Webinar: Female genital cutting is an under-recognized form of gender-based violence in the U.S.

By Cate Cox

On April 15th, Sahiyo partnered with the U.S. End FGM/C Network and the Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence (APIGBV) for our webinar: Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): An Under-Recognized Form of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) in the Unites States. This webinar was the second in a series that explored the intersection of FGM/C and GBV; how COVID-19 has impacted the prevalence of FGM/C; and how providers can offer better care to survivors. 

FGM/C is a reality for many women and girls across different communities in the United States. Yet, for centuries, FGM/C has remained a hidden practice. It’s often practiced by women on other females; and girls are raised to believe they must remain silent about what they underwent. Silence is an inherent part of this type of gender-based violence that can lead to lifelong physical and emotional health consequences. 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. 

Sahiyo co-founder Mariya Taher and members from the U.S. End FGM/C Network and APIGBV began this event by exploring the background of FGM/C and its global prevalence. The speakers dove into the history of FGM/C in the U.S., including legislative history and that of the practice itself. Then our speakers helped the audience make the broader connection between gender-based violence and female genital cutting. The audience, representing mostly Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) domestic violence/sexual assault organizations, identified many similarities including cultures of secrecy and silencing, shame felt by survivors, FGM/C as source of generational trauma, and FGM/C as a form of power and control over women. We also explored the lessons from the Ebola crisis in West Africa that can help us support women and girls during the COVID-19 crisis. Finally, we compiled a list of resources for service providers to further educate themselves on how to both adequately and ethically provide their services to survivors. At the end of the event, our speakers also answered the audience’s questions about their work and experience. 

Like many Sahiyo events, we also utilized the Voices to End FGM/C films throughout the presentation to help contextualize what the audience was learning and help them understand the stories behind the statistics. These films center the voices of activists and survivors advocating for an end to the practice. While data is crucial in order for us to grasp the scope of the issue, Sahiyo believes that storytelling can be just as powerful a tool in educating people and championing the abandonment of this practice.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: An Under-Recognized form of Gender-Based Violence in the U.S. as a webinar was a continuation of the important conversation around FGM/C and GBV that also provided the audience with tools they could use in the real work to better support survivors.  

Our guests had the chance to explore the intervention and community engagement efforts occurring in this country to support survivors, how COVID-19 has impacted FGM/C and GBV, and how they themselves could help prevent future generations from experiencing FGM/C. It also showcased the amazing work, everyone, at Sahiyo, APIGBV, and the U.S. End FGM/C Network is doing in their capacity to advocate for women’s rights and call for the abandonment of the practice of FGM/C. 

If you were unable to attend this event you can find more information here

Watch the recording of this event.

To learn more about APIGBV and the US End FGM/C Network, please visit their websites below: 

Additionally, if you are are service provider you can find some of the resources mentioned at this event below: 

Women should not be harmed because of societal norms 

By Sakshi Rajani 

Age: 17

Country: India

Female genital cutting (FGC): the term sounded ruthless the first time I heard it. It was not long ago that I was introduced to this term. While going through my Instagram feed, I read a story about a law student who was spreading awareness about FGC, and I was clueless about what it was. Immediately I searched this issue online and learned how serious it was. Then, I pondered why I hadn’t known about it earlier. Why had no one around me talked about it? 

Upon researching it further, I came to know how deeply rooted this problem was in communities and cultures. My will to do something to end it became stronger. I looked for organisations working to end FGC and came across Sahiyo. I soon joined the organisation. 

The first time I spoke about FGC to my friends they said, “What is that?” I wasn’t surprised by their reaction because I, too, was unfamiliar with it. I asked them to research it on their own, and then I explained more about the harms. I told them the World Health Organization and the United Nations declared FGC a human rights violation. Then I introduced them to the groundbreaking Mumkin app created by two co-founders of Sahiyo, Priya Goswami and Aarefa Johari, where my friends could learn more valuable information about this issue.

What are the hurdles in encouraging abandonment of or ending FGC? FGC is also often seen as a necessary ritual for initiation into womanhood and can be linked to cultural ideals of femininity, purity and modesty. A strong incentive to continue the practice is family pressure to adhere to conventional social norms. Women who break from this social norm can face condemnation, abuse and rejection from family or community members. Patriarchal society can help perpetuate it generation after generation. 

Female genital cutting should stop immediately, as a woman should have full rights over her body and no woman should be harmed because of societal norms and expectations. I am now an advocate to make sure FGC ends.

