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!

Intern Spotlight: Sahiyo Social Media Intern Farhan Zia

Farhan Zia joined Sahiyo’s team as a social media intern in 2019. He is an undergraduate student reading the law at Jindal Global Law School, in O.P. Jindal Global University, India. He researches the intersections of law with human rights, gender and religion, and has a deep interest in engaging with theology and religion from a feminist and modern perspective. He is a student researcher at the FGM Project which seeks to draft and present a bill against female genital cutting in India, a member of the Legal Aid Clinic of Jindal Global Law School.

When and how did you first get involved with Sahiyo?

While I had heard bits and pieces about female genital cutting (FGC) in college, I was not exposed to the full magnitude of the issue. In August 2019, my friend Kavya Palavalasa, who was an intern at Sahiyo, told me about the organization. Following this, when I went through the Sahiyo stories and resources, I came to understand the extent and nuances of FGC. I decided that I must work on this issue, and joined Sahiyo in October 2019. 

What does your work with Sahiyo involve?

As a social media intern, I help create, schedule and manage content for the social media handles, for the daily feed, as well as specific campaigns. I also watch out for any news about FGC that Sahiyo should write on.

How has your involvement with Sahiyo impacted your life?

As a student of law interested in religion and gender, I often notice how activists and authors trying to bring about legal or social reforms end up alienating the very people they seek to help by not understanding their culture and values. It is very difficult to speak against institutionalized cultural practices like FGC. But at Sahiyo I noticed how their advocacy is respectful and compassionate in its language and not condescending in any manner. The Sahiyo resources were a great help for me to grasp how effective reporting of an issue as nuanced as FGC must be done.

I am always in awe of the solidarity and bravery of the many women involved with Sahiyo and who share their stories in its various storytelling campaigns. It really brings into clear focus how patriarchal practices harm women and how too few men try to understand this or contribute to the feminist cause. It has prompted me to read and explore FGC more and work toward contributing to legal reforms in India.  

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

Sahiyo is a wonderful organization to work and learn since the people here are incredibly helpful and understanding. I believe that fighting for equality is not just women’s responsibility. I implore more men to support Sahiyo’s cause against FGC. If you are passionate about working toward gender equality, I really encourage you to get involved.

Intern Spotlight: Sahiyo Social Media Intern Kavya Palavalasa

Kavya Palavalasa joined Sahiyo’s team as a social media intern in July of 2019. Kavya has interests in film, art, research and gender relations in law, labour and academia. She is currently pursuing an undergraduate degree in law at Jindal Global Law School, O.P. Jindal Global University in India. She has not only worked with Citizens for Justice and Peace in Mumbai, but she was also the editor-in-chief of the Centre for Women, Law and Social Change Blog for two years.

1) When did you first get involved with Sahiyo?

I heard about Sahiyo last December when I was attending a workshop in Himachal Pradesh, India. It was the first time I had a constructive conversation about female genital cutting (FGC), and I wanted to support the movement against the practice in any way I could. I joined Sahiyo as a social media intern in July!

2) What opportunities have you been involved with at Sahiyo?

As the social media intern, my work has largely included helping manage the social media handles, and content creation for campaigns, as well as for the daily feed.

3) How has your involvement impacted your life?

Our body is a battleground. It is a struggle for power that often leaves behind scars. This manifests in the practice of FGC, as it establishes control over a woman’s sexual and bodily autonomy. What has been most inspiring about working with Sahiyo is that I have had the opportunity to witness a movement that allows women to encounter their experiences and their bodies as beautiful stories to be narrated, and not just as legal facts. It has been wonderful to closely observe and support this community of kind, brave, and tireless people. While creating content, I have understood the importance of compassionate and respectful language in advocacy, especially on social media. I have also understood so much about the practice itself. I found the Sahiyo guides and toolkits to be extremely informative and helpful. I believe that my involvement has had a deep impact on the way I communicate with people, and it has left me with hope for the future. I look forward to learning more!

4) What pieces of wisdom would you share with new volunteers or community members who are interested in supporting Sahiyo?

The resources that Sahiyo offers are incredibly helpful in starting a constructive conversation about female genital cutting with absolutely anyone. We must not forget that the strength of our feminist movement lies in a deep understanding of collective memories and struggles.

