From Saving Safa to Seven: How authors use writing to shed light on FGC

By Cate Cox

“Without our work, the issue would quickly be swept under the carpet — and so we carry on.” —Waris Dirie, Saving Safa 

It wasn’t until my first year at university before I was asked to critically engage with the issue of female genital cutting (FGC). Up until then what I knew about FGC I knew from overheard conversations between my parents and their colleagues, from snippets of news briefs and CNN articles that flashed across my computer screen. If you’d asked me to name an activist working to end FGC, my answer would have been something along the lines of someone working with the United Nations. 

Yet when I saw Waris Dirie’s novel, Saving Safa, on the reading list for my leadership class, I immediately recognized it. The young, but strong face of Safa having become almost synonymous with the global fight to end FGC. I knew her face, yet I didn’t know her story. 

As much as I agreed that the practice of FGC ought to end, I’d never been asked, or asked myself, to sit down and engage with the stories and lessons of the actual activists on the front lines working to end it. As I made my way through Dirie’s critically acclaimed sixth novel, I began to understand how little I understood. I realized how much my perception of FGC had been shaped by the position of an outsider looking in, instead of as a listener. 

We only spent two weeks in my class covering Saving Safa, but they are two weeks for which I am extremely grateful. Reading Saving Safa helped expand my understanding of FGC, the communities who practice it, and the challenges faced by people trying to end it. This 276-page book, not written for doctors or scholars or researchers, but accessible to ordinary people like me, had managed to change my world view in a mere two weeks. 

The success of Dirie’s many novels about this subject highlights the power of writing, and storytelling in general, as a weapon to encourage the abandonment of FGC. Writing allows people a glimpse into the thoughts and feelings of the communities that practice it. It allows us an accessible way to understand the issues and complexities of ending the practice. Most importantly, it brings to light the stories of such an often overlooked and ignored practice. Writing also has the power to allow survivors to see their own stories reflected, and gives both the author and the reader a space to heal.

But the legacy of FGC and writing doesn’t end with Dirie. New and emerging writers are taking the torch to use writing to help shift the narratives around FGC. One of those writers is Farzana Doctor, author of the upcoming novel, Seven In her novel, Doctor follows the story of Sharifa and the unrest that is gripping the Dawoodi-Bohra community as activists grow louder in their fight to end the practice of khatna or FGC. Doctor’s writing never shies away from highlighting the complications and difficulties that come with trying to end the practice. These reviews shine a light on Doctor’s intentions for Seven:

“In her grand tradition, Farzana Doctor once again pushes us forward with nuanced, layered, inter-generational prose, to bring visibility to an important social issue. An urgent and passionate read.”—Vivek Shraya, author of I’m Afraid of Men and The Subtweet

Seven is an intimate, gutsy feminist novel that exposes the lasting, individual impacts of making women’s bodies fodder for displays of religious obeisance.”—Michelle Anne Schingler, FOREWORD Reviews

These reviews summarize the value that writing has in education and advocacy around FGC. The work of Doctor, and other authors like her, is helping to continue to push against the boundaries of silence that keep this practice so often trapped in the shadows. She is fighting to continue the tradition started so many years ago by Dirie in using writing to shed light on the topic of FGC. 

Doctor will speak about her work and activism at the Sahiyo webinar, Moving Towards Sexual Pleasure and Emotional Healing After FGC, on October 22nd, at 12 noon. Expert panelists Joanna Vergoth and Sarian Karim-Kamara will shed light on these subjects using their professional and personal experiences. 

Register for this event today: 

The event is co-sponsored by Sahiyo, WeSpeakOut, The End FGM/C Canada Network, forma, and Keep the Drums Lose the Knife.

For those interested in learning more about FGC, you can purchase a copy of Seven through the links below or bookstores: 




Sahiyo India needs a part-time Communications Associate

Sahiyo India is looking for a Communications Associate to support various programs, projects and public communications. In this role, you should be an excellent communicator with strong attention to detail. Creating social media campaigns, editing and writing Sahiyo materials and grant based writing will be an important part of your job. If you also have administrative and social media marketing experience, we’d like to meet you. 

This is a part-time position ideal for a young professional located anywhere in India. We are looking for someone proactive, who is willing to work independently and remotely, for up to 20 hours a month.

This is a great opportunity for you to work with the founders of an internationally-recognised organisation, and learn how organisations develop from the ground up.