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

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

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

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

March 16th

Using Storytelling to Shift Social Norms and Prevent FGM/C

Sponsored by Sahiyo & StoryCenter

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

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

March 19th

The Power of Digital Media and Achieving Gender Equality

Sponsored by Muslim American Leadership Alliance (MALA)

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

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

Panelists:

Mariya Taher | Co-founder, Sahiyo

Sali Mahgoub | Deputy Director at Obama Foundation

Holly Weckler | Developer Innovation Lead at Synctera

March 23rd

Amplifying The Voices On Ending Female Genital Mutilation

Sponsored by Soroptimist International

Co-sponsored by North American/European Caucus

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

March 24th

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

Sponsored by Global Platform for Action to End FGM/C

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

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

Dear Maasi: “Did khatna impact my sex life or is it all in my head?”

Dear Maasi is a column highlighting everything you want to know about sex and relationships, but were afraid to ask! It’s a partnership between Sahiyo and WeSpeakOut. It’s for all of us who have questions about female genital cutting (FGC) or khatna, and how it impacts our bodies, minds, sexuality and relationships. We welcome you to submit your anonymous questions.

Dear Maasi, 

I find that many survivors of female genital cutting (FGC) either have not experienced or been vocal about the negative impact of FGC on their sexual experiences. Am I in the minority? It feels that some of the impact may be in my head and not real. How can I explore that aspect of my personal experience?

Anam

Dear Anam,

Sex and khatna can be considered taboo subjects, which means that people can be very shy about sharing their true experiences. Let’s change that!

In previous columns, I’ve referenced recent research done by Sahiyo and WeSpeakOut, that estimates around 30-35% of khatna survivors report a negative impact on their sexual lives:

  • fear, anxiety, shame, and difficulty trusting sexual partners 
  • low arousal, inability to feel sexual pleasure and over sensitivity in the clitoral area 

In conversations with women, I’ve also heard about sexual pain, which I addressed in depth in October’s column. In my own process of healing, I’ve needed to understand freeze responses and how to address them through mindfulness.

In the Sahiyo study, another 32% said they “didn’t know” if khatna had an impact on their sexuality, which raises questions for me. I think that most of us are not trauma-informed or sexuality-literate enough to answer this question because we often don’t know how to interpret and trust our feelings and sensations. All of this can lead to confusion and feeling like we’re imagining things.

For example, consider that trauma memories can be inaccessible, or fuzzy, or surreal-feeling:

“Trauma memories are often implicit, because trauma floods our brain with cortisol, the stress hormone, which shuts down the part of our brain that encodes memories and makes them explicit. Our implicit memories can be like invisible forces in our lives, impacting us in powerful ways.” (https://www.psychalive.org/making-sense-of-implicit-memories/)

These invisible forces are the living legacy of trauma. The traumatized part of us can remain on guard even if our adult self intellectually knows we’re safe. 

One way to explore this further is to learn more about trauma and sexuality. Review some of my past columns and peruse some of the short videos and article links. 

Many people find it helpful to talk with a trauma and sexuality trained psychotherapist who can help you to notice, understand and shift your responses. (Check out January 2021’s column for details on how to find someone with those skills.) 

Anam, I hope you’ll offer yourself the gift of this exploration and sexual healing. Sexual pleasure is our birthright!

—Maasi

About Maasi, aka Farzana Doctor: Farzana is a novelist and psychotherapist in private practice. She’s a founding member of WeSpeakOut and the End FGM/C Canada Network. She loves talking about relationships and sexuality! Find out more about her at http://www.farzanadoctor.com

Disclaimer: While Farzana is full of good advice, this column won’t address everyone’s individual concerns and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical or psychological care.

Sahiyo, RAHMA and HEART discuss HIV, FGM/C and sexual health during workshop

by Zahra Qaiyumi

Sahiyo partnered with RAHMA and HEART on March 13 to host the My South Asian Sisters (MYSAS) workshop. The conference engaged women of South Asian descent in Washington, D.C. to take control of their sexual health, embrace their diverse needs, develop a healthy outlook on body positivity, become effective advocates against female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) and gender-based violence (GBV), and address HIV stigma. MYSAS was funded through a grant from the D.C. Mayor’s Office of Asian American and Pacific Islander Affairs. The day-long event brought together South Asian women working in social work, public health graduate students and those completing undergraduate studies, among others. Speakers included Maniza Habib, Mariam Sabir, Navila Rashid, Kiran Waqar, and myself.

The MYSAS workshop was interactive, with ample opportunity for participants to share thoughts, ask questions, and learn from one another. Sharing knowledge about FGM/C and planting seeds for others to become involved with work on gender-based violence was one of the most inspiring parts of the workshop. It can be challenging to find spaces for South Asians to come together and focus on topics affecting the South Asian community as a whole. Workshops like these allow for collaboration between organizations and individuals who are working to empower South Asian communities, and create opportunity for projects and programming that might otherwise not have been possible.

