Sahiyo takes part in a variety of virtual NGO CSW 65 Forum events in March 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 65th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) meetings took place virtually March 15-26, with thousands of individuals from civil society from across the globe taking part to collaborate and connect with each other on the pressing issues of our times and the progress we have made toward achieving gender equity and equality. 

Every year the NGO CSW/NY organizes the civil society side of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. The NGO CSW Forum runs parallel to the official session taking place at the U.N. Headquarters. This provides civil society the opportunity to engage in the processes and CSW sessions without ECOSOC-accreditation or a U.N. grounds pass.

This year, Sahiyo co-hosted, organized, and was a speaker at the following parallel sessions: 

March 16th

Using Storytelling to Shift Social Norms and Prevent FGM/C

Sponsored by Sahiyo & StoryCenter

Sahiyo and StoryCenter introduced their collaborative Voices to End FGM/C project, which centers on storytelling by survivors and those affected by female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) as a tool to challenge social norms that perpetuate the practice. Using a combination of didactic presentation, audience participation, and short videos, the presentation explored the theoretical underpinnings of the Voices Project, highlighted the success of our digital storytelling workshops, and shared how the project has supported women in their healing journey and furthered efforts to prevent future generations of girls from enduring this form of gender-based violence. 

Read a recap of the event here. View the event here

March 19th

The Power of Digital Media and Achieving Gender Equality

Sponsored by Muslim American Leadership Alliance (MALA)

Digital media has been a powerful resource toward achieving gender equality. It has been integral in raising awareness for issues pertaining to gender-based violence; equity and equality in social communities; and economic participation for women. It also has been a resource to provide financial literacy and economic opportunities for women on a global scale.

This panel convened nonprofits, corporations, digital media experts, and activists to bring forth a comprehensive dialogue on how current and future digital/social media tools can further accelerate the realization of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls. CSW 65 theme is an assessment of current challenges that affect the implementation of the Platform for Action and the achievement of gender equality, and the empowerment of women, and its contribution towards the full realization of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. View the event here.

Panelists:

Mariya Taher | Co-founder, Sahiyo

Sali Mahgoub | Deputy Director at Obama Foundation

Holly Weckler | Developer Innovation Lead at Synctera

March 23rd

Amplifying The Voices On Ending Female Genital Mutilation

Sponsored by Soroptimist International

Co-sponsored by North American/European Caucus

This event addressed violence against girls, focusing on female genital mutilation/cutting in North America, Europe and beyond which hinders women from achieving gender equality and empowerment. Various aspects of this issue were addressed by experts and survivors who work to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and end all forms of violence against women. Furthermore, it addressed the lifetime trauma FGM/C has on victims’ wellbeing and the effect of COVID-19 on the lived experiences of the girls and women in relation to FGM/C. View the event here.

March 24th

Partnerships to Accelerate Global Action to End FGM/C by 2030

Sponsored by Global Platform for Action to End FGM/C

When the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was adopted, estimates suggested that 133 million girls and women had experienced female genital mutilation/cutting in Africa alone. With improved data, estimates now suggest 200 million girls and women globally have been affected. If action to end FGM/C is not accelerated, an estimated 68 million girls will be cut by 2030. The COVID-19 has further impacted progress towards abandonment of FGM/C. Hearing first-hand from grassroots activists and survivors, this session explored models of success from specific communities across different continents that have led to sustained reductions in FGM/C prevalence and have the potential to accelerate progress through broader adoption. The Global Platform for Action to End FGM/C, an international group of organizations advocating to stop FGM/C, of which Sahiyo is a founding member.

Read the reflection blog post here. View the event here.

Sahiyo staff join panel on FGM/C with Drexel University faculty and students

On March 29th, Sahiyo’s Development Assistant Sarrah Hussain and Programs Intern Catherine Cox were invited to speak at a panel discussion on female genital mutilation/ cutting (FGM/C). 

Hosted in partnership with the UNICEF Unite Club at Drexel University, this panel featured three other speakers: Mark Woodland, M.D., activist Cecirahim Sesay, and activist Nera Fernando. Dr. Woodland is a professor and chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Drexel University College of Medicine. He serves on several committees and advisory groups at the Institute for Women’s Health and Leadership. Fernando is a student at Drexel University from Sri Lanka who offered her insight from a social perspective, exploring the underlying causes of FGM/C, and what it is like living in a community where FGM/C is the norm. Finally, Sesay is also a student at Drexel University and a health-equity activist who offered her personal insight into the underlying causes of the FGM/C and community norms. 

