Sahiyo participates in Massachusetts Healthy Youth Consortium

On November 1st Sahiyo partnered with The Massachusetts Healthy Youth Consortium (MAHYC) to hold a training for K-12 teachers about the importance of using education as a means of preventing female genital cutting (FGC) and how they can become advocates against this practice. The goal of MAHYC is for educators, health professionals, policymakers, and other advocates to work collaboratively towards helping to pass The Healthy Youth Act which would ensure that comprehensive curricula are taught in public schools that choose to offer sex education. Massachusetts ranks 12th in the nation for at-risk populations, with nearly 15,000 girls at risk, with the largest at-risk areas being Boston, Newton, and Cambridge. FGC is often rooted in secrecy and isolation, and girls at risk are often taught never to speak of what they experienced. Sahiyo believes that education can be a powerful tool to break this silence and bring some clarity to the myths surrounding female genital cutting.

Sahiyo’s statement on the Michigan case dismissal on Sep 28, 2021

It is with great sadness and disappointment that Sahiyo responds to the recent judgement in the Michigan case. Female genital cutting (FGC) is recognized internationally, and specifically by the U.S. Government as a violation of human rights. Judge Friedman’s decision to throw out this case, which is the nation’s first FGC case, highlights a failure to protect girls in the United States from this harmful practice, and a failure to truly understand the extent and pervasiveness of FGC within this country. (See the Amicus Brief, which is informed by survivors of the same community as the girls in this case, and provides details on these aspects of FGC for the judge). 

This judgment has been met by much criticism already, with a call from The US End FGM/C Network for more training across all branches of government, including judicial training that includes: what FGM/C is, how it is carried out, and its life-long impact on women and girls. 

Sahiyo believes we cannot allow harmful practices such as FGC to continue. Girls’ rights cannot go unprotected due to legal technicalities and decisions made by those who do not, or refuse to, understand the realities of gender-based violence. 

We must all work together to protect ALL girls from this harm and we call on the Department of Justice to appeal this decision. 

Background on the case

On April 13, 2017, Detroit emergency room doctor Jumana Nargarwala was arrested and charged with performing FGC on minor girls in the United States. This was the first time someone was brought up on charges under 18 U.S.C. 116, which criminalizes FGC. According to the U.S. Federal complaint, Dr. Nagarwala performed FGC on 6 to 8 year old girls out of a medical office in Livonia, Michigan. Some of these girls’ families reportedly traveled inter-state to have the doctor perform FGC. 

On November 20, 2018, Judge Bernard Friedman ruled that the US Federal Law banning Female Genital Cutting was unconstitutional based on a technicality. With this ruling, the judge dismissed key charges of FGC against two Michigan doctors and six other people accused of practicing genital cutting on several minor girls. 

The ruling was determined by Judge Friedman’s stance that the crime of FGC should be regulated by individual states. However, the US does not actually have laws against FGC in every single state. At the time, only 27 out of 50 states had a state law banning FGC. As of October 2021, there are now 40 states with a state law. There is a state law in Michigan banning FGC, but the law only came into effect in 2017 after the federal case involving Dr. Nagarwala and Dr. Attar came to light. The doctors cannot be prosecuted retrospectively under this Michigan state law. 

After Judge Friedman’s verdict in 2018, the Department of Justice failed to appeal Judge Friedman’s decisions in 2019. As a result, Congress filed a motion to appeal the decision, but the motion was denied. In 2020, these events led Congress to unanimously amend and strengthen the Federal FGC law, in order to withstand future challenges, while firmly stating its disagreement with Judge Freidman’s interpretation of the law. In January of 2021, Congress passed the  H.R. 6100-STOP FGM Act. (To learn more about the history of this court case and legislation in the U.S., read CoP Law & FGM – Legislation in North America.)

However, the combination of Judge Friedman’s recent decision in September 2021 dismissing the remaining charges against Doctor Nargarwala (and calling the prosecution ‘vindictive’ for seeking new charges), with the Department of Justice’s original decision in 2019 to not appeal his decision, underscores how protecting girls from violence was not central to the case.  