As a workshop host, I spent most of my time-sharing knowledge about FGM/C, including existing research and statistics, as well as personal experiences and advocacy work. However, one of the most salient takeaways from this workshop resulted from a conversation with a participant about inclusive language. There is a general lack of data surrounding who and how many people undergo FGM/C. This includes individuals that do not identify as female and are FGM/C survivors. This prompted a discussion about transitioning to language that focuses on body parts rather than gendering the FGM/C survivor. For example, we discussed utilizing “person with a uterus/vagina/vulva.” This and other conversations during the MYSAS workshop illustrate the importance of programming that brings together those working in the GBV space so they may learn from and collaborate with each other.

The End FGM European Network hosts webinar: “Addressing female genital mutilation while leaving no one behind”

By Madrisha Debnath

The End FGM European Network hosted a webinar titled, “Addressing female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) while leaving no one behind,” to discuss FGM/C and the framework of intersectionality in February. The speakers of the event included Helena Dalli, EU Commissioner for Equality; Aïda Yancy, an LGBTQ+ feminist, anti-racist activist currently working at RainbowHouse Brussels and an expert on FGM/C; Hadeel Elshak, Youth Ambassador of End FGM European Network; and Sietske Steneker, UNFPA Brussels Director.

Keynote speaker Dalli addressed the data regarding FGM/C among the European Union member countries. According to the European Institute for Gender Equality, 600,000 to 900,000 women and girls are at risk of FGM/C in thirteen European countries alone. The European Commission is working to end the practice of FGM/C with an intersectional approach. Working with ground level activists, community-based workers and survivors to understand the different ways in which each woman is affected is crucial toward encouraging the abandonment of the practice. Avoiding stigmatisation, racism, and xenophobia is imperative for ending gender-based violence and structural inequality.

Yancy explained the concept of intersectionality originating from Black Feminist Theory. The term was coined by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw (1989) in her seminal work, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics.” Intersectionality happens when a person is at the crossroads of more than one systematic oppression. The marginalized people who are standing at the crossroads, for example, a black woman or a woman of colour, is not only facing racism and sexism, but is subjected to something bigger that comprises the effect of both sexism and racism. Intersectionality doesn’t mean simply adding the systemic oppression that a person is facing. Rather, it means that the effect is cumulative instead of being additive since these categories of oppression are not mutually exclusive. Intersectionality is more than a concept; it’s a tool to identify issues of access for marginalized people. Since social institutions work in a single lane fashion, recognising oppressions exclusive of one another by using intersectionality as a tool will help to identify social issues.

Elshak talked about her identities of being black, woman, Muslim, Sudanese, young, and of the first generation to be living in United Kingdom, as well as how her multiple identities have shaped her everyday experiences. She shared her experiences of forming the “Youth Engagement Manifesto: Tackling FGM in Europe- Strategies for Effective Engagement of Youth from FGM-affected communities.” She talked about how, in being young, she has disrupted the general notion of older people being wiser, and made her opinion known in advocating against FGM/C.

Steneker presented the report on the state of the world population on harmful practices titled, “Against My Will: Defying the Practices that Harm Women and Girls and Undermine Equality,” by the United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA) that include nineteen different types of harmful practices, including virginity testing, child marriage, breast ironing, body modifications, female genital cutting, and other harmful practices controlling women’s bodies and sexualities. According to the report, over 200 million girls and women have undergone some form of genital cutting. An estimated 52 million women and girls worldwide have undergone the practice performed by medical practitioners, doctors, nurses or midwives. Girls who are forced into marriage as children may also be survivors of FGM/C or are at a higher risk. Everyday an average of 33,000 girls are being forced into marriage.

Watch “Addressing female genital mutilation while leaving no one behind.”

Four women who were pivotal to the movement to end female genital cutting

By Megan Maxwell

The movement to end female genital cutting (FGC) has been in effect starting as far back as the latter half of the 19th century through the voices, writing, and research of women who have worked for the rights of women and girls. FGC is present in 92 countries. In honor of Women’s History Month, Sahiyo is honoring four women from Egypt, India, Senegal, and Austria who changed the world for women and girls.

Nawal El Saadawi & her brutal honesty

Nawal El Saadawi, a doctor, feminist and writer, who was born in a community outside of Cairo, Egypt, was a survivor of FGC. She campaigned against FGC and for the rights of women and girls throughout her life. She started by speaking out against her family’s preconceived notions about the trajectory of a girl’s life and then used her voice to condemn FGC and women’s rights abuses through her books. 