Combined, this panel of amazing speakers explored the health consequences of FGM/C, living in practicing communities, and how people can become better activists and allies in empowering communities to end the practice. 

Dr. Woodland explained the medical effects of FGM/C and its global prevalence. Next, Sesay and Fernando used their personal stories to explore the social norms that underpin the practice. Finally, Hussain and Cox from Sahiyo explored Sahiyo’s work and activism in the past, giving the audience a framework for their own activism. They highlighted the concrete steps everyone can take in their day-to-day lives to become better advocates in ending FGM/C. Panelists took audience questions that ranged from the history of law in the United States around the issue, the role that culture plays, and how the people in the audience can take concrete steps toward activism. 

Overall, the panel was an eye-opening exploration of the many issues and concepts surrounding FGM/C and the movement to abandon the practice. 

If you are interested in having a member of Sahiyo speak at an event at your institution, please email our team: info@sahiyo.com. You can also fill out our request for an outreach presentation form at https://sahiyo.com/community-outreach/.

Using Storytelling to Shift Social Norms and Prevent FGM/C: Event Reflection

By Cate Cox

Sahiyo was honored to join StoryCenter to host the webinar, “Using Storytelling to Shift Social Norms and Prevent FGM/C,” during a parallel event for the 65th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women on March 16th. 

Sahiyo and StoryCenter staff had the opportunity to introduce the collaborative Voices to End FGM/C project, which centers on storytelling by survivors and those affected by female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) as a tool to challenge social norms that perpetuate the practice. 

From outlining the storytelling process to hearing from the participants themselves, the parallel event offered an in-depth exploration of the power that storytelling has to heal and create change on a global scale. 

Mariya Taher, a co-founder of Sahiyo and the U.S. Executive Director began by giving the audience an introduction to Sahiyo’s work and the Voices project. Next, the co-founder of StoryCenter’s Silence Speaks program, Amy Hill, explored the methodology behind the Voices project, and why storytelling in general can have such a big impact on individuals, communities, and policy. 

Former Voices participants Aarefa Johari, Severina Lemachokoti, Sunshine Bayor, Zehra Patwa, and Maryum Saifee shared their experiences with the project. Both organizations introduced three new storytellers: Absa Samba, Hunter Kessous, and Somaya Abdelrahman. After watching their amazing Voices videos which will be released in May, each participant had the chance to answer a few questions about their experiences and their plans for moving forward. Panelists emphasized the importance of survivor-centered advocacy, mental health, and trauma services for survivors, as well as encouraged the audience to become involved in advocacy.    

A Chorus of Voices by Aarefa Johari

Panelists also answered select audience questions about their work and experiences of creating their videos. Intimate and brave, the panelists opened up about their fears of backlash and the ways that their videos still impact them. Both organzations shared resources with the audience to further educate themselves about the work Sahiyo and Storycenter are doing and to learn more about the Voices to End FGM/C project. 

“Using Storytelling to Shift Social Norms and Prevent FGM/C” was an ode to the power storytelling has to empower communities to abandon FGC and support survivors’ healing. It also highlighted the amazing work everyone at Sahiyo and StoryCenter are doing in their own capacity to advocate for women’s rights and shined a light on the often-overlooked work being done by grassroots organizations across the world. 

Watch the recording of this event.

To learn more about Sahiyo’s work, Sahiyo staff will be hosting a webinar in partnership with The US End FGM/C Network and the Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence on April 15th, at 2:30 pm EST over Zoom. Learn more about how to register.

Sahiyo’s U.S. Communications Manager is awarded a Masters degree with merit

Lara Kingstone, Sahiyo’s U.S. Communications Manager, was awarded a Masters of Science in Social Development Practice with merit from University College, London. Her dissertation is entitled, “The Cultural Battlefield of Localized Comprehensive Sex Education: A Comparative Study From North East Africa to India.”

This dissertation sought to contextualize the dynamics around Comprehensive Sex Education (CSE) to draw conclusions about how this globalized philosophy of teaching gets localized. Lara examined the concepts of universality versus relativity, and applied this tension to global sex education efforts. She problematized the dynamic of Western hegemony in the rights-based approaches to sex education whilst recognizing the need for education that protects youth, regardless of cultural setting. Her thesis faced the uncanny contradiction we must grapple with — that CSE has been deemed a universal right, but many cultures are opposed to CSE perspectives on homosexuality, female genital cutting, gender roles and more. Furthermore, progressive local CSE advocates are often questioned about their legitimacy and authentic claim to ‘localness.’ Lara dug into these questions in several case studies including Sahiyo and a small program in Addis Ketema, Ethiopia.

