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 create 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.

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બધા નુક્શાનો શારીરિક નથી હોતા અને દરેક ધર્મ સંપૂર્ણ રીતે નૈતિક નથી હોતો

(This essay was originally published in English on September 21, 2018. Read the English version here.)

લેખક : ઝીનોબીયા

ઉંમર : 27 વર્ષ

દેશ : ભારત

આજે સોશિયલ મીડિયા પર અન્ય બાબતોની સાથે-સાથે મહિલાઓને સશક્ત કરવા, પોતાનો નિર્ણય પોતે જ લેવા, વ્યક્તિની ગોપનીયતાના અને તેના શરીરના ઉલ્લંઘન વિષે અને સંમતિની ભૂમિકા વિષેના વિચારો અને અભિપ્રાયો સાથે ગુસ્સો વ્યક્ત થતો જોવા મળે છે.અમુક લોકો એવી વાતો કરે છે કે બળાત્કારીઓને ફાંસી દઈ દેવી જોઈએ છે તો અમુક લોકો જાતિય છેડછાડ અને મહિલાઓની છેડતી કરતા લોકોને સજા કરવા વિષેપણ વાતો કરી રહ્યાં છે જેથી, જમીની સ્તર પર યોગ્ય પગલાં લઈ શકાય અને આવા લોકો છોકરીઓને પરેશાન કરતા પહેલાં બે વાર વિચાર કરે.

પરંતુ, જ્યારે એક 7 વર્ષની અસહાય છોકરીનો બીજું કોઈ નહિં પણ તેમનું પોતાનું કુટુંબ અને સમાજ ગેરલાભ ઉઠાવે ત્યારે શું થાય છે? તેના માટે કોણ જવાબદારી લે છે?હું અહીં મારી પોતાની તકલીફો રજૂ કરવા નથી ઈચ્છતી પરંતુ, તમારી માહિતી માટે થોડી મૂળભૂત હકીકતો રજૂ કરવા ઈચ્છું છું. હું ભારતમાં મોટી થયેલી એક બોહરા મુસ્લિમ છું. જ્યારે વિશ્વ આપણને શાંત, શાંતિપ્રિય, વ્યવસાયમાં સમૃદ્ધ એવો સમાજ માને છે ત્યારે આપણે 6-7 વર્ષની નાનકડી છોકરીના અંગછેદનની એક ગુપ્ત પરંપરાને અનુસરીએ છીએ, જેને આપણે ખતના કહીએ છીએ.

આ પ્રથા પુરુષો માટે કેવી રીતે આરોગ્યની દ્રષ્ટિએ “જરૂરી” છે અને અંતે, તે તેમના સેક્સ જીવનમાં મદદરૂપ થાય છે તે વિષેની ઘણી દલીલો કરવામાં આવે છે પરંતુ, અધિકાંશ શિક્ષિત અને સંસ્કારી લોકો એ બાબત સાથે સહમત છે કે આ પ્રથા એક બૈરીના શરીરિક, માનસીક અને ભાવનાત્મક આરોગ્ય માટે નુક્શાનદાયક છે, ખાસ કરીને એટલા માટે કે તેના પર કોઈ દેખરેખ રાખવામાં આવતી નથી અથવા અધિકાંશ આવી પ્રક્રિયાઓ બૅસમેન્ટોમાં એક અશિક્ષિત બૈરી દ્વારા કરવામાં આવે છે.આ પ્રથાને વિશ્વના અન્ય પ્રદેશોમાં આધિકારીક રીતે “ફીમેલ જેનિટલ મ્યૂટિલેશન (એફજીએમ)” કહેવામાં આવે છે અને તેને અસહાય છોકરીઓ પર થતા અપરાધ તરીકે માનવામાં આવે છે.

શા માટે? શું કારણ છે?

અમુક લોકો પવિત્રતા વિષે તો, અમુક લોકો પિતૃપ્રધાનતા વિષે વાત કરે છે. અમુક લોકો તેને એક આદેશરૂપ પરંપરા હોવાને કારણે માને છે અને જો એક મૌલા તેને ફરજિયાત કહે તો તેને નામંજૂર કરવાની હિંમત કોણ કરે? અમુક લોકો દબાણને વશ થઈને માને છે તો, અમુક લોકો બ્લૅકલિસ્ટ થવા અથવા વીરોધીનું લૅબલ લાગવાના ડરથી માને છે.જે લોકો ઉત્તર માગે છે તેમના માટે એવો પ્રચલિત જવાબ આપવામાં આવે છે કે તે એક બૈરીની જાતિય ઈચ્છાઓને નિયંત્રણમાં અથવા અંકુશમાં રાખવા માટે કરવામાં આવે છે. એ બાબત સાચી હોય શકે કેજ્યારે આપણે રણોમાં અને સમૂહ (ટ્રાઈબ્સ)માં રહેતા હતા અને લોકો હંમેશા અન્ય વ્યક્તિની બૈરીને ઉપાડી જવા માટે આતુર રહેતા હતા તેવા યુગમાં, કદાચ આ પ્રથા મદદરૂપ થઈ હશે.