She wrote many books including The Hidden Face of Eve, a powerful account of brutality against women, and saw women live those realities detailed in the book within the communities in which she worked as a medical doctor. She was a crusader but her work was banned. She was imprisoned and suffered death threats. Through her work, she championed for the rights of girls and women globally for decades. She died on March 21st at 89 years old

Rehana Ghadially & All for Izzat

In 1991, Rehana Ghadially wrote an article entitled All for Izzat in which she examined the prevalence of female genital cutting and its justification. For this article, she interviewed about 50 Bohra women and found the three most common reasons given for FGC: it is a religious obligation; it is a tradition; and it is done to curb a girl’s sexuality. 

Through these interviews, Ghadially revealed that the procedure of FGC was anything but symbolic. “The girl’s circumcision has been kept an absolute secret not only from outsiders but from the men of the community,” she said.

Ghadially experienced FGC when she was very young. Her research allowed her to share with the world the reality of what Bohra girls and women go through as a result of FGC.        

Ndéye Maguette Diop & the Malicounda Bambara community

The community of Malicounda Bambara in Senegal, West Africa, was substantially influenced by the Community Empowerment Program (CEP): a program established by Tostan that engages communities in their languages on themes of democracy, human rights (including female genital cutting), health, literacy, and project management skills. In July of 1997, the CEP empowered the women of Malicounda Bambara to announce the first-ever public declaration to abandon female genital cutting to the world. Ndéye Maguette Diop was the facilitator for the CEP in Malicounda Bambara. She guided them through the program, which is designed to not pass judgment on the practice, but simply to provide information regarding FGC and its health risks.

Diop used theater, a traditional mode of African communication and arts, as a means to better facilitate the exchange of ideas. “The women didn’t have any knowledge of these rights beforehand and had never spoken of FGC between themselves,” Diop said. As the result of reenacting a play, these women started to talk about FGC frequently with Diop and she said they “decided to speak about the harmful consequences on women’s health caused by the practice with their ‘adoptive sisters’ [a component of the CEP], as well as with their husbands.” 

Thanks to Diop, the conversation on FGC was opened up to the women of Malicounda Bambara. They took it upon themselves to investigate within their community until they concluded that the practice should be abandoned.

Fran Hosken & her ideas of global sisterhood

In 1975, Fran Hosken began writing her newsletter, Women’s International Network News where she reported on the status of women and women’s rights around the globe. The tagline for her newsletter was, “All the news that is fit to print by, for & about women,” and it featured regular sections on Women and Development, Women and Health, Women and Violence, and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Every issue of her newsletter had a section on FGM, including names and addresses for her subscribers to get more information on activities surrounding FGC around the world. Hosken was an American feminist and writer, but she was very involved in the livelihoods of women and girls around the globe.
Her newsletter became popular for its research into female genital cutting and she ended up writing The Hosken Report: Genital and Sexual Mutilation of Females in 1979. In her book, she reports on the health facts, history, The World Health Organization’s Seminar in Khartoum, The Politics of FGM: a Conspiracy of Silence, Actions for Change, Statistics, Economic Facts, and case histories from several African and Asian Countries as well as the western world. Fran Hosken’s writing and research were extremely influential in the movement to end female genital cutting and continues to be in the modern movement.

Everyone’s Responsibility: Discussing the Role Male Allies Play In Preventing Female Genital Cutting

By Cate Cox

Sahiyo held the a February webinar, Everyone’s Responsibility: Discussing the Role Male Allies Play In Preventing Female Genital Cutting (FGC). This webinar provided the opportunity to hear from four speakers Jeremiah Kipainoi, Khadijah Abdullah, Tony Mwebia, and Hatim Amiji moderated by Murtaza Kapasi about the role men play in ending FGC. From direct action to research to personal conversations, this webinar explored the many ways in which men can involve themselves and women can work to involve men in empowering communities to abandon FGC.     

Mariya Taher, Sahiyo co-founder and the U.S. Executive Director, gave the audience an introduction to Sahiyo’s many programs. Next, Kapasi, founder of Bhaiyo, took us through his work and the motivation for starting Bhaiyo. Bhaiyo is Sahiyo’s groundbreaking new male ally program that seeks to encourage men to become involved in conversations about FGC. After a short introduction to our panelist’s work, and a screening of Amiji’s Voices to End FGM/C Film Listen, the Q&A portion of the event was initiated.. 

Panelists answered questions about their work, the important role men play in ending FGC, and some challenges they have faced along the way. Our panelists explored how many men are often unaware of the multi-layered impacts of FGC on women and communities, and how FGC is often tied to patriarchal violence. “It’s important that more men kind of speak up about this, and join us, because they can be an ally to prevent this happening to women and girls,” panelist Abdullah said.

