Shelby joined Sahiyo US as an intern with the Development Team in June 2021, and transitioned into the role of Development Coordinator in September 2021. She is currently a graduate student at Cleveland State University studying Applied Social Research. Shelby is passionate about female-founded organizations and is excited for the opportunity to contribute to Sahiyo’s mission.
1) When and how did you first get involved with Sahiyo?
I started with Sahiyo US in June 2021 as a development intern. In September 2021, I transitioned to the role of Development Coordinator. I’m thrilled to be working with the Sahiyo team!
2) What does your work with Sahiyo involve?
As the development coordinator, I research grants and funding opportunities to support our programs, activist retreats, and general operating expenses. I help with the writing process when submitting grant proposals and create monthly campaign emails to help ensure that Sahiyo has the monetary resources to carry out their mission.
3) How has your involvement with Sahiyo impacted your life?
Before working with Sahiyo, I was unaware of FGC and the impact on women and girls around the world. I have been involved with previous support groups for survivors of sexual violence on college campuses, and I have enjoyed working for an organization like Sahiyo that speaks out against violence. I love working with a team that has a passionate spirit and uplifts the voices of other women. Sahiyo has such a loving and supportive community that I feel truly honored to be a part of.
4) What words of wisdom would you like to share with others who may be interested in supporting Sahiyo and the movement against FGC?
The Sahiyo staff and volunteers are constantly challenging social norms, speaking out against FGC, and continuously proving themselves to be an organization that fulfills their goals. Sahiyo reminds me that there are people out there who care about ending violence against women (FGC specifically) and execute their goals in such a creative and powerful way.
On July 17th, Sahiyo’s Development Assistant Sarrah Hussain and Programs Coordinator Catherine Cox spoke at a panel discussion on female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) hosted by the Future Shakers Initiative (FSI). This event, The Pre-summit of #EndFGM Global Conference, was the prelude to the conference. The summit was an online webinar convening international speakers and advocates to share ideas and prepare for the in-person conference.
As part of The Pre-summit of the #EndFGM Global Conference, Hussain and Cox were joined by Dr. Ibidapo Fashina, Abayomi Sarumi, and Damilola Amoo, moderated by FSI founder, Tobi Olanipekun. During the two-session event, this group of activists and change-makers convened over Google Meet to discuss their roles in challenging FGM/C, and how to build global bridges to advocate for the end of the practice. This inspirational panel of speakers explored the health consequences of FGM/C; the justifications and social norms underpinning the practice; and how we all can become better activists in empowering our communities to end the practice.
During the event, the speakers had the opportunity to answer critical questions such as, “What human rights does FGM/C violate?” and “How can young people challenge FGM/C?” Our team highlighted how FGM/C is practiced on young girls without consent and is a violation of the rights of girls. FGM/C also violates a person’s rights to health, security, and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, and the right to life, as this practice can result in death. We additionally stressed Sahiyo’s belief in the power that storytelling can create change, spark healing, and inspire individuals and communities to advocate for the abandonment of FGM/C. We believe that highlighting and amplifying the voices of survivors can be a powerful way to challenge FGM/C, the norms of silence and shame that often keep women from speaking out, and to give space for survivors to heal.
During the question and answer session at the end of the event, one guest asked how modern technologies are being utilized to help end FGM/C. Sahiyo speakers highlighted the initiative, Mumkin, an app that was created by Sahiyo’s co-founders Priya Goswami and Aarefa Johari. This is an app that uses artificial intelligence to help activists practice having difficult conversations around FGM/C. We encourage all of our allies to download this app in order to help them practice having critical conversations around FGM/C.
The Pre-summit of the #EndFGM Global Conference was an eye-opening exploration of the many issues and concepts surrounding FGM/C, as well as the need for global connections and idea-sharing to foster a global community dedicated to ending FGM/C and all forms of violence against women and girls. The #EndFGM Global Conference will be taking place in-person in Nigeria later this year.
In late July, Sahiyo held its webinar, Critical Intersections: Anti-Racism and Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C). Sahiyo U.S. Executive Director Mariya Taher moderated the panel discussion that included four expert speakers: Leyla Hussein, Aarefa Johari, Sunera Sadicali, and Aissata M.B. Camara. The event included thoughtful commentary on the overlap between racism, oppression, culture, and FGM/C, as well as the struggles the panelists have faced while working to spread awareness and bring an end to FGM/C.