Lara started her career in a youth-focused program designed to integrate London communities and empower young people to become active and engaged citizens. She earned a B.A. in Political Communications at IDC Herzliya, while working as a journalist at The Culture Trip and producing and hosting a human rights radio program. While studying, she worked at an educational center which aimed to help Palestinian and Israeli young people learn together. Since then, she has worked with human trafficking prevention and gender-based violence prevention on the Thai-Lao border, and has worked as a community outreach coordinator to connect youth in foster care with mentors in Boston. 

Lara hopes to use this degree to further her goals of working for gender equity, the LGBTQ+ community and international human rights.

Sahiyo Volunteer Spotlight: Development Intern Yusra Majoka

Yusra Majoka is passionate about ending gender inequalities and believes in creating sustainable change by empowering girls and women in our communities. She graduated from St. Georges, University of London with a masters in global health. She is focused on improving women’s health and advocating for autonomy and education surrounding women’s rights. 

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

I began working as a development intern for Sahiyo in October 2020. I had been following Sahiyo on their Instagram page for some time and was inspired by their mission to end female genital cutting (FGC). When I saw a call for applications, I was excited by the opportunity. 

2) What does your work with Sahiyo involve?

My work with Sahiyo as a development intern means supporting our development team by completing tasks in the area of grant research and funding. Each month I contribute with grant or funding source research, or by helping to create fundraising campaigns. Within these areas I also help in other ways, by creating any emails that need to be sent, or maintaining documents to track our progress.

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

Working with Sahiyo has helped me to better understand how imperative it is to end female genital cutting. Before joining Sahiyo I was not well versed with the issue and now am able to understand how complex FGC is, and how much more work needs to be done to help both survivors of FGC and communities from changing their attitudes around it. Working with Sahiyo has inspired me to have challenging conversations with my own family and friends.

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

To anyone interested in Sahiyo, I would encourage them to follow what Sahiyo has achieved and support our goals to continue to protect women and young girls. One of the most important ways to support this mission is by dismantling the taboo surrounding FGC. By encouraging open dialogue in our communities we are able to bring much needed awareness to the issue, increase community education and involvement, and bring ourselves one step closer to ending FGC.

Sahiyo participated in key virtual events with global organizations in October

October was an incredibly busy month for Sahiyo, and we were honored to take part in many events to highlight the issue of female genital cutting (FGC) to various audiences in a multitude of virtual events including a medicalization webinar with #EndFGM Media Campaigns, Fast Tracking SDG 5 by Ending Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting, Digital Storytelling & Advocacy Webinar with StoryCenter, A Girl From Mogadishu + Panel on FGM/C, Council of the Great City Schools Fall Conference, North America and Europe Caucus for CSW International Day of The Girl Child, and Taboo Conversations with RAHMA.

#EndFGM Media Campaigns: Medicalization Webinar

On October 13th, the Global Media Campaign to End FGM and UNFPA hosted a webinar exploring effective media campaign strategies and approaches to work toward countering a growing trend of medicalization within practicing communities. Speakers included Dr. Amr Hassan, Diana Kendi, Ayotomiwa Ayodele, Hoda Ali, Dr. Mariam Dahir, and Sahiyo U.S. Executive Director Mariya Taher. To watch a replay of this webinar, visit https://fb.watch/1yN240JQra/

Fast Tracking SDG 5 by Ending Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting

In honor of the International Day of the Girl, the U.S. End FGM/C Network hosted an event on October 13 titled, “Fast Tracking SDG 5 by Eliminating FGM/C,” as a means to raise awareness and foster important dialogue around ending the harmful practice of FGM/C. The webinar focused on recent developments around the adoption of federal and state-level legislation to end FGM/C in the U.S. and where future policy efforts should focus; common barriers to developing and implementing effective FGM/C abandonment programs (i.e., lack of funding, data, awareness, etc.) and how the community can overcome them; and solutions for prioritizing FGM/C abandonment on the global stage. To watch a recap, view here.

The U.S. End FGM/C Network is a collaborative group of survivors, civil society organizations, foundations, activists, policymakers, researchers, healthcare providers, and others committed to promoting the abandonment of FGM/C in the U.S. and around the world.