આજે કોઈપણ કારણ હોય તો પણ, શું તેનો કોઈ અર્થ છે ખરો? તમારો ઉદ્દેશસારોહોય તો પણ,એક બૈરીની સંમતિ વિના તેણીના શરીર સાથે શું કરવું એ નક્કી કરવાનો તમને કોઈ અધિકાર નથી.તમે કોઈપણ હો, તમારો ઉદ્દેશ કોઈપણ હોય તો પણ, નુક્શાન થયું છે અને તમે કોઈ ગુનેગારથી ઓછા નથી.

પિડીતો માટે તેનો અર્થ શું છે?

આપણા દ્વારા અનુસરવામાં આવતી પ્રથા આક્ષેપ અનુસાર ‘ટાઈપ 1’ પ્રકારની છે અને તે આફ્રિકન સમુદાયો દ્વારા અનુસરવામાં આવતી ‘ટાઈપ 2’ અને ‘ટાઈપ 3’ થી (ગંભીરતાના સ્તરના આધારે) અલગ છે.વર્લ્ડ હૅલ્થ ઑર્ગેનાઈઝેશનની માન્યતા મુજબ, ટાઈપ 1 પ્રકારના એફજીસીને ક્લિટોરલ હૂડ અને/અથવા ક્લિટોરિસ કાપવા તરીકે વર્ણવવામાં આવ્યું છે, જેના ઘણાં શારીરિક અને માનસિક દુષ્પરિણામો જોવા મળે છે જેમ કે, ચેપ લાગવા, વધારે પડતો રક્તસ્ત્રાવ થવો, પેશાબ કરતી વખતે બળતરા થવી વિગેરે. ઘણી જુવાન છોકરીઓ વિશ્વાસઘાત, અસહાય અને મૂંઝવણ મહેસુસ કરતી હોવાના કારણે,આ પ્રથા માનસિક આરોગ્ય પર પણ વિપરિત અસર કરી શકે છે. તેમજ, આ આઘાતના પરિણામે, બાળક જાતિય સંબંધ બાંધવામાં પણ ડર અનુભવી શકે છે અને તેમનામાં સમાજના સભ્યો પ્રત્યે અવિશ્વાસનું નિર્માણ પણ થઈ શકે છે.

પરંતુ, હજારો બૈરીઓએ આ પ્રથાને અનુસરી છે અને દાવો કરી રહી છે કે તેમને કોઈ જાતિય સમસ્યાઓનો સામનો કરવો પડ્યો નથી?

જે રીતે અધિકાંશ લોકો તેમના બેડરૂમમાં શું થાય છે તે વિષે અન્ય લોકોને વાત કરતા નથી, તેમ એફજીએમના સર્વાઈવરો પણ તેમની સેક્સ લાઈફ વિષે જાહેરમાં વાત કરતા નથી. તેમાંની ઘણી બૈરીઓ પીડાથી ચીસો પાડતી હોય છે અથવા “બેડરૂમમાં”એક આરોગ્યપ્રદ જીવન જીવી શકતી નથી.તેમાંની ઘણી બૈરીઓ ડૉક્ટરો, સેક્સોલોજિસ્ટ્સ, કાઉન્સેલર્સ અને થેરૅપિસ્ટ્સની નિયમિત દરદીઓ હોય છે.હાં, તેઓ ગર્ભવતિ થવાનું (જે આજે મરદ સાથે અથવા મરદ વિના કરવું વધારે મૂશ્કેલ નથી) મેનેજ કરી લે છે પરંતુ, શું એ પ્રક્રિયા પીડા મુક્ત છે? નહીં.

બધા લોકો ડિવોર્સનો દર વધવા વિષે વાતો કરે છે પરંતુ, આ દર શા માટે વધી રહ્યો છે તે કોઈ સમજતું નથી. તેઓ એ જોતા નથી કે બૈરીઓ પર તેમના ઉછેર દરમિયાન જ ઘણાં બધા નિયંત્રણો લાદવામાં આવે છે. મરદ હોય કે બૈરી, તેને સંબંધી બધી બાબતો પહેલાંથી જ નક્કી કરેલી હોય છે, આ એવું નથી લાગી રહ્યું કે આપણે એવા સમાજમાં મોટા થઈ રહ્યાં છીએ જ્યાં નેતાઓ અથવા સ્વતંત્ર નિર્ણયકર્તાઓને ઉછેરવામાં આવી રહ્યાં હોય. આપણે બ્રેઈનવૉશ કરેલા શિષ્યોના એક ટોળાં જેવા છીએ અને હાલનાં, #metoo ની ક્રાન્તિને કારણે બૈરીઓએ તેમનો અવાજ ઉઠાવવાની એક શરૂઆત કરી છે.