Hussein is an anti-FGM campaigner and a survivor who shares her personal experience of FGM/C with the goal of protecting girls from this abusive practice. Originally from Somalia, Hussein works as a psychotherapist in the United Kingdom and addresses the prevalence of FGM/C around the world. Johari is a journalist, feminist and activist based in Mumbai, India. Johari is a senior reporter with Scroll.in, where she covers gender and labour. She has been speaking out against female genital cutting since 2012 and is one of the five original co-founders of Sahiyo. Sunera Sadicali grew up in a family that was a part of the Bohra Community; they were (and still are) the only Bohras in the Portugal/Iberic Peninsula. Sadicali is constantly trying to reconcile and find a balance between motherhood, art, her work as a family doctor, and political activism. Camarais a professional with over a decade of program development and management, strategic planning, and relationship-building experience in non-profit, local government, and international affairs. A social entrepreneur and advocate, she was featured in The Guardian, PBS, RFI, Deutshe Welle and Brut for her advocacy to end female genital mutilation/cutting. Camara is also a frequent speaker at conferences, including high-level events at the United Nations.
The four panelists, who are survivors of FGM/C, answered questions about how FGM/C intersects with other forms of oppression, including racism, violence, and “othering.” They also discussed the lack of legislation and law enforcement surrounding the practice, and challenges to passing laws to protect girls at risk. One notable part of the discussion occurred when Hussein made the point that survivors can become gatekeepers and have the opportunity to change the way that they are perceived. She relayed that when people hear about FGM/C, they may dismiss it and attribute it to cultural practice, but by naming FGM/C as child abuse rooted in patriarchy and oppression, survivors can draw attention to the issue for what it is in order to truly show people the harm being done.
Toward the end of the webinar, Camara discussed other movements such as Me Too and Black Lives Matter and how allyships must be formed in order to generate more traction in the media to spread FGM/C awareness. By teaming up with other survivors, resources, officials and organizations, more conversations about FGM/C can lead to change.
In conclusion, the Critical Intersections webinar allowed panelists from diverse backgrounds to share their views on racism and FGMC. Several ideas were brought up about how to spark change and dialogue in both local communities and globally. But the common thread among all the speakers was that change is not always easy, but always worth fighting for. For the sake of women and girls everywhere, the future holds hope for justice, healing, and change.
Madrisha Debnath is a graduate from Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi with a masters in geography. Her research interests are in the area of feminist geography, geography of bodies and embodiment. Having a female body, she is passionate to understand the cultural practice of FGC and the process of cultural embodiment. She is grateful to Sahiyo for upholding feminist values and thus being culturally inclusive, and looks forward to making a meaningful contribution as a research intern at achieving Sahiyo’s aim.
1. When and how did you first get involved with Sahiyo?
I had come to know about the practice of female genital cutting (FGC) in the African context from feminist literature that I was referring to during my master’s course in geography of social wellbeing concerning gender disparity. I had randomly searched for whether the practice was prevalent in the Indian subcontinent. This is when I came to know about Sahiyo and the petition they had initiated against the practice. I was inspired by how a counter feminist space was created by Sahiyo enabling women to come together and speak up against such patriarchal norms and practices. I had approached Sahiyo via email and was interviewed for the position of research intern. I was inspired by the active role Sahiyo had taken in the movement around “my body, my choice” and shared my views on body politics during the interview.
2. What does your work with Sahiyo involve?
My work with Sahiyo includes analysing transcripts, and writing articles and reflections on webinars on FGC. I am working closely with the core team members in performing thematic analysis on survivors’ accounts for Sahiyo’s storytelling project.
3. How has your involvement with Sahiyo impacted your life?
Aspiring to be a researcher, working with Sahiyo has helped me in developing an emic perspective on FGC by gaining sensitive cultural interpretations and working closely with the community facing the issue. I have learned a lot from Sahiyo’s storytelling program on how to normalize talk around such sensitive issues and deal with them from the grassroots level. I also loved the democratic work culture of the organization that gives space for dialogue and participation without feeling overburdened.