Struggle, belonging, and community: Sahiyo and StoryCenter hosted a Voices to End FGM/C screening

By Sandra Yu

On August 19th, 2021, Sahiyo and StoryCenter co-hosted a film screening and panel discussion to highlight voices from the Voices to End FGM/C Digital Storytelling workshop. The event showcased eleven new digital stories, created virtually by a global group of advocates and survivors of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), during January and February. 

Mariya Taher of Sahiyo and Amy Hill of StoryCenter, two facilitators of the annual workshop, led an audience Q&A and presented storytelling methodology, while two guest speakers, Nafisa (pseudonym) and Lola Ibrahim (Yoruba, English), shared their experiences with the digital storytelling workshop itself. Of the eleven stories shown, three were premiered at the event and had not been released to the public yet. The full collection can be found here, with stories continuing to be released. 

“I feel liberated,” Nafisa said. “I feel lighter, and I feel scared all at once. I wanted to talk about this work and khatna and the challenges that are faced in the community for many years.”

The 2021 Voices digital collection succeeded tremendously in capturing the core concept of oppressive social norms. Almost reminiscent of short vignettes, each digital story actualized the abstract concept of social norms into concrete experiences. The stories stood individually as personal narratives of struggle, belonging, and community. Comparatively, this collection presented the larger struggles of individuals and collectives in battling gender-based violence. 

In response, audience members engaged deeply with each story, typing out messages with empathy and gratitude to each storyteller for taking up the challenge of telling their stories. It was uplifting to see how the digital stories could elicit such reactions of allyship and community-building, even within a Zoom chat. 

My personal highlight from the event was hearing Nafisa and Lola reflect on their experiences of storytelling and tackle the nuances of FGM/C in their respective communities. The digital storytelling workshop was evidently transformative, in similar and different ways for each participant. 

“Sharing my shame can make a difference,” Lola said. “You understand that. Because you own that story. And you’re able to tell the story. So you’re no longer ashamed.”

Lola’s transformation of shame to acceptance of her story is stunning to hear. Through the workshop, she found a close-knit community to listen and empathize with her story. By producing a digital story, she now engages a global community to respond to her story. 

“I felt powerless because in the world that we live in, when you’re anonymous, you feel like your voice is taken away,” said Nafisa. “You don’t have an identity, but I think sharing my story has allowed me to have a voice or has created a space for me. It has put the power back in my hands.”

Nafisa’s story is equally hopeful. Despite her anonymity, Nafisa proudly holds ownership of her story and continues to advocate against FGM/C. 

Sahiyo is excited to announce the upcoming 2022 Voices to End FGM/C digital storytelling workshop, as part of their continued partnership with StoryCenter. This workshop is open to all individuals who have a story to share about how they, or someone they know, have been impacted by FGC, and will be held virtually.

For those interested in taking part, please fill out the application by Friday, December 11, 2021.

Read more about the 2022 workshop and/or donate to support the Voices project

Voices to End FGM/C: 2022 Workshop

Get involved with the next cohort of the Voices to End FGM/C project!

Since 2015, Sahiyo has provided various storytelling platforms for women and community members from all over the world to share their experiences of female genital cutting (FGC) through our Voices to End FGM/C program, in hopes of preventing this harmful practice from occurring to the next generation of girls.

Now, we’re excited to announce our 2022 Voices to End FGM/C digital storytelling workshop, as part of our continued partnership with StoryCenter. This workshop is open to all individuals and will be held virtually. 

More about the workshop: 

When: Six online sessions, two hours each, held on consecutive week-days, from January through February 2022 (specific dates and times to be determined).

Who: The workshop is open to women and people who have experienced FGM/C, as well as family members, friends, advocates, and others of any gender identity who would like to share a story.

What: Each participant will create their own video through the use of voiceover audio, still images, and video clips. This participatory media process will be guided by facilitators from Sahiyo and StoryCenter. 

If you’re interested in taking part, please fill out the application by Friday, December 11, 2021.

Here is the application:  

Following the workshop, Sahiyo will support storytellers in publicly sharing their videos as part of our ongoing education and advocacy work to end FGM/C.