Digital Storytelling & Advocacy Webinar

Since 1993, StoryCenter has collaborated with individuals, grassroots groups, and organizations to centralize first-person stories in social justice efforts. The current political reality demands ever-more creative approaches to advocacy. On Oct 14th, in this one-hour free webinar, StoryCenter defined their approach to advocacy with an eye toward clarifying what kinds of stories are effective at community, institutional, and policy levels. They then highlighted research on the role that sharing and listening to personal stories can play in advocacy, and presented a case study of how they have worked with Sahiyo on the Voices to End FGM/C project to position digital storytelling as a key advocacy strategy. 

A Girl From Mogadishu + Panel on FGM/C 

On the 14th of October, Cinema for Peace organized a screening of A Girl from Mogadishu together with the University of Southern California. The event included a panel discussion on FGM/C, taking Ifrah’s case as seen in the film, and its current state in the U.S. where 11 states still don’t have laws against it

Democracy, Populism, Coronavirus & Enduring Patriarchal Traditions

The first webinar in a series for the Patriarchal Inscriptions: Female bodies contested, invaded defended and owned, this October 15th webinar focused on the persistence of the practice of ‘female circumcision’ and how their encoded cultural undergirding raise critical issues of systemic injustice in the body politics cross-culturally. Speakers included Leyla Hussein OBE, Sahiyo U.S. Executive Director Mariya Taher, Ghada Khan, Julia Antonova, Habiba Al-Hinai and Chiara Cosentino. The event explored the following topics: 

  • What weaknesses have come to obstruct efforts to end female genital mutilation?
  • How have governments’ mis/management of the pandemic exacerbated existing fault-lines of gender precarity?
  • How has progress in challenging and abolishing FGM practices been vitiated by widely applied government policies and measures that embrace lockdowns of large parts of public government services, curfews, household quarantine and mandatory individual isolation?
  • How has opposition among members of minority communities in Western societies – when it comes to governments’ FGM policies, deeply felt subtexts of prejudice and popular scapegoating – been appropriated and instrumentalized to serve populist exclusionary aims that demonize entire marginalized cultures?
  • What does the failure of enforcement of anti-FGM legislation uncover about political will, identity politics, the hierarchy of suffering and about inter-/national feminist ambivalences?

Council of the Great City Schools Fall Conference 

Council of the Great City Schools held its 64th Annual Fall Conference virtually in October. Under the banner “Championing Urban Education,” the conference gave big-city school superintendents, board members, senior administrators and college deans of education a forum to discuss issues and share information and best practices to improve teaching and learning. On Oct 16th, Sahiyo participated in a panel event, Unmasking Danger: Identifying High-risk Situations for Urban Students, in which the issues of trafficking and female genital cutting were brought to light and the need to take into consideration that students may be at risk or affected by them. A resource guide created by Council of the Great City Schools on FGM prevention for U.S. schools was also discussed. The guide helps schools to put policies in place to support and identify at risk students. 

North America and Europe Caucus for CSW International Day of The Girl Child

On October 23rd, speakers from around North America and Europe joined in on a virtual meeting to draw attention to the issues of child marriage and female genital cutting. The event was organized by the core group of the Europe and North America CSW/NGO Caucus, including Ulla Madsen, Mary Collins, Zarin Hainsworth, Daniela Chivu, Patricia Masniuk, Luci Chikowero and Nina Smart. Invited FGC Speakers included Isatu Barry, Dr. Ann-Marie Wilson, Mariya Taher, Chiara Cosentino, Angela Peabody. Child Marriage Speakers included Dr. Faith Mwangi-Powell, Honorable Jackie Weatherspoon, Dr. Rochelle Burgesse, Kate Ryan, Dr. Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, and Beverly Bucur.

Taboo ConversationsOn October 28th, RAHMA organized a Facebook Live Discussion in partnership with Sahiyo & Global Women Peace Foundation to discuss female genital cutting in the U.S. and the importance prevention work needing to be done, as well as ways to support and empower women and girls affected by FGC. View the recording here.

Sahiyo staff spoke in a symposia entitled Mothers and daughters: continuity, love, fear and belonging

Sahiyo Communications Coordinator Lara Kingstone and co-founder Mariya Taher were honored to speak on behalf of Sahiyo in a symposia entitled, Patriarchal Inscriptions: Female Bodies Contested, Invaded, Defended & Owned, hosted by King’s College London Faculty of Arts and Humanities. 

