Sahiyo Stories Shown at Reconference In Nepal

From April 10 to 12, Sahiyo co-founder Mariya Taher attended Reconference, a three-day conference hosted by CREA, to address today’s most challenging socio-political issues and their intersections with feminism, art, and technology by rethinking, reimagining, and rebooting how to build an inclusive feminist vision of justice. 

Sahiyo Stories, a digital storytelling project organized and created by Sahiyo and StoryCenter, was selected to be part of Day 2 of Reconference, and Mariya presented the collection of 10 digital stories created by women living in the US who had undergone female genital cutting (FGC) or had family members who had undergone it, in order to highlight that FGC is a global issue affecting women of all different backgrounds. Her workshop was the only one highlighting FGC at the three-day conference.

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Voices to End FGM/C: Seeking Storytellers for Social Norm Change

This year, Sahiyo looks forward to continuing our partnership with StoryCenter, a community-arts organization that has for 20+ years worked with grassroots groups on participatory digital storytelling and media arts projects.  

To apply to be a participant, fill out the application! 

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In 2018, Sahiyo and Story Center worked together on Sahiyo Stories, and will be expanding the project into this next chapter- The Voices to End FGM/C Project in 2019.

The next phase of this project will guide ten women who have experienced female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) through an online digital storytelling workshop and support them inDSC_0073 sharing and audio recording their stories.

We are seeking women interested and available to participate in the workshop, which will be held via four webinar sessions scheduled for: Wed. June 5, 12, 19, and 26, 2019 (one-hour sessions, times to be determined). The stories will be illustrated with a combination of personal images (photos and video clips) to be provided by the storytellers, and images contributed by participating women artists. Final editing will be done by StoryCenter, with the goal of completing a set of videos in August 2019.

If you or someone you know would like to get involved as a storyteller with this project, please submit expressions of interest no later than May 15, 2019, through this online form.

View sample stories from our previous work with survivors of FGM/C, and check out Sahiyo’s blog posts about the Sahiyo Stories project.

If you have any questions, please get in touch with Amy Hill, from StoryCenter, at amylenita@storycenter.org; or Mariya Taher, from Sahiyo, at mariya@sahiyo.com

Fill out this form to get involved.

To download this information as PDF, click here.

Sahiyo and StoryCenter win the #EndFGM Positive Action Challenge

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In May 2018, Sahiyo and StoryCenter, hosted a digital storytelling workshop where FGC survivors from across the U.S. could come together to share their experiences. In September 2018, the digital stories were released online and several screenings of the digital stories have occurred. Now, Sahiyo and StoryCenter have been named 1 of 3 winners for the ViiV Healthcare #EndFGM Positive Action Challenge. The #ENDFGM Positive Action Challenge supports innovative interventions to bring about a sustained change in attitudes and social norms towards ending FGC. In 2019, Sahiyo and StoryteCenter will work to expand the digital storytelling project to become “Voices to End FGM/C” by creating a web-based format so that survivors from around the world can use personal storytelling for social norm change on a global level.

Other winners of this challenge include Grandmother Project: Change Through Culture and Circuit Pointe.

If you would like more information about the project, contact mariya@sahiyo.com.

Sahiyo Stories screened in Massachusetts

In May 2018, the Sahiyo Stories project brought together nine women from across the United States to create personalized digital stories that narrate the experience of undergoing female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) and/or the experience of their advocacy work to end this form of gender violence.

The video stories created at the workshop have since then been released on YouTube (you can watch them here). In November a public screening of Sahiyo Stories was held in Massachusetts.

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Lesley University, Massachusetts

On November 9th, Sahiyo took part in Violence Against Women Conference hosted by Lesley University. This day-long, interdisciplinary event aimed to “provide a platform for scholars, artists and community activists to explore the interplay between global representations of violence against women and historical and contemporary discourses.” Sahiyo held a screening of the Sahiyo Stories digital stories, with an introduction on ‘What is Female Genital Cutting’ by Sahiyo co-founder Mariya Taher, and a post-viewing Questions & Answers session with Renee Bergstrom, one of the Sahiyo story participants.

At the Lesley University screening, the audience included a mixture of folks, with a majority of the participants being Lesley students interested in gender equity, human rights, international women’s issues or a unique cross of these fields.