If you would like more information on this revolutionary storytelling experience, email Mariya at

To see digital stories from previous “Voices to End FGM/C” workshops, click here. 

Voices reflection: Storytelling as a powerful medium

By Nicole Mitchell 

I was inspired to join this workshop because the idea of using storytelling as a medium to fight oppression is particularly powerful. I also wanted to listen to other women tell their stories and support them in speaking truth to power.

My hope is that by being vulnerable and sharing my story, I can encourage other individuals to do the same. I want women to know that they are not alone, they deserve to tell their story without fear of what the repercussions might be. 

The workshop experience was far better than I could have ever imagined! In fact, I miss it. What I loved most was listening to everyone share their experiences. I LOVED that it was with women from different parts of the world, with different experiences. Hearing their stories made me feel like I was learning so much more about life and not limited to my personal experiences. I would leave each meeting feeling so much more whole and curious about life because of these discussions.  

If you are thinking of doing the Voices workshop, DO IT. Not only will you benefit from it personally, but you will be helping other people by telling your story. Also, it’s okay to feel nervous and self-conscious. Do it anyway.

Sahiyo volunteer spotlight: Communications intern Amena Ali

Communications intern Amena Ali lives in Houston, Texas, and her all-time obsessions are tea and cat videos. She has a degree in psychology, but is currently working as a personal stylist. She is passionate about mental health, and she’s made it her life goal to make it a more open topic amongst immigrant families.

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

I’ve followed Sahiyo for a long time, but only recently started working with them and getting involved. My first Sahiyo event was the Activists’ Retreat earlier this year.

2) What does your work with Sahiyo involve?

My work involves compiling and organizing databases. I’m also working on article mentions, as well as the Dear Maasi video which represents Farzana Doctor’s sex and relationship column. 

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

My work with Sahiyo has given me resources on female genital mutilation/cutting. It also helped me to address the conversation on taboo topics with a lot of people around me. 

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

There is nothing more important than fighting for what you believe in. Your mental health and well-being come before any explained/unexplained customs and traditions. Your body is yours. No one gets to decide what happens to it except you and you only. Have empathy and learn how to be understanding. 

Amidst the pandemic, Sahiyo releases 11 more Voices To End FGM/C stories

Press Release:

“The opportunity to participate in this webinar created a space for me to be vulnerable and feel supported while sharing the space with people who are doing just the same. Together, we learned, shared, supported and healed.”

-Absa, Voices Storyteller

Absa is one of 200 million women affected by female genital mutilation/cutting worldwide. She is also one of the 11 storytellers in a new cohort of Sahiyo and StoryCenter’s Voices to End FGM/C project, choosing to share her personal story in the hope that no more girls will be subjected to FGM/C. 

On July 5th, Sahiyo will begin releasing 11 videos produced as part of the Voices to End FGM/C project. A collaboration between Sahiyo and StoryCenter, this project is mobilizing a critical mass of storytellers and activists from across the globe by bringing people together to share and heal from their experiences of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), connect and grow as leaders in their own communities, and create short videos calling for an end to this harmful practice.

The most important thing was that we were all united by a common goal: to raise awareness about FGC and hopefully end the practice. Through this shared desire, we built a supportive network, and I soon felt less like a participant in a workshop and more like a member of a community.” ~ Hunter Kessous, Voices storyteller 

Since 2018, the two organizations have held a total of five workshops, supporting 49 storytellers from 16+ countries in sharing personal stories of courage and transformation. With the onset of the global pandemic, a shadow pandemic of increased gender-based violence has emerged. As lockdowns have interrupted efforts to reduce and prevent gender-based violence, the UN has reported that 2 million additional women and girls are at risk of FGM/C. 

The most recent Voices workshop, held virtually in January and February of 2021, offered participating storytellers a community amidst the pandemic . 