At the end of the webinar, the audience had the opportunity to ask the panelists questions about their experience and knowledge. Questions included asking how the panelists’ experiences as brothers and sons of women who have undergone FGC, and how male partners can play a role in helping their wives and girlfriends have safe and pleasurable sex. Once audience member astutely asked about the connection between gender-based violence and FGC. “The deadline to end FGM/C is 2030, but there is no deadline to end patriarchy,” Mwebia said. While we do need to work to fight FGC, it is also important to understand how it is connected to the larger system of violence against women and girls. 

Everyone’s Responsibility: Discussing the Role Male Allies Play In Preventing Female Genital Cutting (FGC) explored the roles that men play in empowering communities to abandon FGC and how people can all work to empower men to have these conversations. It was a reminder that ending FGC is everyone’s responsibility.

Watch the recording of this event.  

Read the transcript.  

Dear Maasi: “How do I tell my husband I haven’t enjoyed sex for 15 years?”

Dear Maasi is a column highlighting everything you want to know about sex and relationships, but were afraid to ask! It’s a partnership between Sahiyo and WeSpeakOut. It’s for all of us who have questions about female genital cutting (FGC) or khatna, and how it impacts our bodies, minds, sexuality and relationships. We welcome you to submit your anonymous questions.

Dear Maasi,

I have been married for 15 years and my husband is a decent, caring man, but we don’t talk about sex and I have not talked about my khatna experience with him. I don’t enjoy sex and am always on edge during it. I feel that I should cater to his needs as a loving wife, but this leaves me feeling empty. How do I start a conversation about my lack of enthusiasm for physical interaction without making him feel like he has done something wrong?

—Bilkis

Dear Bilkis

Thanks for writing in. Here are a few things I’d like to convey upfront:

  • You’re not alone. Women are given the message that it’s their duty to self-sacrifice and to defer to men’s needs. 
  • For many women, khatna has had a negative impact on their sexuality. See February’s column for more info. 
  • Many couples have trouble talking about sex. We don’t get enough sex education to allow us to speak neutrally or frankly about sexuality.
  • Talking about khatna is hard for most of us. Check out September’s column for more info. Consider using that as a guide for talking to your husband about it.
  • Trust your body. Those feelings of emptiness and being on edge deserve your attention. 

Here are some guidelines for initiating difficult conversations about intimacy: 

  • Start with finding a good time to talk when you are undistracted and relaxed.
  • Next, use a “love sandwich”. (Loving statements are the bread, the filler is the “problem”). Here is an example:
    • “I love you so much, and there’s something I want to tell you with the goal of making our bond stronger. I’m feeling nervous to say it but I want to tell you that I’m having difficulties with sex connected to khatna [and the fill in the problem.] None of this is your fault. We’ve been through so much in our relationship, and I’m confident that by sorting through this, we can solve this problem together.”
    • Consider putting it in writing if that is easier. Watch this video. At the 4.5-minute mark, Esther Perel, a psychologist, offers an example.
  • Allow your body to guide you as you move forward. Do you want to expand your sex life? Which sexual experiences (with or without your partner) have you enjoyed or might you like to try? Make a list of these so you can communicate them. 
    • Psychologist Esther Perel encourages us to offer invitations versus complaints. For example: “I really loved it when we [fill in the blank]. Want to do that again?” Or “I think if we [fill in the blank], I’ll feel more relaxed. Would you like to try that?” instead of “I don’t enjoy sex with you.”
    • Use mindfulness to help you pause when something doesn’t feel right and to deepen pleasure.
    • If you need some guidance on how to sexually “start again”, read or listen to the book Come As You Are. Do this together. Consider seeking a couples or sex therapist who is trauma-trained to help you further the conversation and help you brainstorm new approaches to sex.

Bilkis, it can feel vulnerable to open up this conversation, but vulnerability also builds intimacy and connection. Your decent and caring partner might initially feel embarrassed or uncomfortable. He might even question why it took you so long to say something. He might also feel incredible relief that the two of you are talking about something so important. Perhaps he’s wondered how to have this conversation, too. Remember sexual pleasure is natural, normal and our birthright!

—Maasi

About Maasi, aka Farzana Doctor: Farzana is a novelist and psychotherapist in private practice. She’s a founding member of WeSpeakOut and the End FGM/C Canada Network. She loves talking about relationships and sexuality! Find out more about her at http://www.farzanadoctor.com

Disclaimer: While Farzana is full of good advice, this column won’t address everyone’s individual concerns and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical or psychological care.

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

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

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

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

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