The session that Sahiyo participated in served to address feminism, survivors’ relationships with mothers, other forms of gender-based violence and abuse, as well as systemic injustice. The symposia in general served to address the following questions: “Feminism has made the exploration of relations between mothers and daughters central to its project. How are these considered fraught, damaged, broken, or, in the eyes of FGM-supporters, strengthened by clitoridectomy? How does FGM compare to other abuses women endure that fracture their inclination to identify and support one another, instead of becoming invested in, or complicit with, systemic injustice?”

Taher and Kingstone discussed and presented Sahiyo’s Voices to End FGM/C: Using Storytelling to Shift Social Norms & Enhance Prevention as part of the panel on Mothers and daughters: continuity, love, fear and belonging. Many storytellers and survivors explore fraught or strengthened relationships with their mothers in their digital videos as part of the Voices to End FGM/C program in collaboration with StoryCenter. By sharing these stories with participants, Sahiyo aimed to further understanding regarding the deeply complex mother-daughter relationship in the context of FGM/C.

Read the full program.

Sahiyo Volunteer Spotlight: Programs Intern Cate Cox

Cate is passionate about women’s rights and human rights and hopes to enter into those fields once she graduates from Simmons University, where she is studying International Relations, Economics, and Arabic. She is excited to work with Sahiyo to help uplift the voices of women everywhere.

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

I was officially brought on to the Sahiyo team in late August as a programs intern. However, even before that, I’d had my eye on Sahiyo as I knew they were doing really amazing work globally.

2) What does your work with Sahiyo involve?

As a programs intern my main focus is around planning and organizing Sahiyo webinars. This means I help coordinate speakers, create supporting materials, and anything else that comes up. I really love working in this capacity because it gives me such an in-depth understanding of the actual work Sahiyo is doing to create change.   

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

Aside from helping me develop my workplace skills, Sahiyo has really helped open my eyes to all the amazing people fighting for change across the world. Even in the few short weeks I have been working with Sahiyo, I have had the opportunity to meet so many inspiring activists and change-makers. Particularly in 2020, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed — and feel like nothing you do actually makes any difference. Having the opportunity to speak to so many amazing women reminds me that we actually do have the ability to create positive change in the world if we are willing to put in the work.

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

Remember to take care of your mental health. There are many different avenues for activism, from art to webinars to writing, activism comes in many forms. But regardless of its form, activism, particularly about subjects as difficult as these, can take a toll on your mental health. This isn’t to say don’t get involved — definitely do. But be willing to step back and rest every now and then. And remember to listen to your body.

My meaningful experience as an intern at Sahiyo

By Nicole Mitchell

In early 2019, I had the pleasure of joining the Sahiyo team as a Social Media Intern. I remember being a bit nervous, as working fully remote at a new company was something I had never done before. Both my supervisor, Lara Kingstone, and the co-Founder Mariya Taher, were extremely friendly and supportive during the onboarding process. Over time, their passion about ending female genital cutting (FGC) became contagious, to the point where I found myself actually looking forward to doing the work.

At the time, I had a very busy schedule where I was finishing up my senior year of college, doing a concurrent internship in Boston, all while working full-time. Despite this, I found that working for a cause that would change so many lives for the better gave me a sense of fulfillment that I wasn’t expecting. To be honest, I miss this feeling. This is one of the things I thank Sahiyo for because I now know that it is possible to have a job that you can actually be excited about. The dreariness of your typical 9-5 cubicle life that we see in the media, or the idea of hating your job, but enduring it so you can at least enjoy the weekend, doesn’t have to be true for everyone. Many of us can find meaning and enjoyment in our work. 

Working with Sahiyo gave me direction, hope and inspiration for my future. On a more practical level, my internship also gave me tools that allowed for me to transfer easily into a role as a marketing specialist at a Boston–based company after graduating with my B..A. While I know that it is rare to land your dream job the first time, I am glad that I at least have an idea of what type of work I can look for in the future because of my experiences with Sahiyo. 

One of my favorite things I did while at Sahiyo was work on a digital campaign where survivors could tell their stories. This was a powerful experience where women from all over the world came together to share their experiences and take a united stand in ending this practice. I was also responsible for writing and scheduling out the content which helped cultivate my creative, strategic and organizational skills. Overall, I am extremely thankful for this opportunity and am glad I can still be a part of this organization in a volunteer capacity. I would highly recommend this internship to anyone who is looking to develop their marketing skills and are passionate about making the world a better place through elevating the lives of others.

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.