“As a survivor, I know now more than ever before, women’s voices need to be heard. This is not the time to stay silent when the world is enduring a pandemic, and on top of that women and girls are being disproportionately impacted by gender-based violence. I’m so thankful we have been able to continue the Voices project and give women a platform to share their stories.” ~ Mariya Taher, Sahiyo U.S. Cofounder & U.S. Executive Director 

“We feel blessed that global access to the necessary online tools enabled us to engage storytellers who would not have been able to travel to an in-person digital storytelling workshop. The relationships built, and the intimacy cultivated in the virtual session, while different from what would have occurred in a real-world gathering, were nonetheless powerful and nourishing for the storytellers and advocates who came together to share stories about FGM/C.”  ~ Amy Hill, Silence Speaks Director, StoryCenter 

The videos are being utilized globally to advocate for the abandonment of FGM/C within communities, train healthcare and other sevice providers on the impact of FGM/C, and educate legislators on the need for policies that  protect future generations of girls from FGM/C. To view the new videos, check out this playlist. Previously published videos can be found on this playlist)

For further questions, contact Mariya at

See press release as a PDF.

Sahiyo stands with AAPI communities experiencing racist violence

Sahiyo stands in solidarity with Asian communities and individuals who have been experiencing racism and hate crimes. We  are an organization born from working with and supporting Asian communities. This violence concerns everyone and is of utmost importance to us, due to our proximity and connection to these communities. Sahiyo condemns the recent violence and rhetoric, along with the othering and oppressions Asians have faced in the United States since arriving.

Over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, there has been a surge of hateful rhetoric and racist violence against the AAPI (Asian American/Pacific Islander) communities in the United States. By mid-March, the Stop AAPI Hate National Report logged over 3800 violent attacks toward Asian Americans, mostly women (68%). Attacks also targeted elderly people, and this abuse is unacceptable but unfortunately, not new, as evidenced here and here

The United States has a long history of oppressing and dehumanizing Asian Americans, from Chinese indentured labor to Japanese internment camps to the fetishization and Orientalism Asian women experience. This thoughtful opinion piece explains racism toward Asians in the United States, and what it says about our country. Take a moment to educate yourself about current and past harmful tropes forced on Asians and the context of anti-Asian racism in this country.

This toolkit, as well as this one, aim to equip us all with the education and resources we need to Stop Asian Hate.

It is also key to recognize this racialized othering for what it is–twisted with misogyny and leaving women concerned for their public safety. The racist attacks in Georgia, as well as other recent violent moments are filled with racism, but also sexism. Asian women find themselves in the frightening crosshairs of both forms of oppression. Thankfully, there are resources meant to support and protect Asian women.

You can also check out powerful zine, Asian American Feminist Antibodies {care in the time of coronavirus}, a collaboration between the Asian American Feminist Collective and Bluestockings Bookstore, to hear Asian feminist voices speaking out.

Trauma is inherited, and the suffering of some in the AAPI community can take a toll on all members. If you are struggling, check out this site focusing on AAPI mental health resources.

What can you do?

Cover image credit: One of Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya’s panels for the “I Still Believe in Our City” public art series.

PRESS RELEASE: Launching Sahiyo’s Newest Program: Bhaiyo: Male Allies United in Ending Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting

Launching Sahiyo’s Newest Program, Bhaiyo: Male Allies United in Ending Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting

Boston, Massachusetts, February 6, 2021

On Feburary 6th 2021, The International Day for Zero Tolerance to FGC, Sahiyo is launching “Bhaiyo” (“brothers” or “male friends” in Gujarati), is a program for male allies working to spread education and awareness on the human rights issue of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGC).

Bhaiyo’s mission is to build a community where men, Sahiyo members, and survivors will be able to discuss female genital cutting in hopes of changing the narrative, and creating a shift towards ending this harmful practice.

“Bhaiyo allows men to have open and honest conversation about a topic they may or may not know should be important to them. As brothers, it’s our collective responsibility to leave the world safer than we found it for those that we love. Bhaiyo aims to raise awareness to help advocates and survivors working to end FGC today,” said Murtaza Kapasi, Bhaiyo program lead.