મારી સ્ટોરી

હાં, મારા પર પણ ‘ખતના’ પ્રક્રિયા કરવામાં આવી હતી. મને બધું તો યાદ નથી પરંતુ, અમુક બાબતો યાદ છે. મને “કોઈ આન્ટી” ને મળવા લઈ જવામાં આવી હતી અને મને યાદ છે કે ત્યારે મને કોઈ સારી લાગણી નહોતી થતી પરંતુ, આપણને જેમ કહેવામાં આવે તેમ આપણે કરીએ છીએ. અમે કલકત્તાના તેના અંધકારમય ઘરમાં ગયા અને તેણીએ મને ભારતીય શૈલીના શૌચાલય પર પહોળા પગ કરીને ઊભા રહેવા માટે કહ્યું અને મને લોહી નીચે પડતું દેખાયું. બસ મને આટલું જ યાદ છે.

મને બરાબર યાદ છે કે ત્યારપછી અઠવાડિયા સુધી મને પેશાબ કરવામાં પીડા થતી હતી. આ ચર્ચા રાત્રિભોજનની ચર્ચા જેવી ઔપચારિક ના હોવાથી, ત્યારપછી તે વિષે ક્યારેય વાત કરવામાં આવી નહિં. 16 વર્ષની ઉંમરે, જીન સૅસનની બૂક – પ્રિંસેસ દ્વારા મને આ ‘મુસ્લિમ પ્રથા’ વિષે ખબર પડી. સાઉદી અરૅબિયામાં બૈરીઓ સાથે કરવામાં આવતી ભયાનક બાબતોની સાથે-સાથે આ પ્રથાનું વર્ણન કરવામાં આવ્યુ હતું જેણે મારી યાદ તાજા કરી દીધી હતી.

પહેલાં તો હું ડરી અને ભયભીત થઈ ગઈ અને મને સમજાતું નહોતું કે આ માહિતીનું શું કરવું.મને એ બાબતસમજાઈ નહિં કે શા માટે કોઈ મારી સાથે આવું ભયાનક કૃત્ય કરે? તેનો ઉદ્દેશ શું હતો? શું કોઈ ધાર્મિક કારણ હતું? શું કોઈ તબીબી કારણ હતું? ધીમે-ધીમે હું મારી ઉંમરના અન્ય લોકોને તે વિષે પૂછવા લાગી.ઈન્ટરનેટ મારી મદદે આવ્યું અને મેં આ ‘જંગલી’ પ્રથાને વધારે સમજવાનું શરૂ કર્યું કે કેવી રીતે તે આપણા પિતૃપ્રધાન દુનિયાની એક બીજીસાઈડઈફેક્ટ છે જ્યાં કોઈપણ મરદ એ નક્કી કરી લે છે કે બૈરીઓએ કેવી રીતે જીવવું અને તેમના માટે શું યોગ્ય છે.

મને એ બાબત સમજાઈ નહીં કે કેમ એક માતા-પિતા તેમના બાળકો સાથે આવું થવા દે છે. જ્યારે તમારી દીકરી નિર્દોષતાની ચરમસીમા પર હોય અને ફક્ત તમારો નિસ્વાર્થ પ્રેમ ઈચ્છતી હોય ત્યારે, તમે તેણી સાથે વિશ્વાસઘાત કરો છો અને અંતે તમે તેણીને એવા રાક્ષસને સોંપી દો છો જે તેણી સાથે આવું કૃત્ય કરે છે?