Job duration: September 2020 – November 2020 (with the potential to extend further)

Responsibilities & Duties:

  • Facilitate internal and public communications
  • Assist in developing programme/campaign plans and strategies and drive them. 
  • Draft and edit communications (e.g. reports, social media posts, press releases)
  • Assist in maintaining web content and executing social media strategies for Sahiyo India
  • Support the administrative manager with logistical coordination of Sahiyo programmes and events as needed.
  • Support Sahiyo India Co-founders in creating and executing campaigns


  • Understanding of media relations and digital media/campaign strategies
  • Proficiency in Google Docs, MS Office; familiarity with design software (e.g. Canva, Photoshop, InDesign) and content management systems is a bonus,
  • Experience with Excel and data manipulation is a bonus
  • Solid editing and researching skills
  • Excellent communication abilities (oral and written)
  • Ability to multitask on different projects
  • Strong attention to detail
  • Organizational skills

Desired Qualities: 

  • Experience working in the field of gender-based violence, FGM/C, or related field.
  • Sensitivity towards different cultures

To Apply:

Please send a resume and cover letter to Priya Goswami at no later than Tuesday, August 28, 2020. The email subject line should state “Application: Communications Associate”.

About Sahiyo

SAHIYO, an award winning, transnational, organization is dedicated to empowering Asian communities to end female genital cutting (FGC) and create positive social change through dialogue, education and collaboration based on community involvement. By working towards an FGC-free world, we aim to recognize and emphasize the values of consent and a child’s/woman’s right over her own body. We aim to enable a culture in which female sexuality is not feared or suppressed but embraced as normal. For more read, about Sahiyo’s storytelling and our history.  

Massachusetts Senate passes FGM/C bill

BOSTON, MA – July 30, 2020 – Sahiyo would like to thank the President of the Massachusetts Senate, Karen Spilka, and bill sponsor Senator Joe Boncore (D-First Suffolk and Middlesex) for the passage of bill H4606 “An Act Relative to the Penalties for the crime of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C)” in Massachusetts. The FGM/C bill had a favorable vote in a formal session of the Senate, after it passed in the House on July 16th. Governor Charlie Baker will have 10 days to sign the bill. 

Survivors Mariya Taher, Aisha Yusuf, and activist Hanna Stern created a petition to plead with the Massachusetts state legislature to protect young girls in Massachusetts from being cut by making FGM/C illegal. Taher, in particular, was praised by Senator Boncore for her work and advocacy on the issue. Taher has worked with the Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts independently, and on behalf of Sahiyo – United Against Female Genital Cutting, of which she is the U.S. Executive Director and co-founder. Senator Boncore also recognized Sahiyo for their work on advocating for the abandonment of FGM/C. A member of the legislative working group, Joanne Golden, is also a member of the U.S. Advisory Board for Sahiyo. 

On June 16th, the Massachusetts House of Representatives voted favorably to pass the bill. The FGM/C bill not only has bipartisan support, but also bicameral support, with over 100 Senate and House cosigners of the original bills (H3332, H1466). The bill has also been supported by almost 50 organizations, including The Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts, the AHA Foundation, UNICEF USA, the U.S. End FGM/C Network, Boston Mayor’s Office of Women’s Advancement, Office of the Child Advocate, Caucus of Women Legislators, American Academy of Pediatrics – Massachusetts Chapter, and American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) – Massachusetts section, and Sahiyo, to name only a few. 

FGM/C is defined by the World Health Organization as removal of all or part of a girl’s healthy genitals and surrounding tissue for non-medical reasons, often resulting in serious health consequences, including the risk of death in childbirth, and lifelong trauma. There are no health benefits to this practice. According to the Centers for Disease Control, half a million women and girls living in the U.S. have been cut or are at risk of FGM/C. Over fourteen thousand such women and girls reside in Massachusetts, which ranks as 12th in the nation for at-risk populations. Last session, the Joint Judiciary Committee heard unequivocal testimony from survivors that FGM/C happens in the U.S., and that girls born in Massachusetts are at risk.

Thirty-eight states have already passed laws banning FGM/C,  including during the shutdown for the COVID-19 pandemic, and we respectfully urge Governor Baker to sign bill H4606 into law so that Massachusetts can become number 39. In November 2019, a U.S. District court struck down the federal law making FGM/C illegal, finding that Congress exceeded its authority under the U.S. constitution, and that FGM/C is a violent crime that must be regulated by the states. Top Massachusetts law enforcement officials testified last September that existing state criminal laws would not cover FGM/C. The Department of Children and Families considers FGM/C a form of child abuse. Massachusetts must act to stop this practice.

Thank you to Senate President Spilka and House Speaker DeLeo, and our House and Senate bill sponsors for your leadership, support, and action on such an important issue of women and girl child rights.

U.S. may deny asylum for females fleeing gender-based violence

By Hunter Kessous

(Follow this link to take action immediately and stand with survivors before July 15th.)

At the age of 17, Fauziya Kassindja narrowly escaped undergoing female genital cutting (FGC) and a forced marriage in her home country of Togo. She used a fake passport to make her way to the United States, and upon arriving at the border, explained to the officials that her document was fake and she was there to seek asylum. She was placed in a maximum security prison for nearly two years. Her case for refuge was initially denied, and was appealed to the highest immigration court in the U.S. where she was finally granted asylum. In 1996, Fauziya became the first to gain refuge in the U.S. on the grounds of escaping FGC. Her victory set the precedent for future immigrants to receive asylum from gender-based persecution. 