FGC has been on the public radar as of late, due to a first of its kind indictment of a Houston-based woman who transported a minor out of the country, for the purpose of the youth undergoing FGC. Just days before, on January 5th, another major announcement came out: the H.R. 6100-STOP FGM Act was signed into law, an act which criminalizes female genital cutting and makes certain government agencies such as the Departments of Education and Justice, responsible for reporting to Congress on the estimated number of wome nand girls who have undergone or at risk of FGC in the United States. These are both groundbreaking legal moves, but Sahiyo knows it takes more than law to end FGC. Bhaiyo is another step towards engaging with communities, to change social norms and cultural tradition from within. By bringing men’s voices more actively into the conversation, we believe our program will accompany the law by bringing about societal change via dialogue and education.

In recognition of Bhaiyo, we will be hosting the webinar, “Everyone’s Responsibility” on February 23rd, at 12 noon EST. This webinar will focus on the role male allies play in prevention efforts towards ending female genital cutting (FGC). Four expert panelists will lead the webinar, Jeremiah Kipainoi, Murtaza Kapasi, Khadijah Abdullah, and Tony Mwebia. All of them have worked in the field of FGC prevention, encouraging men to become active in empowering communities to abandon FGC. To learn more about the role men play in FGC prevention, and how you can encourage male allyship, please register for the event. Feel free to grab a beverage or a snack beforehand and join us for what is sure to be an insightful and empowering conversation. This event is open to anyone who wishes to attend.

Register Today: For more information, contact Sahiyo at

Would you like to be a Bhaiyo? Submit an application here.

Texas woman charged for Female Genital Cutting: Sahiyo press statement

A woman from Houston, Texas (USA) has been charged under federal United States’ law for transporting a minor out of the country for the purpose of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C). 

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) which is investigating this case, the 39-year-old woman allegedly transported the child sometime between July 10 to October 14, 2016. 

This is the first time that the US Department of Justice has indicted anyone under this specific clause of the US anti-FGM/C law, i.e, transporting a minor girl outside of US borders to facilitate the practice of genital cutting. While FGM/C has been illegal in the United States since 1996, this clause was introduced in 2013. 

The FBI is investigating the case with the support of the Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center, a government agency that works to identify, locate and prosecute human rights abusers in the US. 

While further details about this case are awaited, it is important to note that the Houston woman has not been charged under the new federal anti-FGM/C law that was signed by the US President on January 5. Since the alleged crime took place in 2016, she has been charged under section 116(d) of the older federal law against FGM/C.

The older federal law has been the subject of controversy since April 2017, when two Michigan doctors and six other members of the Dawoodi Bohra community became the first people to be prosecuted for performing/facilitating FGM/C on at least nine minor girls in the Michigan area. In November 2018, even though a US District Court judge acknowledged that FGM/C was a “despicable” practice, he ruled that the federal law prohibiting it was unconstitutional. 

This ruling was based on a technicality: the judge stated that FGM/C is considered a “local criminal activity” to be looked into at the state level rather than the federal or national level. The ruling triggered a controversy because it placed girls in the US at the risk of being cut. Only 39 out of 50 US states currently have laws prohibiting FGM/C, allowing room for girls to be transported across state borders to be subjected to the practice. 

The new “Stop FGM Act of 2020”, signed by the government this month, closes this loophole and allows federal authorities to prosecute people suspected of carrying out FGC anywhere in the country. 

Sahiyo statement:

We at Sahiyo have been advocating for a complete end to the harmful practice of Female Genital Cutting, also known as Khatna or Khafz in the Dawoodi Bohra community, since 2015. FGC is a violation of the rights and bodily integrity of women and girls, and can have long-term physical, psychological and sexual consequences for them. 

In light of this indictment of the Houston woman, we strongly urge members of all FGC-practicing communities to completely abandon this age-old ritual, not just because it is illegal in the US and several other countries, but because it is harmful, patriarchal, medically unnecessary, and detrimental to the well-being of girls and women. 

At the same time, we also urge all global media publications to report on this case — and on the subject of FGC — with sensitivity and nuance. We request the media to refrain from vilifying specific communities, or using terms such as “barbaric” or “mutilation” that might trigger a survivor’s trauma. To learn more, check out Sahiyo’s Guide: A Resource Guide To Best Practice For Sensitive and Effective Reporting on FGM/C.

For more information, email or to contact Sahiyo U.S., email