તમારો ધર્મ તમને તેણીના શરીર પર અંગછેદન કરવાનું કહે છે અને તમને તેમાં કંઈ ખોટું નથી લાગતુ?અને તેના કારણે ઉત્પન્ન થતા શારીરિક, માનસિક અને ભાવનાત્મક પ્રત્યાઘાતોનું શું? જીવનભર તેણીએ આવી પીડાનો સામનો કરવો પડે છે. અને જો તમને ખરેખર આ બાબત ખોટી ના લાગતી હોય તો પછી શું કામતમે તેને આમ ગુપ્ત રાખો છો? શા માટે તેખાનગી રીતેકરવામાં આવે છે? તેના વિષે બધાને વાત કરો, તમે જેમ મિસાક ઉજવો છો તેમ તેની પણ ઉજવણી કરો? ફક્ત મિસાકની ઉજવણી જ શા માટે કરો છો? ખરેખર, કેટલાક અપવાદરૂપ લોકો પણ હોય છે. મારૂં સારૂં ઈચ્છતા ઘણાં લોકો મને સમજાવવાનો પ્રયત્ન કરે છે કે તેમાં મારો કોઈ દોષ નથી અને મારે એ બાબત વિષે ચિંતા કરવી જોઈએ નહીં અને મારો ઉત્તર હોય છે કે “હાં, હું જાણું છું કે મારો કોઈ દોષ નથી અને તેમ છતાં, મારે જ તેની કિંમત ચૂકવવી પડે છે”.

સૌથી દુઃખદ બાબત એ છે કે ઘણી બધી એવી છોકરીઓ છે જેને આજે પણ ખબર નથી અથવા યાદ નથી કે તેમની સાથે પણ આવું બન્યું છે. તેઓ એવા ખ્યાલ હેઠળ જીવે છે કે સેક્સ એ ખરાબ અને પીડાદાયક બાબત છે અને કદાચ તેમનામાં જ કોઈ સમસ્યા છે. અધિકાંશ રીતે આપણને આવું જ શિક્ષણ આપવામાં આવે છે. હું સહિયોની ખૂબ જ આભારી છું કે તેમણે બૈરીઓ માટે આવું એક અદભૂત પ્લૅટફોર્મ ઊભું કર્યું જ્યાં તેઓ તેમની સ્ટોરી રજૂ કરી શકે છે, સહાનુભૂતિ મેળવી શકે છે અને મારા જેવી છોકરીઓને કહી શકે કે હું એક જ એવી છોકરી નથી જેની સાથે આવું બન્યું છે અને મારે મને પોતાને એક પિડીત માનવીજોઈએ નહિં. સ્ટોરીટેલિંગ દ્વારા બૈરીઓને સશક્ત કરવાની આ બાબત, આપણી સંસ્કૃતિનો એક ગૌરવશીલ ભાગ હોય તેમ લાગે છે, જેને સહિયો આગળ વધારી રહ્યું છે.

 

Is the Dawoodi Bohra community truly as progressive as it claims to be?

By Saleha

Country of Residence: Canada
Age: 45

Having lived in South-East Asia, and being exposed to multiple races and cultures, I grew up in a very open-minded family. As a child, my family and I occasionally went to the local Bohra mosque to socialize with others in the community. I loved going to the “masjid” – there I got a chance to meet my best friend and also eat delicious Bohri food. It was wonderful to see all the aunties dressed up in “onna ghagra” which are colourful skirts with matching chiffon scarves draped around the head. After the prayers, everyone congregated outside and chatted into the late hours of the night.

Then suddenly in the early 90s it all changed. The upper echelons of the Bohra clergy instated new rules. The progressive Dawoodi Bohras were no more; instead, women were forced to wear a form of hijab called “rida” and men were made to sport a beard, wear a kurta, and “topi” or a cap on their heads. The clergy, headed by the Syedna, began to exert control over everything. Permission from Syedna was required not only for religious matters but in daily life as well. For example, permission was needed to start a business, get married or even to be buried. Female Genital Cutting or khatna was deemed necessary, even though that act of it is not prescribed in the Koran. If any of the rules were not followed, or if you protested and spoke against them, you were excommunicated or threatened to be. You’d lose all your ties to friends and family forever.

I can never forget the awful day, when I was seven, while on a holiday in India, my aunt asked me to go shopping with her. She took me to a dingy place where a Bohri man and woman took me inside. They asked me to undress waist down, and when I protested, the man held my hands while the woman removed my jeans and underwear and forced me to lie down. I saw the man take out a blade and I struggled and screamed for help, while they proceeded to cut me. I lay bleeding on the floor, unable to comprehend what had happened to me. It was horrific, painful, and demeaning. I hated what was done to me. I hated that my mom was not there. I was angry at my aunt for allowing them to hurt me.

I remember that experience vividly and to this day I am infuriated that I had to go through this ordeal as a child in the name of religion. While the majority of the Muslim communities around the world have spoken against this, the Dawoodi Bohra religious authorities urge continuing FGC under the guise of cleanliness. The worst part is that some women push this practise on vulnerable children too young to give consent, instead of protecting them as adults should.