4. What words of wisdom would you like to share with others who may be interested in supporting Sahiyo and the movement against FGC?
In my opinion, if anyone is motivated to do a certain task, the will comes from within. It is not easy to break the silence on the taboo of FGC, or for that matter any social problems, but if we start we can contribute to at least some changes and contribute toward building an equal society.
In June Sahiyo partnered with Hidden Scars to host a training for practitioners and advocates working with survivors of gender-based violence (GBV) and female genital cutting (FGC).
Gender-based violence (GBV) is a reality for many women and girls. The World Health Organization reports that one in three women will experience sexual or physical violence in her lifetime. Yet, GBV often remains hidden and shrouded in silence and shame. At the core of providing better prevention, protection, health, and social support services for women and girls are stronger data, enhanced research, and community engagement. Our presentation explored how practitioners can provide trauma-informed care to survivors of GBV, using FGC as a case study. We also provided resources for clinicians and other front-line professionals who may come in contact with women impacted by both, and who are looking to better understand how to provide better care.
While Sahiyo’s expertise is in addressing FGC, we acknowledge that FGC is a form of gender-based violence and child abuse. Our team felt that many of the lessons that can be learned about how to help survivors of FGC could also be applied to all forms of GBV. Like other forms of gender-based violence, such as domestic violence, FGC is a learned behavior of childhood, and is often surrounded by a culture of silence and shame, and is a form of generational violence. However, GBV can also include childhood marriage, rape, sexual assault, honor crimes, domestic violence, and other crimes against women. While we used FGC as a case study, our goal was to create a training that would allow practitioners to provide better care to all survivors of gender-based violence.
During this event, we provided an overview of FGM/C and GBV, as well as shared videos from our Voices to End FGM/C project. These videos helped our audience better understand the complicated emotions and experiences survivors go through, and to begin to think about how they as providers can better support them in their journey toward healing. We also shared tools such as the George Washington University FGM/C Toolkit, Mumkin, and other resources that are available to help them and their organizations think about how to provide better care to surviors.
Finally, in order to facilitate conversations and help our guests practice communicating with survivors, we also hosted mock conversations. These conversations were held with the goal to help practitioners become more comfortable speaking with survivors and to practice having productive conversations with patients.
Although female genital cutting (FGC) is not limited to any one community, misconceptions rooted in racism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia have still negatively impacted the movement to end FGC – as well as survivors themselves. In our work to end FGC, we must use an intersectional approach to support the needs of all women impacted by FGC and bring about substantial change. First coined in 1989 by professor Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, the term intersectionality was created to help us understand “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.” An intersectional approach to all social movements is crucial to address the intersecting oppressions that impact different communities.
On July 29th at 1 pm EST Sahiyo will be hosting the webinar, “Critical Intersections: Anti-Racism and Female Genital Cutting.” This webinar will explore the intersection of anti-racism work and the work to end FGC. Four expert speakers, including Leyla Hussein, Aarefa Johari, Aissata Camara, and Sunera Sadicali, will explore intersectionality and FGC in a panel moderated by Sahiyo U.S. Executive Director Mariya Taher. These renowned activists have worked in the field of FGC prevention and survivor support, exploring the critical intersections where this form of gender-based violence meets systemic racism. Our guest speakers’ experiences will expand the conversation on how FGC survivors and advocates for change often have to push back against racist narratives in their work and in their journey toward healing, as well as how systemic racism can delay substantial change on this issue.
During this webinar, you’ll be able to be a part of the discussion about how we can all become better educated and better advocates in the journey to end systemic racism and FGC. This event is open to anyone who wishes to attend. Register Today: https://bit.ly/CriticalIntersectionsWebinar
Leyla Hussein is an anti-FGM campaigner and a survivor who shares her personal experience of FGM with the goal of protecting girls from this abusive practice. Originally from Somalia, Leyla works as a psychotherapist in the United Kingdom and addresses the prevalence of FGM around the world. As Leyla reminds us, FGM is a practice of oppressing women and controlling women’s sexuality. It’s not an African issue, it’s not an Asian issue; it’s a global issue that requires a global investment in women.