Here’s what Lara Kingstone, Sahiyo’s Communication Assistant had to say about the event:

The Q&A session allowed for followed was a frank and informative discussion of FGC, social change, and the nature of community traditions. Having both Mariya and Renee present added a layer of personal connection to the screening, and I believe that guests and facilitators alike (and myself, the Communications Assistant!) came away feeling energized, informed and connected by the session. ~ Lara

 

Sahiyo Stories screened in Washington DC: A survivor’s reflection

by Maryah Haidery

Recently on Facebook, I noted that real social change usually happens when people are good enough to care about doing the right thing, thoughtful enough to figure out the best ways to do it, and brave enough to actually go through with it. On December 4th, in Washington DC, I was fortunate enough to meet a roomful of such people. I was there representing Sahiyo at an event called ‘Using Data and Community Engagement to Better Focus FGM Prevention Interventions’ sponsored by the US End FGM/C Network and The George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health.

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Maryah Haidery talking at the Washington DC screening.

The event included an exceptional presentation by Sean Callaghan from the organization, 28 Too Many on how government agencies and NGOs can use data to track populations where FGM/C may be most prevalent and how best to engage with these populations. It also included a screening of Sahiyo Stories, a series of digital stories by nine different women, including myself, detailing our personal experiences with FGM/C and/or advocacy. I had volunteered to introduce Sahiyo Stories in place of Mariya Taher who was unable to attend the event. Despite some technical difficulties, I tried to summarize Mariya’s history with StoryCenter and the collaboration which culminated in Sahiyo Stories and the short behind-the-scenes video showing how we made the videos and what we hoped to gain from them.

Since this would be my first time seeing the videos with a large audience, I was a little nervous. But when Mariya’s voice came on, the room grew absolutely silent and by the end, quite a few people seemed visibly moved. During the Q&A period following the screening, I was struck by the number of people who wanted to know how they could find out more about FGM/C and what they could do to help even though this was not a problem that affected their communities. Afterward, several people from other organizations working to end FGM/C approached me with interesting suggestions on using Sahiyo Stories in conjunction with their apps and projects in order to make a greater impact on government officials or healthcare workers or educators. As I looked around the room at all these people who cared so passionately about ending this practice – people who were good and thoughtful and brave, it made me more confident than ever before that real social change was a real possibility.

To learn more about Sahiyo Stories, read:

Inaugural screening of Sahiyo Stories in California

On October 19 in Oakland, California, Sahiyo, in collaboration with StoryCenter, Asian Women’s Shelter, Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence hosted a screening of Sahiyo Stories that included a behind the scenes short film documenting the women’s experiences in creating their digital stories.

Sahiyo Stories involved bringing together nine women from across the United States to Photo 2.jpgcreate personalized digital stories that narrate experiences of female genital cutting (FGC). These nine women, who differ in race/ethnicity, age, and citizenship/residency status, each shared a story addressing a different challenge with FGM/C. Some women who had only recently discovered they had undergone FGM/C were grappling with its emotional and physical impacts, while others were invested in advocacy to prevent it from happening to more girls. The collection is woven together with a united sentiment and a joint hope that the videos will build a critical mass of voices from within FGM/C-practicing communities, calling for the harmful practice’s abandonment.

A panel discussion on female genital cutting followed the screening, and the greater connection FGC has to gender-based violence.

To learn more about Sahiyo Stories, read:

Sahiyo Stories to host first screening in Oakland, California

On October 19 in Oakland, California, Sahiyo, in collaboration with StoryCenterAsian Women’s ShelterAsian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence will host a screening of Sahiyo Stories with a behind the scenes short film documenting the women’s experiences in creating their digital stories, followed by a panel discussion on FGC.

To RSVP for the event, visit http://bit.ly/SahiyoStoriesOct

As a reminder, the project brought together nine women from across the United States to create personalized digital stories that narrate the experience of undergoing female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) and/or the experience of their advocacy work to end this form of gender violence. You can watch all these brave women’s stories by visiting the Sahiyo Stories YouTube Playlist.

If you’re interested in learning more about the project or hosting a screening of Sahiyo Stories, contact mariya@sahiyo.com

‘I Hope my Story Helps other Women’: A Reflection on the Sahiyo Stories Workshop

By Maryah Haidery

Last December I participated in a Sahiyo activist retreat where I learned the unique power that storytelling has to teach, stimulate, and inspire audiences while offering the storyteller a sense of empowerment and catharsis. That’s why I was excited to reunite with some of the brave women I met on that retreat for a three-day storytelling workshop this past May. Since I didn’t have a clear memory of my own khatna, I decided to focus on the aspect of it which did have a profound effect on me: my relationship with my mother and my struggle to understand her decision.

