Sahiyo U.S. Advisory Board Spotlight: Joanne Golden

As Sahiyo’s U.S. operations and programs have grown, we invited various individuals from a host of backgrounds and professions to join our U.S. Advisory Board. The advisory board provides strategic advice to the management of Sahiyo and ensures that we continue fulfilling our mission to empower communities to end female genital cutting and create positive social change through dialogue, education, and collaboration based on community involvement.

This month, we are pleased to highlight Joanne Golden who graciously serves as a member of our U.S. Advisory Board.

1) Can you tell us a bit about your background?

I was born and (mostly) raised in Massachusetts, but I got the travel bug at age 4, when my dad was in the U.S. Army and stationed at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) in Belgium. My mom, brother, and I were able to accompany him and we lived there for three years, where I attended school with children from other countries, learned about different cultures and languages, and traveled between most Western European countries (not Eastern Europe, as it was still during the Cold War). When I returned to the U.S., I knew my perspective was already broader than that of my peers and I became curious about history, politics, geography, and languages. I was determined to be the first female Secretary of State in the United States! Well, that didn’t happen, as Madeleine Albright beat me to it, and other opportunities came my way. I attended Boston University and received my Bachelor of Arts in International Relations with a minor in French (1990), spent my junior year abroad in Grenoble, France, and I was invited to my friend’s wedding in Egypt, where I spent six weeks as a guest of her family and friends. I could not have been happier! 
My career trajectory did not go as planned as I moved towards financial services, rather than the foreign service, and I worked for 15 years at State Street Corporation in Massachusetts, during which I attended Boston University Graduate School of Management and received my Masters in Business Administration (1997). However, after serious reflection and research, in 2006, I decided to change the direction of my life and pursue a career in public service by going to law school, and I graduated with Pro Bono Honors from Suffolk University Law School in 2009 and was the 1st recipient of the Suffolk Law School Pro Bono Exemplary Service Award. During law school, I focused my electives on civil and human rights issues, particularly on human trafficking, children and women’s rights, for which I wrote a paper entitled “Impact of China’s One Child Policy and Cultural Gender Preference on Girl Child Discrimination and Mortality In China.” For a year after graduation, I worked with two NGOs and the Massachusetts Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition, in order to support state specific anti-human trafficking legislation, which went into effect in 2012, and to study the demand-side of sex trafficking. I am currently a federal attorney for the Social Security Administration’s Office of Hearing Operations since 2010, an active member of the Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts (WBA). Since May 2013, I am part of a working group that researched, drafted, and advocates for state-level legislation to ban the practice of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) in Massachusetts. 
I am also a fierce Boston sports fan. I study the Irish language and violin in what little time I have left over, and I recently got married to Greg, who regularly tells me how proud he is of the work I do.

2) When did you first get involved with Sahiyo and what opportunities have you been involved in?

I first became involved with Sahiyo about three years ago, through my interactions with Mariya Taher, who joined the WBA’s FGM/C legislative working group to help us advocate for state-level legislation to ban the practice of FGM/C in Massachusetts. I was introduced to Mariya on a monthly phone call led by Equality Now, which was trying to bring together a coalition of legal and medical experts, non-profits, federal and state law enforcement, and victim-survivors across the U.S. and between the U.S. and other countries, to eradicate FGM/C by 2030. Mariya brought valuable insight to our working group as a non-attorney, survivor, and founding member of Sahiyo. She showed us the human side and cost of FGM/C for girls and women. It is through Mariya that we made deeper contacts within the Bohra and Somali communities in Boston. We have new contacts with American-born women who are also cut, and we garnered more legislative support for the Massachusetts FGM/C bill with her testimony and willingness to tell such a deeply personal story. With Mariya and Sahiyo, we also successfully initiated a change.org petition to support the MA state legislation with over 300,000 signatures. I have admired her efforts to give a voice to girls and women through the Sahiyo Stories project. I also became a member of the Sahiyo U.S. Advisory board last year, and participated in our successful Boston FGM/C roundtable in April 2019.

3) How has your involvement impacted your life?

As I explained previously, in 2006, I decided to change the direction of my life and pursue a career in public service by going to law school. I followed my head, my heart, and my conscience to law school and focused on issues of civil rights, children and women’s rights, during my studies, but I could never have known that it would lead me here. When people ask me what I do, I always reply that I am an attorney for the federal government. But I also add that I fight for the rights of women and children against being trafficked and being irreparably harmed, physically and mentally, by FGM/C. I am proud and humbled by Sahiyo’s mission and that Mariya asked me and trusted me to be part of the Sahiyo U.S. Advisory Board. 

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

If you don’t know what you can do, then ask, “How can I help with this cause?” and someone will answer. Also, success is not a straight line from A to B. There are steps backward and forward, abrupt changes of direction, and even some side trips down a rabbit hole that you did not see coming. It is all necessary and all worth it. Be humble and open to what others have to teach you. Lean on each other for support. In my example, I had heard of FGM/C while I was in law school, but my focus and energy were on anti-human trafficking efforts and opportunities. Once the Massachusetts state human trafficking bill was passed in November 2011, and went into effect in 2012, I wondered, “Now what?” The answer did not come until May 2013 with the Women Bar Association’s FGM/C working group, and that group morphed as members came and went, but I feel our mission came into real focus after the first legislative session, in which our bill did NOT pass, as we expected it to. I was deflated at first, but then I met Mariya through Equality Now, and I was blown away with her advocacy experience. Mariya and Sahiyo clarified for me “who” we were advocating for, and I have learned how to be an advocate for change, and not just an arguer of legal facts because real change begins with people and the healthy, productive relationships you build in life. I am happy and proud of the relationships I have made within the Sahiyo community and with our mutual commitment to the full and equal participation of women under the law and in society by advocating for the abandonment of FGM/C in the U.S. and abroad.