It was a difficult time for me. Having grown up with all the freedom in the world, it was  suddenly being taken away from me and I grew cynical of my Bohra culture and wanted no part of it. Today, I am happy I decided to leave the fold. It was not hard to leave. In fact, it was liberating. I was not comfortable with the more rigorous path that my community was taking. I am sure there are many other Bohri people out there who are quietly questioning many of the beliefs handed down to them – some so silly, useless, and others very damaging – Bohris must refrain from using Western toilets; Bohris cannot host or attend wedding functions in secular, non-Bohra venues; brides can apply mehndi only an inch below the wrist and cannot hold the traditional “haldi” functions; and all Bohris must carry a RFID photo ID which will monitor attendance to the mosque.

Humanity has achieved such remarkable progress. We have ventured into space, developed cloning and gene editing technologies, and most importantly, the Internet has resulted in globalization and interconnection between various cultures and communities. In this light, I wonder why we are still talking about FGC and the right to choose to do it to our daughters in this day and age? I am thankful that organizations like Sahiyo and We Speak Out have become a voice for children who are being hurt in the name of religion.

I look at my children and I see the most informed, connected, and progressive generation. Imposing impractical, harmful religious rules such as continuing FGM on such a generation will only drive them further from our culture. More and more Bohri women and men are speaking out against this harmful practise because whenever religion becomes too rigid, too corrupt, it begins to crack. My hope is that our community can find the strength to break free from all the rigid practices and once again become the most progressive community among the Muslims.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: Work of the devil?

By: Koen Van den Brande
Age: 56

Country: India

I rarely speak of the devil.

In Germany they have a saying:

Du sollst den Teufel nicht an die Wand mahlen
Literally this translates to ‘Don’t paint a picture of the devil on the wall’.

Loosely translated it means that you should not invite evil by talking about it.

But maybe there are times we have a duty to alert others to the devil’s work.

What I mean by that is not that anyone in particular is a devil but rather that maybe at times the devil has a hand in misleading people.

My efforts to get to the bottom of the origins of the practice of ‘khatna’ – what the rest of the world calls ‘Female Genital Mutilation’ (FGM) – in the Suleimani community, recently led me to the inevitable conclusion that the devil has had a hand in twisting the words of the Prophet PBUH, to mean the opposite of what He was saying.

My attention was drawn to some research carried out by learned members of the Muslim community. Let me present the facts to you so that you may come to your own conclusion.

Early on in my own research I came across a Hadith – a reported saying of the Prophet – which was being quoted as evidence of tacit approval of this ancient practice, which predated Islam and may have been initiated in the distant past to subdue the sexual urges of female slaves.

My discussions with members of the Suleimani community had made it clear that the Daim-ul-Islam is the rulebook to which many show an unquestioning allegiance.

Of course such blind faith can have dire consequences. The Daim-ul-Islam does indeed refer to the Hadith in question. Following is an extract from a paper published on www.alislam.org, with the title ‘Female circumcision and its standing in Islamic law’.

Al Islam quote

But it turns out this is not the full Hadith.

In full, the Hadith seems to leave little doubt as to where the Prophet stood on this matter. The authors of the report quote from Al-Kafi, a respected Shiite book of traditions.

Koen article quote

Was the Prophet endorsing, encouraging or even mandating that women should be cut?

Or was he signaling his disapproval and in the face of a long-established tradition, trying to limit the harm done to women? Given what he says, is it correct to claim, as some do, that he should have forbidden it, if he really felt it was wrong?  

I will leave it to you to draw your own conclusion.

For me these words of Mohammed, now in full view, are consistent with other issues where he championed the rights of women in the face of a culture which at that time saw no reason to do so.

Who decided to shorten the hadith and to what end? And at which point did a woman who ‘used to circumcise women slaves’ become a woman who ‘used to circumcise girls’? There is a substantive difference is there not?

Just as with the modern day suggestion that Mohammed condoned wife-beating, when in fact he counseled restraint and suggested several alternative ways of resolving marital disputes or the insistence by some on the validity of ‘triple talaq’ divorce, where in fact careful mediation over a period of time is prescribed, one can only conclude that the devil himself has repeatedly sought to undermine the Prophet’s cause as champion of the rights of women!

Today we call this ‘fake news’ and we are learning day by day, how it is used to mislead those who believe without questioning.  

Witness how the young parents of our community are systematically fed disinformation, building on that same principle of blind faith. But blind faith in whom?

I quote from the website www.islamqa.com.

Koen article quote2

Search for the term ‘khatna’ and the following question is addressed, among others:

Koen article quote3

This is how the scene is set:

Koen article quote4

I wonder what a properly qualified medical practitioner would make of some of the advice given.

Koen article quote5

Need I say more ?

How do we tackle such blatant attempts at misleading parents of young girls?

