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.

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.