——

Sahiyo U.S. Advisory Board Spotlight: Zehra Patwa

As Sahiyo’s U.S. operations and programs have grown, in 2018, we invited various individuals from a host of backgrounds and professions to join our inaugural U.S. Advisory Board. The advisory board provides strategic advice to the management of Sahiyo and ensures that we continue fulfilling our mission to empower communities to end Female Genital Cutting and create positive social change through dialogue, education, and collaboration based on community involvement.

This month, we are pleased to highlight Zehra Patwa, who has graciously agreed to serve as the Vice-Chair for our inaugural U.S. Advisory Board.

1) Can you tell us a bit about your background?Zehra sideshot 2019.JPG

I was born and brought up in the UK and moved to the US in the 1990s. I was born into the Dawoodi Bohra community and remain there with my family here in the US. In 2012, I saw a video of a Bohra woman talking about her khatna (FGM/C) and it opened up a whole world that I had previously been oblivious to.  At that same time, I found out that I, too, had undergone the cut at the age of 7 but I have no recollection of it.  Despite having no memory of my experience, I decided I could not be silent about this practice in what I had always known to be an educated and progressive community with strong women role models. I co-founded WeSpeakOut with several other women who were determined to end khatna in the Bohra community and we have helped open up the conversation on this once secret practice. We have also shed light on the practice in the Indian Supreme Court and hope to have an anti-FGM/C law on the books in the near future, I am also involved on the Board of IRIS, a refugee resettlement agency working to help refugees make a successful life in the US. I feel very strongly that we need to see each other as human beings first rather than getting bogged down with which group we identify with.
2) When did you first get involved with Sahiyo and what opportunities have you been involved in?
When I first got involved with activism, it was in a Whatsapp group with the founders of Sahiyo and several other women discussing our khatna experiences and encouraging each other to speak out against this injustice. Since then, my connection with Sahiyo has blossomed! Sahiyo and WeSpeakOut have done several campaigns together, notably, Each One Reach One, where we developed helpful guides to start the conversation about khatna between friends and family. I have attended several Sahiyo retreats, as well as participating in the wonderful Sahiyo Stories workshop where I created a video describing my feelings toward the reactions I have faced for speaking out about khatna.
3) How has your involvement impacted your life?
Finding out about this practice in my community in my forties set me off on a path of activism that I would never have foreseen. Working with Sahiyo has taught me that social change takes time and in order for cultural norms to shift, there needs to be a groundswell of support and shared experiences. I feel confident that with so many people speaking out, that this groundswell of support is growing every day and that gives me hope for the young girls in the Bohra community.
4) What pieces of wisdom would you share with new volunteers or community members who are interested in supporting Sahiyo?
Listen to those who you may not agree with and try to find common ground.  You will find that even if you disagree about something as important as khatna, you can find mutual understanding and come to a place where you are able to communicate at a deep level.  That is the beginning of true social change.

Sahiyo U.S. Advisory Board Spotlight: Maryum Saifee

As Sahiyo’s U.S. operations and programs have grown, in 2018, we invited various individuals from a host of backgrounds and professions to join our inaugural U.S. Advisory Board. The advisory board provides strategic advice to the management of Sahiyo and ensures that we continue fulfilling our mission to empower communities to end Female Genital Cutting and create positive social change through dialogue, education, and collaboration based on community involvement.

This month, we are pleased to highlight Maryum Saifee, who has graciously agreed to serve as the Chair for our inaugural U.S. Advisory Board. photo3_maryumsaifee

1) Can you tell us a bit about your background?

I was born and raised in Texas and the product of Indian immigrant parents. Like many South Asian-Americans, my parents were baffled when I strayed from the script (pursuing a medical degree to eventually take over my mom’s practice) and opted for an unpredictable career in public service.  My first act of rebellion was joining the Peace Corps at nineteen. I worked in a small village just north of the Dead Sea in Jordan. In my two years there, I became interested in the impact of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. When I came home from Jordan, I served as an AmeriCorps volunteer working with South Asian survivors of domestic violence and educating school administrators in Seattle on the impact of post 9-11 anti-immigrant backlash. Just over ten years ago, I joined the U.S. foreign service where I spent more time in the Middle East serving in Cairo (during the 2011 Arab uprising), Baghdad, and most recently Lahore. I was also proud to serve as a policy advisor in the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues leading the U.S. government’s efforts to address and respond to gender-based violence (including bringing about an end to Female Genital Mutilation) globally.

2) When did you first get involved with Sahiyo and what opportunities have you been involved in?

I first became involved with Sahiyo when I worked in the Secretary’s Office of Religion and Global Affairs in 2015.  I organized panel discussions at the United Nations during key moments (the Commission on the Status of Women and International Day of Zero Tolerance) as well as at large-scale civil society convenings like the Islamic Society of North America’s annual convening. Sahiyo was (and continues to be) a powerful force for social change. Prior to Sahiyo’s existence, FGM was framed as a faraway problem restricted to sub-Saharan Africa. However, over the last few years there is a greater understanding that FGM is global in scope and not only occurring in South and Southeast Asia but communities all over the world.  I have been honored to serve as Sahiyo’s first advisory board chair and hope to help the organization continue making a strong impact.

3) How has your involvement impacted your life?

Sahiyo is a powerful platform pushing for long-term social change.  Despite backlash and pushback, the organization continues its work and has given survivors like me the opportunity to forge bonds of solidarity with others fighting against FGM.  

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

I would say to try and stay upbeat even when there are challenges.  Changing mindsets won’t happen overnight, but it will happen in time.  My advice is to be patient and stay focused on the end goal. And in the meantime, make sure to practice self-care to avoid burnout.