Utilizing Participatory Storytelling to Educate – A session at APHA 2019

1On Nov 4, 2019, Sahiyo’s co-founder Mariya Taher took part in a round-table session at the American Public Health Association’s (APHA) Annual Conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to discuss the Voices to End FGM/C project. Participants were able to view a sample of the digital stories created by survivors. They were also able to learn how by utilizing participatory storytelling methods, we can educate communities, health professionals, and policymakers on female genital cutting. For more information, visit APHA’s website.

Sahiyo USA’s Second Annual Activist Retreat: A recap

To learn more about the activists retreat, read the summary report. 

In March 2019, Sahiyo U.S. hosted our second annual activist retreat for women connected to the Bohra community who are concerned about the issue of FGC within the community. Sahiyo understands it takes many to bring about social change, and as a result, we work with individuals, organizations, and coalitions in a collaborative fashion. As advocates and activists, we are better together and can find the best solutions if we collaborate and work as one.

The Sahiyo Activist retreat helps to build a network of U.S. based Bohra activists by 1) strengthening relationships with one another, 2) sharing best practices and providing tools for activists to utilize in their anti-FGC advocacy work moving forward. The retreat was also an opportunity for advocates/activists to discuss both the challenges and opportunities they face in advocating against FGC. This year, Sahiyo also initiated our peer support program, Saathi, a program attended to build a support system for activists. As per Sahiyo’s 2017 Activists Needs Assessment, findings suggest that having a support system in place was crucial towards building a critical mass of voices seeking to create change. Both the Activist Retreat and Saathi program seek to do so.

To read reflections from participants who attended the retreat, click here.

Sahiyo Staff Spotlight: Lara Kingstone

Lara Kingstone started her career in community organizing in a UK-based program designed to integrate London communities and empower youth to become active and engaged citizens. Lara earned a BA in Political Communications at IDC Herzliya, an Israeli University, while working as a journalist at The Culture Trip and producing and hosting a human rights radio program. She then worked at an educational center which aimed to help Palestinian and Israeli young people learn English together, and get to know each other as peers and partners in peace. After graduating, she moved to the Thai-Lao border where she volunteered at Child Rights and Protection Center, a small non-profit which aims to prevent human trafficking and gender-based violence, while providing a safe and confidence-building living environment for at-risk young women. Lara then moved to Boston, and interned with Big Sister before starting her part-time role at Silver Lining Mentoring as an Outreach Coordinator, where she aims to find volunteers to become long-term mentors for youth in foster care.

She joined Sahiyo in August 2018.

When and how did you first get involved with Sahiyo?

In August 2018, I applied for the role of Communications Assistant, thrilled to see that an organization that so closely aligned with my interests was hiring. I have a background in non-profit work, and working to ensure dignity and human rights for women globally. I’d been interested in Female Genital Cutting, and the work to end the practice for years, doing a thesis paper on it in college, and had actually heard of Sahiyo a few years prior, whilst learning about global efforts to end FGC.

What is the nature of your work at Sahiyo?

12695594_10205920189499862_742488651_o

I’m now the Communications Coordinator. The work is constantly different, which I enjoy. It varies from working on grant applications and event reports, to supervising our lovely social media interns, to providing administrative assistance to the team. And anything else that pops up!

How has your involvement in this work impacted your life?

Joining Sahiyo has been incredible. I’ve been hit with a rush of motivation and energy, because I feel intensely passionate about the work and organization. I find myself truly inspired by our global team, and all the partners we connect with. I’m confident in the leadership as they have experience and knowledge of the community and practice we’re focusing on. I trust this team of brave, resilient and hard-working women, and I’m so honored to be able to support the work in any way I can. From day one it’s been intense and challenging, and I find myself constantly learning and growing with it. It’s very exciting being with such a fast-growing organization like Sahiyo, and getting to see the rapid changes and progress the team makes. I’m a big fan, and hope to be onboard for a long time.

Is there any advice you would like to share with others interested in joining or supporting Sahiyo’s work?

Do it! Sahiyo has so many different opportunities for being involved, even offering anonymous ‘Private Activism’ for those who are more comfortable in that capacity. If you have skills to bring to the table and feel passionately about Sahiyo’s goal, joining is definitely a worthwhile move, that will leave you feeling connected, empowered and proud to be part of this whirlwind movement.