Surely the best strategy must be to focus on facts and truth. So I am attempting to find a consensus across the Suleimani community around the following statement.

“I as a member of the Suleimani Jamaat, in the interest of young parents and their girls, want to reflect what I believe to be the truth about the practice of khatna. 

Fact is …

  1. It is a tradition which predates Islam 
  2. It is not mentioned in the Quran at all 
  3. It is not practiced by all muslims 
  4. It has been declared a crime in several Muslim majority countries 
  5. It is considered a health hazard by the World Health Organization
  6. It is considered a crime against a child by the United Nations

Truth is, in my humble opinion, that the Prophet Mohammed PBUH frowned upon this practice and sought to prevent harm from being done to women.

I believe that these facts should be endorsed by our leadership and communicated to all of the Jamaat ‘s young parents. 

The Daim-ul-islam states that ‘khatna’ is not obligatory and that it should not be performed before a girl is 7-years-old. 

I believe that it would be in line with this rule to recommend to parents that any decision to proceed with this practice should be postponed until the age of consent. 

And in line with the Prophet’s guidance, at a time when it was a more common practice, I believe that when and if it is performed, it must be done symbolically only and cause no harm.”

I hope you can join the effort by endorsing this statement.

And if you cannot, I invite you to propose an alternative.

At least let’s start by banning the use of http://www.isllamqa.com

Let us work together to undo the work of the devil.  

 

‘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.

Let there be no more victims like me

By Anonymous
Country: Sri Lanka

I am a victim of Female Genital Cutting – some might want to call it circumcision, I call it Mutilation. Not quite the way that the proponents want to depict it as what always happens in Africa (infibulation) with horrific scars, but in the way, it happened to me in Sri Lanka where there are still scars, tiny, almost unnoticeable. But in all the ways that matter, it has damaged me no less than the most severe forms of mutilation.

To those who want to medicalize the procedure, let me say that I was cut by a qualified doctor, in a sterile environment, when I was seven-years-old. I remember that day clearly and it is I who have had to live with the consequence of what was done to me in the name of religion.  Not my religious leaders, not my elders, and not that doctor. ME, the woman who that child without a voice grew up to be.

Let me now take the arguments I’ve heard in support of the procedure and give you my perspective as someone who has first-hand experience of the negative impacts of FGC. I will use the term female genital cutting (FGC) since irrespective of what one wants to call it, that is what is done to a lesser or greater degree, depending on who holds the pin, blade or knife.

A. Sex lives as Adults

To the women who say that they have better sex lives due to FGC, I ask you this: what is your point of reference? Have you had sex with the same partner before and after your FGC to arrive at this conclusion?  Have you ever considered the possibility that you have been very lucky, and that whoever performed the FGC on you spared you any real damage? It is also very presumptuous for you to assume that NONE of the billions of uncircumcised women around the world enjoy great sex the same as you.

To the women who don’t have a horrific memory related to their own FGC and who don’t understand what all the fuss is about: let me tell you that neither do I. I don’t have any horrific memories of that day. My Mom who accompanied me held me gently, the doctor looked very professional and it was over before I knew what was being done. I felt a pinch, no bleeding that I can remember – just some cotton wool that smelled of antiseptic placed there after I was cut. And I walked out, confused, uncomfortable but definitely not traumatized. Sounds familiar?

It wasn’t until I was as an adult that I realized the impact of what was done to me. I feel pain during intercourse. Most of you may not. But does that mean you are not damaged? Have you ever considered the fact that intercourse is supposed to be more than just “pleasant” or something you put up with when your husband feels so inclined? In my case, I have been examined by a doctor who has seen the tiny scars and helped me understand the impact of those scars on my ability to enjoy sex.

Initially, I wondered whether what happened to me was a mere unfortunate mistake by this doctor. I have since then come across stories of others in Sri Lanka who were cut by the same and other doctors who share similar tales. So no, I was not an unfortunate accident – the doctor and others like him/her knew exactly what they were doing and did it nonetheless.

B. The need to perform the procedure on a child

All the literature shared by the supporters of this practice alludes to adult women enjoying their sex lives. However, I still have yet to come across any argument to support as to why the procedure needs to be performed on seven-year-old girls who have a long way to go before they begin their sex lives.

So, what is being promoted is, in fact, the sexualizing of children. News flash: these organs don’t stay dormant and get activated only when one gets married.

Personally, I find the very idea of parents allowing strangers to access to their daughter’s private parts for non-medical reasons and letting them alter her genitals, an extremely troubling thought. I’m more inclined to believe that in their hearts, they know that they are in fact desexualizing her. What they want in reality is to keep her pure and innocent until she could be given away. There is no thought given to the fact that she then has to live with a damaged body and fulfill marital obligations that she may not enjoy as much in their effort to keep her pure and innocent until she was given away.