In addition to the precedent set by Kassindja’s case, there are multiple legal reasons why FGC qualifies as persecution. It violates multiple human rights documents, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child among others. To qualify for refugee status, an individual must prove the persecution they fear is for reason of her race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion. FGC is often thought to be a religious requirement. It can also be argued that opposition to FGC is a political opinion. 

It seems obvious that FGC should be grounds for asylum in the U.S. Yet, women are still refused for reasons that are often untrue or impossible, such as “woman can refuse to be cut or “the woman can relocate.

Now, refuge for women escaping FGC may be significantly limited. A proposed rule by the Homeland Security Department and Executive Office for Immigration Review set to be finalized on July 15th, would radically restrict eligibility for asylum, especially for those fleeing gender-based violence (GBV) and for LBGTQIA+ individuals. The regulation bars evidence that supports an asylum claim if it could be seen as promoting cultural stereotypes. On this basis, a judge could refuse refugee status to a woman fleeing FGC because the judge may think it promotes a cultural stereotype. A woman escaping GBV could be denied asylum on the grounds that feminism is not a political opinion. It even allows officials to dismiss some asylum applications without a hearing. These are only a few examples of the many ways this rule would dismantle the U.S. asylum system.

We must act now to protect women and girls. The rule will go into effect July 15th, but before it is finalized the government must read and respond to comments sent by organizations and individuals. To submit a comment, follow this link. A sample comment is provided, but it is imperative to make your comment unique in order to ensure that it is read and responded to accordingly. 

For more resources to fight the finalization of this harmful rule, read this document containing websites for action-taking, informative webinars and articles, and sign-on letters. 

Voices Series: Why I, as an artist, collaborated with survivors of FGM/C

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 Esther Elia

As an artist, I wait for moments like the Voices to End FGM/C workshop with excitement and anticipation–moments where my passion can be linked with the passions of others to create projects that bring to light the true injustices of our world, including the traditions that have fallen through the cracks and deserve a critical eye.

I got to collaborate with two women who have the foresight, courage, and self-awareness to question a tradition that has been taken for granted, and thrust it into the public eye so that others may also think critically about the effect FGM/C has on women. It was my great privilege to be a part of this project and create images that would impact the viewer, and most accurately reflect the storyteller.

For a subject matter so wrought with strong emotion, simplicity of image became my strategy. The story was the main character, and my art functioned as the supporting characters, giving the main message its meaning. This is a project that I will always remember and be proud to have been a part of.

Voices Series: How listening to survivors' stories made me a better advocate

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 Karen Kwok, MSN, FNP-BC

I sought participation in the Voices to End FGM/C workshop to better understand the patient experience of survivors of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). With increased awareness, I hope to be a better advocate and provider for women’s physical and mental health. The best practices for addressing FGM/C applies to all patient scenarios with creating safe space for active listening, appreciative inquiry and openness for building long-term rapport (if counseling is requested), and providing necessary physical and mental health services and referral resources without judgement.

Challenges to addressing FGM/C include the limited time with provider productivity demands, few available gynecological surgeons specializing in FGM/C labiaplasty with insurance coverage, and few resources for culturally competent mental health services.

Long-term consequences of FGM/C include long-term emotional anguish, gynecological and gastrointestinal pain, and obstetric complications. With the long-term relationship in primary care advocacy, family medicine providers are best positioned to support patient sexuality with initial and ongoing training in female anatomy, counseling strategies on gender orientation and sexual positivity, and patient care best practices. From this workshop, I hope to improve my skills in FGM/C counseling and gynecological health service delivery with increased awareness of women’s sexuality in the global context.






Job Opening! Social Media Consultant for a new Sahiyo project in India

Social Media Consultant position for an exciting new project on Female Genital Cutting in India

Are you a social media person with a passion for women’s and human rights? Do you have the skills to design social media campaigns?  If yes, then you could be working for an exciting new tech-based project in the movement against Female Genital Cutting (FGC) in India. 

Sahiyo is an international organization working to end FGC among Asian communities. We are looking for a proactive, efficient and bright social media consultant to join the team on a freelance basis to help us promote the app. 

Project duration: 1st June 2020 – 30th September 2020

Time commitment required: 10 hours per week (Flexible)

Main work involved: 

  • Work with the Sahiyo team to design social media campaigns to promote the new project.
  • Excellent social media skills to help us design outreach campaigns. 
  • Pro at social media channels, knows how to post across platforms. 
  • Crafting communication, willingness to promptly work out a response



We are looking for an individual who has:

  • 1-2 years of experience in social media campaigning 
  • strong skills in writing, design thinking, campaign strategizing 
  • an eagerness to learn about the nuances and complexities of FGC in India
  • sensitivity towards cultural appropriateness and the needs of survivors of FGC and other community members 
  • The efficiency with respect to time management and being results-oriented
  • Passionate about the cause and willingness to be flexible with hours

The individual could be based anywhere in India but must be comfortable with working remotely and prompt with email communication.   

To apply, send your CV with a cover letter to 


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.