi Bohra Women’s Association for Religious Freedom) defending FGC on the grounds that it is an essential religious practice for the Bohras. The Dawoodi Bohra Women’s Association demanded that the matter of FGC be heard by a Constitution bench since it was about the Constitutional right to religious freedom. 

The case was heard by a three-judge bench which observed during a hearing in July 2018, that the “bodily integrity of women” cannot be violated. However, in September 2018, the bench referred the case to a five-judge Constitution bench. This meant that the practice of cutting a girl’s genitals — which the United Nations classifies as a human rights violation — would now be scrutinised through the lens of religious freedom. 

In light of the latest Supreme Court judgement, this will continue to be the case, except that now a larger, seven-judge bench will first examine the interpretation of Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution pertaining to the right to religious freedom, before adjudicating on matters of FGC and women’s entry into places of worship.

What the Court said: Majority and Minority judgements

The Supreme Court’s judgement on November 14 was not unanimous. Three of the five judges on the bench delivered the majority judgement, in favour of referring the Sabarimala, FGC and other cases to a seven-judge Constitution bench. This 9-page majority judgement was authored by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi

The other two judges (Justices Nariman and Chandrachud) authored an elaborate 68-page dissent, insisting that there was no merit to the review petitions in the Sabarimala case and that the other cases of FGC, mosque entry or fire temple entry should not be clubbed together with the Sabarimala issue. 

The majority judgement stated the following:

“The issues arising in the pending cases regarding entry of Muslim Women in Durgah/Mosque;…of Parsi Women married to a non-Parsi in the Agyari;…and including the practice of female genital mutilation in Dawoodi Bohra community…may be overlapping and covered by the judgment under review. The prospect of the issues arising in those cases being referred to larger bench cannot be ruled out…The decision of a larger bench would put at rest recurring issues touching upon the rights flowing from Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution of India.” 

The majority judgement specified that the larger bench would essentially have to answer seven questions about the principles of Articles 25 and 26. These questions include these four points:

  • What is the interplay between Constitutional freedom of religion and other rights granted in the Constitution, particularly the right to equality and prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of religion, sex, race, caste, etc?
  • What exactly does “constitutional morality” mean?
  • To what extent can the Court determine whether a practice is essential to a religion or a religious denomination?
  • To what extent can the Court give judicial recognition to Public Interest Litigations questioning religious practices if the PIL has been filed by someone who does not belong to the religious denomination in question?
    (The original PIL in the FGC case in India was filed by Sunita Tiwari, who does not belong to an FGC-practicing community.) 

In their dissenting minority judgement, however, Justices Nariman and Chandrachud pointed out that the meaning of “constitutional morality” has already been defined by the Court in several other Constitution bench judgements, and that it is “nothing but the values inculcated by the Constitution, which are contained in the Preamble read with various other parts, in particular, Parts III [fundamental rights] and IV [fundamental duties] thereof.”

This means that the fundamental right to equality is a part of constitutional morality, and as per Article 25 and 26, freedom of religion is subject to this morality. 

The minority judgement also argued that the review petitions they were addressing specifically dealt with the question of Hindu women’s entry into Sabarimala, and that the cases pertaining to other religions or religious sects should be examined on a case-by-case basis, instead of clubbing them together.