C. The Religious Argument

Who decides on one’s religious belief? The individual or the individual’s parent?

Yes, the parents would bring up the child within the religious norms they follow, and yes in most cases the child would continue with that belief till the end, but this is not always true for everyone.

Hence, how do you justify altering a child’s body, without any medical reason, to be in alignment with the parents’ religious belief, when that child is yet to determine what path she would take or which God she will follow once she has learned enough to make that decision?

As for me, I don’t believe that the God who created me required any man or woman to tamper with my body, with the assumption that they can make it better. I believe the Quran when it says that all of God’s creations are perfect. I won’t let any man or woman tell me otherwise.

But my body has been altered irrevocably – it’s no longer the way God created it to be. My body is now in conflict with my religious beliefs. It has ended up representing the beliefs of others and not mine. The religious belief of others has also denied me pleasure that was my right and right given to me in the Qur’an. How can that be a just outcome by anyone’s standards?

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

DSC_0074.JPG
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.

Not all damages are physical. Not everyone religious is morally ethical

Name: Xenobia (name changed)

Age: 27
Country: India

Today, social media is raging with thoughts and opinions on empowering women, being pro-choice, violating someone’s privacy and their body, and the role of consent, among others. Some say rapists must undoubtedly be hung to death, while some talk about punishing molesters and eve-teasers as well, so that the right patterns are set at the grassroots level and so that they think twice before taking advantage of girls again.

But what happens when the people taking advantage of a helpless 7-year-old girl are none other than her own family and community? Who, then, takes accountability for that? I’m not going to cry about my personal story here, but present some basic facts for you to consider. I am a Bohra Muslim raised in India. While the world sees us as a non-confrontational, peace-loving, business-thriving community, we have a secret tradition of circumcising 6-7-year-old girl children that we call khatna.

There are plenty of arguments about how this is “needed” from a health point of view for males and how it helps them in their sex life eventually, but the most educated and civilised people agree that this practice is harmful to a woman’s physical, psychological and emotional health, especially since it is not supervised or is often performed by untrained aunties in basements. This practice is officially termed as “Female Genital Mutilation” (FGM) everywhere else in the world and it is increasingly treated as a crime committed on helpless female children.

Why? What’s the reason?

Some say purity, some say patriarchy. Some do it because it’s a mandatory tradition and if the priest says so, who dares to refuse? Some do it out of peer pressure, some do it to avoid being blacklisted or labelled rebellious. The popular conclusion for those seeking out answers has been, to moderate or curb a woman’s sexual desires. Sure, this might have worked well in an era when we lived in deserts and tribes were always on the lookout for stealing another’s woman.

Irrespective of the reason today, does it even matter? However good your reasons may be, you still don’t have the right to decide what to do to a woman’s body without her consent. Whoever you may be. No matter what your intentions, the damage is done and you are still no different from a criminal.

So what does this mean for the victims?

The custom practiced by us is allegedly ‘Type 1’ and is different from that practiced by some African communities – Type 2 and Type 3 (based on levels of severity). As recognised by the World Health Organization, Type 1 FGC is described as the cutting of the clitoral hood and/or the clitoris, which poses a range of physical and emotional consequences such as infections, excessive bleeding, burning sensations while urinating, etc. The practice can adversely affect mental health as well since many young girls feel personally betrayed, helpless and confused. The child can also experience fear of sexual intimacy and mistrust of community members later in life as a result of the trauma. Sounds familiar?

But aren’t there thousands of other women who have gone through the same thing, and claim they are not facing sexual problems?

Just like most people don’t talk to others about what happens in their bedrooms, there are FGM survivors who don’t talk about their sex lives in public either. Some of them scream in pain through the night or are unable to have a healthy “bedroom life”. Plenty of these women are regular patients of doctors, sexologists, counsellors, and therapists. Yes, they manage to get pregnant (which is not very hard to do, with or without a man) but is the process peaceful and pain-free? No.

Everyone talks about divorce rates going up but nobody realises why. They don’t see that in general, women are subject to a lot of curbing throughout their upbringing. Things have always been decided for them and whatever the gender might be, it’s not like we are brought up in a community that breeds leaders or independent decision makers. We are a herd of brainwashed followers. And with the recent #metoo revolution, women have just started discovering their voice.

My personal take

Yes, I was ‘cut’ too. I don’t remember the details, but I remember flashes. I was taken to meet “some aunty” and I remember not having a very good feeling about it, but you do what you’re asked to do anyway. We went to her gloomy house in Calcutta and she asked me to stand over an Indian-style toilet with my legs apart and I remember seeing blood fall. That’s all.

