Staff Spotlight: Development Intern Sarrah Hussain

Sarrah is an undergraduate student still exploring what she wants to study at Stanford University. She is passionate about women’s rights and health, especially female genital cutting (FGC). This will be her first time working with a nonprofit organization, and she is excited to create change and uplift voices with the Sahiyo team.

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

I began following the Sahiyo instagram account and learning about their mission last year, when I became curious to learn more about FGC within my community. Since then, I have actively followed Sahiyo and its work, and when I saw the opening for internships in February I thought I’d shoot my shot. Since May of this year, I am officially a development intern for Sahiyo, and could not be more excited to work with this incredible team to make an impact for an issue I care deeply about.

2) What does your work with Sahiyo involve?

As a development intern, my work is primarily focused on expanding Sahiyo and securing grants and funding opportunities so Sahiyo can do the meaningful work it does.

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

I am still relatively new to Sahiyo, but already Sahiyo has impacted my life because I know I am contributing to a larger mission to create a greater change in the world. I am inspired by the passion I see in those I work with, and happy knowing my work has real meaning.

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

I would say take the leap! When first considering applying to Sahiyo, I didn’t think I had the skills necessary to be a development intern, I was scared that I wouldn’t live up to what was asked of me, and I was even a little nervous about being involved with a nonprofit working on such a taboo subject. But I took a leap, applied, and got the position, and I am so happy I did. Though sometimes I feel lost, there is a whole team of wonderful people who want to support you and help you learn. It is really comforting and inspiring to see others who feel the same way as you and simply want to protect future generations of girls.

Crave Foundation recognizes Sahiyo co-founder Mariya Taher as 2020 grantee

by Jenny Cordle

The Crave Foundation for Women selected Sahiyo co-founder Mariya Taher as one of their inaugural recipients for an individual grant in recognition for her work to end female genital cutting (FGC) in Asian communities and beyond. In 2015, she co-founded Sahiyo – United Against Female Genital Cutting, an award-winning, transnational organization with the mission to empower Asian communities to end FGC. She is one of five 2020 grantees.

The Crave Foundation acknowledges that “pleasure is a universal human right that can not be fully realized where there is injustice and violence against women.” The foundation recognizes individuals who are working in the gender-based violence areas of female genital cutting and sex trafficking. Their model is unique in that they provide no-strings-attached grants so that grantees can utilize the grants in the most appropriate way they see fit. 

“That is incredibly rare, and I’m brimming with ideas now on how to use these funds to further my work to both support survivors and prevent future generations of girls from undergoing FGC,” Taher said, who is a survivor of FGC. 

Taher’s work at Sahiyo focuses on storytelling programs and creating a critical mass of voices against FGC to “create a culture in which survivors can heal by connecting” to work toward creating a society where FGC no longer occurs.

“I’m constantly learning and adapting my work and Sahiyo programs to fit the needs of both survivors and the communities they belong to in which FGC occurs,” Taher said. “For myself, from the very beginning, I started engaging in anti-gender-based violence work because I had both lived experiences with gender-based violence, and also knew so many other individuals who also had experiences of some form of gender-based violence, whether it was female genital cutting, domestic violence, or sexual assault. I understood how both culture, society, and even one’s family could play a part in perpetuating environments in which violence occurred, and I wanted to learn how to undo that violence.”

In addition to her work at Sahiyo, Taher collaborates with the Massachusetts Women’s Bar Association on passing state legislation to criminalize FGC; an endeavor in which FGC activists and lawmakers had two victories when the Massachusetts House of Representatives and the Senate recently passed bill H.4606 – An Act Relative to the Penalties for the Crime of Female Genital Mutilation. The bill is now on Governor Charlie Baker’s desk to be signed into law. Taher also creates community education and outreach programs within the state on this issue.

Taher serves on the steering committee for the U.S. End FGM/C Network. In 2018, Taher received the Human Rights Storytellers Award from the Muslim American Leadership Alliance. The Manhattan Young Democrats honored her as a 2017 Engendering Progress honoree, and ABC News did a special feature on her, entitled: Underground: American Woman Who Underwent Female Genital Mutilation Comes Forward to Help Others.

Taher has worked in the gender-based violence field for over a decade in the areas of teaching, research, policy, program development, and direct service. She has worked at Saheli, Support and Friendship for South Asian Women & Families, W.O.M.A.N., Inc., Asian Women’s Shelter, San Francisco Department on the Status of Women, San Francisco State University, and was a 2014 Women’s Policy Institute Fellow through the Women’s Foundation of California.

During her journey as an advocate, she has learned that change takes time. 