Although I am and always have been opposed to the practice of FGC, I was nevertheless upset by the ways in which the women who practiced it were portrayed as “heartless monsters” or “unforgiveable child abusers” by the media and by anti-Muslim bigots who were using it as an excuse to justify their stance against immigration. In an effort to change this perception, I agreed to sit down with my mother to discuss FGC with a local radio news reporter. I hoped this would encourage people to see her as a person and try to understand her motivations for doing what she did even if they didn’t agree with it.

I love my mother dearly, but I think the interview left me with more questions than answers, and I wanted to explore a little bit of those conflicting emotions in the story I told in the workshop. I hope my story helps other women who might be going through the same emotions as I did to know that they aren’t alone and that it is OK to not have everything figured out. Everyone needs to decide for themselves what they want or need from the relationships in their lives and if a relationship is worth keeping. Sometimes forgiveness is important – not for the other person,  but for yourself.IMG_0907

At first I was really nervous about sharing my story with everyone, but all the women in the workshop were incredibly supportive and encouraging and made the workshop truly worthwhile. I also felt honored to be able to experience each of their incredible and unique stories. In three short days we had bonded over shared experiences, (and incredible food) so even though I only had two sisters when I first arrived at the workshop, by the time I left, I had eleven.

To learn more about Sahiyo Stories, read:

 

More about Maryah Haidery:

MaryahMaryah Haidery is a medical writer from New Jersey. She graduated from Temple University with a doctorate in pharmacy and completed her post-doctoral fellowship in medical communications at a medical communications company in Princeton. Her interests include writing about oncology, pain management and rare diseases and mentoring students at the University of the Sciences where she served as Adjunct Clinical Instructor. Maryah only recently became aware of the Sahiyo movement through a family member. Although she is new to activism, she believes that it is vitally important to shine light on the long taboo subject of female circumcision in hopes of encouraging real and lasting change. She thinks this is only possible if we can confront the complicated mix of ideas surrounding khatna and critically appraise the practice without necessarily denigrating the people who practice it.

Sahiyo Storycenter Workshop: The Power of Storytelling

By Zehra Patwa

Shame. Deceit. Confusion. On the first day, sitting around a large table in a light-filled room in the StoryCenter workshop space in Berkeley, California, these words were repeated over and over again by each woman sharing her story of being cut as a young girl. And in most cases, the story was disturbingly similar: a young girl is taken to a strange place by a female family member, she is not told what is going to happen to her except some euphemism that means nothing to her, the girl is cut by stranger, she experiences pain like she’s never experienced before and she is told never to talk about it again. But the experience stays with her…

Hope. Love. Protection. And then there were stories by women who, as girls, had been spared the cut and those who had worked through their trauma, so there were also inspiring words that came out of these stories which made the whole StoryCenter process a positive and uplifting experience that will stay with me for years to come.

When Sahiyo co-founder, Mariya TaherIMG_0907, first invited me to this workshop for US-based anti-FGM/C activists, I wondered what I would possibly talk about. As an activist for WeSpeakOut, I have told my khatna story in many different forums before, so what could I talk about now?  We were tasked with preparing a 300-word script outlining the story we wanted to tell and, for weeks, I vacillated between multiple topics.  I finally chose to focus on the reaction I received from my community, the Dawoodi Bohras, when I began to speak out about the secretive practice of FGM/C/Khafz/Khatna.

While describing my outline to my fellow workshop participants, I felt unsure that IMG_0953anyone would care about my story and whether it was a story that was even worth telling.  But when I finished, there was a pause, then someone said, “That was powerful.”

Over the next 2 days, I refined my story and built my video with much input from Amy, Orchid and the other participants who I, very quickly, would call friends.  Their opinions about word choice, sentence structure, and which images and videos to use made my story come to life in a way that I had not imagined!

At the end of the third day, I had a new creation.  Yes, it was still a little rough around the edges and needed some minor editing but it was a revelation to be able to produce a video of my story in 3 days that resonated with other people.  I’m proud of what I did, but prouder of the fact that it was a true team effort. After all, it takes a village!