I definitely remember having a hard time peeing for a week after that. Since this clearly does not qualify as a regular dinner conversation, it was just never spoken of after that. At age 16, I came across this ‘Muslim practice’ in Jean Sasson’s book – Princess. Among other terrible things done to women in Saudi Arabia, this was described in detail and that awoke something in my memory.

At first, I was scared and terrified because I didn’t know what to do with that information. It didn’t make any sense. Why would something that awful be done to me? What was the purpose? Was this religious? Was this medical? Gradually, I started asking other people of my age about it. Thanks to the internet, I started understanding a lot more of this ‘barbaric’ practice and how it is just another side effect of our patriarchal world, where random men decide how we must lead our lives and what is good for us.

What I couldn’t wrap my head around was how parents would let that happen to their own kids. When your daughter is at the peak of her innocence and brimming with nothing but pure love for you, you violate that basic trust. And then you actually hand her over to the monster who does that to her?

So your religion asks you to cut her body. And you see nothing wrong with that. And what about the repercussions and damages – physical, mental and emotional? She deals with those all her life. And if this is something you truly feel isn’t wrong, then why the hush-hush? Why the secret? Tell everyone about it, celebrate it, like you do for a misaaq ceremony? Why stop there? Of course, there are always exceptions too. Plenty of well-wishers keep trying to tell me that’s it’s not my fault and I shouldn’t worry about it, and I say, “Yes I know, and yet, I’m the one paying the price.”

What is really sad is that so many girls out there probably still don’t even know or remember this incident taking place. They are living under the impression that sex is bad and painful, and perhaps the problem is with them. Like most of our teachings. All the more reason why I am grateful to Sahiyo for this amazing platform for women to share their stories, to empathise, to let girls like me know that I am not the only damaged one and that I don’t need to see myself as a victim. Empowering women through storytelling seems like a glorious part of our culture that they are taking forward!

 

Sharing My Story of Female Genital Cutting with Other Survivors Comforted Me

By Leena Khandwala

I chose to tell my story of FGC to highlight how after more than three decades, my experience of being cut is still traumatizing and vivid. Everything about it — from the deception leading up to it and the silence around it — make for an unspeakably horrifying experience.

Supporters of Female Genital Cutting (FGC) often try to distinguish the type of cutting that is practiced in the Bohra community from other types of cutting practiced by different cultures.  They claim that the practice in the Bohra community is simply to make a small and benign scrape or nick in the clitoris that causes no harm, and, in fact, may enhance sexual pleasure among women. Through my digital story, I hope to portray the violence and trauma I experienced when I was cut and how it has followed me for the rest of my life.

Participating in this workshop was an important step in my life-long process of coming to terms with my cutting. After finishing law school, I chose to work with women fleeing gender-based harms. One of my first cases involved a woman seeking asylum because she was vehemently opposed to genital cutting and feared that she would be unable to DSC_0074protect her minor daughter from being cut if she had to return to her home country.

In addition, I worked with many other women fleeing various forms of gender violence and found this work to be extremely cathartic. This workshop was a new step along that continuum because it enabled me to muster the courage to find my voice and share my own story.  In that sense, it has helped me shed the shame that has lingered with me to this day as a result of being cut.

There is a strong sense of comfort from shared community experiences. Sharing this story helped me because it reminded me that there are many other people who have gone through similar experiences. I also got to hear and experience multiple other perspectives.  

It was inspiring to see how so many women have channeled their pain and outrage into advocacy for change and are working to ensure that future generations of girls are protected from being cut.  

To learn more about Sahiyo Stories, read:

 

More about Leena:

IMG_1881Leena Khandwala has been practicing immigration law for well over a decade. She is a supervising attorney at The Legal Aid Society, where she assists low-income New Yorkers in applying for a wide range of immigration benefits. Prior to joining The Legal Aid Society, Leena was employed with Brooklyn Defender Services where she was part of the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project, which was aimed at providing universal representation to all immigrants in detained removal proceedings. Prior to joining the nonprofit world, Leena was an associate with Claudia Slovinsky and Associates, PLLC, a small boutique law office. Leena has also been a Clinical Teaching Fellow in the Immigration and Human Rights Clinic and the Civil Litigation Clinic at Seton Hall University School of Law in Newark, and a fellow at the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies at U.C. Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. Leena received her J.D., cum laude, from Fordham University School of Law in 2004. She was a Stein Public Interest Scholar and a Crowley International Human Rights Scholar. She grew up in Karachi, Pakistan, where she did her Masters in Business Administration at the Institute of Business Administration, in Karachi.