“We all want change to happen quickly particularly on issues in which violence is connected to children but being an advocate teaches you that change is slow,” Taher said. “It doesn’t mean you won’t feel frustrated, and that there won’t be days when you want to just give up. Change will come. Every time I hear a survivor share her story out loud or learn someone has forgone having the practice done on their daughter even each time that I learn an individual is joining this line of work because they want to make a difference, shows me that change is occurring and people care. All those examples give me hope, and it’s why I keep at this work.”

Sahiyo co-founders include Aarefa Johari, Priya Goswami, and Insia Dariwala.

 

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 change.org 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.

Sahiyo Volunteer Spotlight: Development Intern Maria Elena Rivera-Beckstrom

Maria Elena Rivera-Beckstrom is a researcher and an instructor with a strong interest in gender and women’s rights, and human rights. She uses her teaching as a platform to raise awareness on gender violence and inequity. She joins Sahiyo so she can contribute to the efforts in ending female genital cutting (FGC) as a development intern. She currently teaches at Salem State University’s Interdisciplinary Studies Department and also works at the Simmons University Institute for Inclusive Leadership.

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

I started with Sahiyo on the week of May 18 as one of the new development interns. I basically found the call for application and looked up Sahiyo. It was actually the first time I learned about the organization, and although I have known about FGC, I did not know that it is also practiced in Asia. I voraciously read the website and decided to apply for the internship.

2) What does your work with Sahiyo involve? 

As a development intern, I help in funds-sourcing by doing research on grants for which we’re eligible to apply. I also help in developing and planning fundraising campaigns. Later, I believe, I will help out in writing proposals for grants. I also fulfill special assignments for staff members.

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

Since I have joined Sahiyo, I have become more knowledgeable about FGC and its practice in Asia. Although I just basically started, I am also learning more about the operations of a nonprofit. What’s most impactful, however, is that I already feel integrated with a group of people who are driven by the same mission: to end FGC. It is quite amazing to work with people who are passionate about and committed to a cause that addresses a particular issue of gender violence. It gives your life another level of meaning.

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

It is always a worthy endeavor to join a group of people for a worthy cause. Sahiyo’s effort to end FGC is a cause worthy of everyone’s time and investment and I encourage you to join us. What we’re doing impacts the lives of girls and women, and when we give even a little of ourselves to others, we make our own lives richer and more meaningful. We welcome you in our journey. Join us.

 

Sahiyo co-founder gives keynote address at festival

Sahiyo co-founder Priya Goswami gave a keynote speech at India’s first student-run online festival, Intesaab Fest 2020, supported by Ishaan Trust. Discussing change as an onground movement, she attributed Sahiyo’s growth to the sustained efforts of anti-FGC advocates and increasing community engagement. 

Her address titled, “Bringing Change through an on-ground movement,” also underscored the need for respectful communication and collaboration with the community. She spoke of fact checking not just the content, but also checking the visuals that accompany news reports, to avoid any sensationalist images and text. While also acknowledging the role and support of digital activists and media, she highlighted the importance of the stories keeping the interest of people who have undergone the practice at the forefront of all communication. 

The keynote address was met with resounding support for Sahiyo from the students who had joined the festival online.

 

Sahiyo Intern Spotlight: Kendra Davis 

Kendra is a master’s student at Brandeis University studying global health. Prior to attending Brandeis, she was a community health volunteer for three years in Togo, West Africa. Kendra is passionate about educating communities on reproductive health issues. She is excited to contribute her experience, as well as grow with the Sahiyo team. 

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

I first learned about Sahiyo in April through my school’s weekly newsletter about internship and volunteer opportunities. I started getting involved with the organization in May as a development intern.

2) What does your work with Sahiyo involve?

So far I have updated monthly budgets and helped brainstorm fundraising campaign ideas. 

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

I wanted to gain hands-on financial management and budget development skills. I have been very appreciative of how intentional the organization’s leaders have been in ensuring I am exposed to opportunities to learn and strengthen these skills. 

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

While I was onboarding, I was given educational material which helped me grow in my understanding of why female genital cutting (FGC) is practiced even through the passing of laws that have tried to stop it, unfortunately it still persists. I would say educating people about the history and the system that allows this practice to continue is the first step anyone can take. I feel like once you have that foundation, you can see how you can use your skills to take action, if that’s through teaching others, developing media strategies, or being an advocate for someone who has gone through FGC.

 

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

 

Qualifications:

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 priya@sahiyo.com 

 

We are listening: Sahiyo’s statement on protests against police brutality

We at Sahiyo wanted to purposefully create space to address the continued protests against police brutality in the United States and globally, and explicitly state that we stand in solidarity with the protesters fighting for black lives.

Many are coming forward to condemn the treatment of people of color. But we need to be clear in stating that it is black lives that we are focusing on right now. The U.S. has been built on and fueled by white supremacy and the active oppression of black people, enforced by the prison industrial system, the police and other agencies.