What I took away from the Sahiyo StoryCenter experience is that there are people who understand my struggle of wanting to be part of a community while working to end one practice within it. They are people who understand that I am not trying to bash my community or shame it, people who will support me even though it may invite a similar reaction to what I have experienced.

As we share our videos, I hope people realize that, although they may find it hard to speak out, it is so incredibly beneficial to so many others who feel they have no voice. That is why I speak out.

To learn more about Sahiyo Stories, read:

 

More about Zehra:

Zehra PatwaZehra Patwa is the Co-Founder of WeSpeakOut, an organization that strives to work for equal rights for Bohra women in all spheres of life, specifically, on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) or khafz. She grew up in London and was educated at the University of Bradford Management Centre in the UK and the Université de Montpellier in France. Zehra serves on the Board of the Foote School and Co-Chairs MOSAIC, the Foote School’s multicultural affairs and diversity group. She recently joined the Board of Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS). After discovering well into adulthood, that Type 1 FGM/C was practiced in her community and that she, too, had been subjected to it, she decided she could no longer keep silent.  Although she has no recollection of the practice being done to her, she is vehemently opposed to it and has been working with the WeSpeakOut group to expose the practice within, and outside, the community.

A Tradition That Branded Me

By Severina Lemachokoti

I chose to tell this particular story about my experience with Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) because the story defines me, who I am, and shows what my culture/tradition branded me with. The story reflects the reality of what I went through and what I felt as a little girl. This is my other life that no one knows unless I share it with them. Sharing my story at the Sahiyo Stories workshop was a bit hard, but at the same time, it was a relief because I shared it with women who can relate to my hurt, women who have gone through painful and traumatic experiences as other FGM survivors. I felt comfortable and at ease with my sisters. I enjoyed the sisterhood, the courage, and passion that each of them embraced during the entire time. The storytelling process was smooth and very educative. I was able to revise my own story and put it in a way that I am confident will make a difference to our communities.

My advocacy on FGM is primarily focused on community education and the mental health of the survivors. As an activist, I believe that FGM will end when our communities are educated on the negative effects of FGM and find alternative ways of celebrating cultural practices without cutting girls’ genitalia. I am also aware that it is the right of each community to uphold their traditions and beliefs, but culture should not violate the rights of young girls in any way either. The mental health of survivors is a critical issue that needs to be looked into and addressed. Most of us are traumatized and still bear the pain of the cut even after so many years and it is necessary that survivors get healed in order for them to step up and talk about FGM in a way that can save other young girls who are at a risk.

My story is not very different from those of other survivors, but at the same time, I

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Severina with Lena Khandwala at Sahiyo Stories Workshop

believe I am unique and so my story is unique because of the painful experience and feelings that I had during the cutting. My hope is that my story and the stories of my other sisters will change our communities. I am looking forward to working with various organizations and individuals to see that our girls are free from FGM across the world. I will basically do my activism work till the end of my days, and advocate for supporting the mental health of FGC survivors across the world.

To learn more about Sahiyo Stories, read:

More about Severina:

17904081_1414046985328334_8283055367043356965_nSeverina Lemachokoti is an anti-FGM campaigner, a human rights defender and a gender activist from the Samburu community in Northern Kenya. Severina graduated from Wichita State University, Kansas State with a Master’s Degree in Liberal Studies, with focus on Community Psychology, Sociology and Women Studies. She was the Cultural Ambassador- Kenya, at Wichita State University and participated in various activities that fostered diversity and inclusion. She worked as a graduate research assistant in the Criminal Justice department and also worked at the graduate office as a receptionist. Severina is a professionally trained teacher and holds a bachelor’s degree in counseling psychology and a higher diploma in psychological counseling. As one of the survivors of FGM, Severina uses her own experience to educate young girls from Kenya and her community to say “NO” to FGM and other harmful cultural practices. She has helped in changing the lives of young girls and women in her community through mentorship programs in schools and churches. Severina worked as a program officer for the ANTI-FGM Board, a government body under the ministry of gender to implement the ANTI-FGM act of 2011 and the 2010 constitution of Kenya to protect the rights of young girls in Kenya. Severina is a member of various organizations in Kenya and Africa that defend the rights of young girls and has spoken in various conferences including the UN on the rights of young indigenous girls and women.