Aarefa Johari is a journalist, feminist and activist based in Mumbai, India. Aarefa is a senior reporter with Scroll.in, where she covers gender and labour. She has been speaking out against female genital cutting since 2012 and is one of the five original co-founders of Sahiyo. Sahiyo is an organization founded on the belief that storytelling in all forms can create positive social change and help empower communities to abandon the practice of FGC.
Sunera Sadicali was born in 1982 in Mozambique and moved to Lisbon when she was 2 years old. She grew up in a family that was a part of the Bohra Community; they were (and still are) the only Bohras in the Portugal/Iberic Peninsula. Sunera underwent khatna (FGM Type I) by age of 8 in Pakistan while visiting her grandparents on vacation. She moved to Spain to study medicine by the age of 19 and finished her Family Medicine residency in Madrid. She has been politically active since the birth of her second child in 2012 in women’s issues, decolonial feminism, anti-racism and healthcare activism. Sunera is constantly trying to reconcile and find a balance between motherhood, art, her work as a family doctor, and political activism.
Aissata M.B. Camara is a professional with over a decade of program development and management, strategic planning, and relationship-building experience in non-profit, local government, and international affairs. A social entrepreneur and advocate, she was featured in The Guardian, PBS, RFI, Deutshe Welle and Brut for her advocacy to end female genital mutilation/cutting. She has received numerous awards, including the New York State Assembly Certificate of Merit, Knights of Pythias Medal of Achievement, the Hackett Medal for Oratory Excellence, and the Jo Ivey Boufford Award. Aissata is also a frequent speaker at conferences, including high-level events at the United Nations.
Kamakshi Arora is a social media intern for Sahiyo. She is a multidisciplinary designer, artist, and researcher. She has a bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering from NC State and a Masters in Product Design from The University of The Arts. Originally from Mumbai, India, she moved to the United States to pursue higher studies. She is particularly interested in using a transdisciplinary, participatory approach to design strategies for addressing current gender inequities, and to co-create meaningful initiatives to tackle women’s rights and health issues. She supports Sahiyo’s mission of empowering women through innovative grassroots initiatives based on storytelling and community engagement and is grateful for the opportunity to learn more about working in a feminist organization.
1) When and how did you first get involved with Sahiyo?
It was early in the year, and I really wanted to volunteer and support a feminist organization that was working for gender equity and reform. My thesis was on the concept of healing for survivors of sexual assault. I wanted to find an organization that was doing similar work and as soon as I found out about Sahiyo, I knew I had found that place. Sahiyo’s approach of combining storytelling and advocacy really caught my eye. I’m also from Mumbai so it felt like a great fit to be a part of an organization that was based out of my home.
2) What does your work with Sahiyo involve?
Right now I’m mostly involved in social media. This includes programming and developing content, sharing articles and educational information on our channels, and maintaining our persona online. As a designer, I love that I can be creative as I have used my artwork and drawing as a way to advance Sahiyo’s program. I try to subtly use my training in human-centered design and trauma-informed principles in the work that I create for Sahiyo.
3) How has your involvement with Sahiyo impacted your life?
Greatly. For one thing, I saw the power of storytelling in all its forms. Sahiyo taught me to be coherent and persevering with our messages and how we can write a story that supports the purpose of our mission. Second, my perspectives as an intersectional feminist have expanded. I was not aware of female genital cutting (FGC) before. I have learned much about the issue of FGC and its existence in the broader context of women’s subjugation in our society and cultures. I’m now a lifelong advocate and ally of Sahiyo’s mission and will continue to use my own skills to do my bit.
4) What words of wisdom would you like to share with others who may be interested in supporting Sahiyo and the movement against FGC?
Please do not be afraid to learn and inquire about female genital cutting. By asking questions and speaking actively, we are contributing to Sahiyo’s mission to end FGC. Share our stories, attend our workshops, make a donation, and/or volunteer. It’s all so informative, and you’ll leave with a wealth of resources to do your own advocacy.
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:
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.
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.
Mariya Taher | Co-founder, Sahiyo
Sali Mahgoub | Deputy Director at Obama Foundation
Holly Weckler | Developer Innovation Lead at Synctera
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.