As an organization working with South Asian communities, we recognize that colorism and anti-blackness exists within our communities, as well. We have benefited from the model minority stereotype, but we must make a choice now – we can choose to buy into the model minority trope, and align ourselves with whiteness. Or we can address the colorism and anti-blackness in our own community, and step forward as allies to stand beside this country’s black communities. 

The events of the past two weeks are happening at a time in which black Americans are getting consistently hit hardest by COVID-19, due to the structural inequality of the country, and the resulting high populations working in essential positions without access to proper healthcare, and a well-documented bias in the medical profession. 

These are incredibly disturbing times and it can be difficult figuring out the best ways to support and take action. Educate yourself, go to a protest, speak up when you hear anti-blackness around you. Speak up without centering yourself or performing allyship for social capital. Take care of yourself and the people around you.

Of course, not everyone has the capacity to physically protest, especially during these already challenging pandemic times and the need to practice social-distancing to stay safe and healthy. There are a multitude of ways to still take action and show your support for racial equality and justice. 

Donate to campaigns and organizations working to create structural change: 

Watch in order to educate yourself on these issues:

  • 13th
  • Eyes On The Prize documentary series
  • The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution
  • Long Night’s Journey Into Day
  • When They See Us

Read and share information with friends and family:

Articles:

Books:

  • The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
  • Biased by Jennifer Eberhardt
  • How to be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi
  • Between The World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
  • White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
  • Black Skin, White Masks by Frantz Fanon
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
  • Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black by bell hooks
  • Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism by bell hooks

Listen:

These are only a handful of ways one can take action, but as a global community, we must do so, and we must ensure that all black lives matter. At Sahiyo, we are listening and we are here for the black community and all allies supporting change. 

With love, solidarity and hope,

~ The Sahiyo Team 

 

Sahiyo Volunteer Spotlight: Zahra Qaiyumi

Zahra Qaiyumi completed her undergraduate education at The University of Maryland, studying Physiology, Neurobiology, and Spanish. Afterward, she pursued a Master’s degree in Physiology at Georgetown University. She then moved to the Bay Area and participated in neurobehavioral research while working with adolescents diagnosed with ADHD at the University of California San Francisco’s Neuroscape Center. Currently, she is in her third year of medical school at the Frank H. Netter M.D. School of Medicine at Quinnipiac University. 

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

I have been following Sahiyo’s work as an organization for many years, but decided to get involved in the fall of 2019 during what was a rough patch in my personal life for a few reasons, khatna, or female genital cutting (FGC), being one of them. 

2) What does your work with Sahiyo involve?

As a volunteer, I have written pieces interpreting research on FGC, as well as helped put together abstracts and posters in order to disseminate Sahiyo’s work to healthcare providers, survivors, social works, and law enforcement, among other groups. I hope to do more of this type of work with Sahiyo in the future. 

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

As someone who grew up in a community where FGC was the norm, my involvement with Sahiyo has been an integral part to self-actualization and healing. I joined Sahiyo at a time where I desperately needed allies who understood my personal struggles with FGC. Since joining, I have been able to use my personal experiences and integrate them with work that will positively impact my career as a healthcare professional. 

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 has taught me that joining a community of peers that are just like you, that have been impacted by the same circumstances you have, can be healing in so many ways. Using experiences that are deeply personal to you in order to make change in the world, no matter how small, is liberating. I encourage anyone who is looking to feel such liberation to support Sahiyo in their goal to end FGC.

Sahiyo Staff Spotlight: Tania Parks

Tania Parks works as Grants Coordinator at Sahiyo and is passionate about gender justice issues. She has held various roles at a domestic violence survivor advocacy non-profit in San Francisco called W.O.M.A.N., Inc., and was the Gender-Based Violence Research Intern at a women’s health non-profit based in Paris called Women and Health Alliance, International. She holds a Masters in Human Rights and Humanitarian Action from The Paris Institute of Political Studies with concentrations in Middle East Studies and Migration Studies.

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

I first got involved with Sahiyo after I learned that a Voices to End FGM/C community education event had taken place close to where I live. I contacted co-founder Mariya Taher, a former colleague, to congratulate her on hosting such an amazing event and I really wanted to get involved, so I offered to assist in any way that I could.

2) What does your work with Sahiyo involve?

I mostly offer development support in the form of drafting grant proposals, maintaining project budgets, and sometimes helping with communications projects. 

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

Before working with Sahiyo, I had very little knowledge of female genital cutting (FGC). I have come to understand that FGC is a very complex and widespread issue, but despite this, it is often shrouded in silence. I have also learned that sharing personal stories of trauma and resilience has a powerful effect on listeners and is capable of inciting lasting social change. 

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

If you’re thinking about getting involved with the movement to end FGC, don’t hesitate! It is an urgent issue and more advocates are needed to spread awareness. Be sure to practice self care, as it can be emotionally charged work, and contact us to get involved!