Using Storytelling to Shift Social Norms and Prevent FGM/C: Event Reflection

By Cate Cox

Sahiyo was honored to join StoryCenter to host the webinar, “Using Storytelling to Shift Social Norms and Prevent FGM/C,” during a parallel event for the 65th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women on March 16th. 

Sahiyo and StoryCenter staff had the opportunity to introduce the 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. 

From outlining the storytelling process to hearing from the participants themselves, the parallel event offered an in-depth exploration of the power that storytelling has to heal and create change on a global scale. 

Mariya Taher, a co-founder of Sahiyo and the U.S. Executive Director began by giving the audience an introduction to Sahiyo’s work and the Voices project. Next, the co-founder of StoryCenter’s Silence Speaks program, Amy Hill, explored the methodology behind the Voices project, and why storytelling in general can have such a big impact on individuals, communities, and policy. 

Former Voices participants Aarefa Johari, Severina Lemachokoti, Sunshine Bayor, Zehra Patwa, and Maryum Saifee shared their experiences with the project. Both organizations introduced three new storytellers: Absa Samba, Hunter Kessous, and Somaya Abdelrahman. After watching their amazing Voices videos which will be released in May, each participant had the chance to answer a few questions about their experiences and their plans for moving forward. Panelists emphasized the importance of survivor-centered advocacy, mental health, and trauma services for survivors, as well as encouraged the audience to become involved in advocacy.    

A Chorus of Voices by Aarefa Johari

Panelists also answered select audience questions about their work and experiences of creating their videos. Intimate and brave, the panelists opened up about their fears of backlash and the ways that their videos still impact them. Both organzations shared resources with the audience to further educate themselves about the work Sahiyo and Storycenter are doing and to learn more about the Voices to End FGM/C project. 

“Using Storytelling to Shift Social Norms and Prevent FGM/C” was an ode to the power storytelling has to empower communities to abandon FGC and support survivors’ healing. It also highlighted the amazing work everyone at Sahiyo and StoryCenter are doing in their own capacity to advocate for women’s rights and shined a light on the often-overlooked work being done by grassroots organizations across the world. 

Watch the recording of this event.

To learn more about Sahiyo’s work, Sahiyo staff will be hosting a webinar in partnership with The US End FGM/C Network and the Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence on April 15th, at 2:30 pm EST over Zoom. Learn more about how to register.

Sahiyo and StoryCenter to host parallel session at the 65th Commission on the Status of Women meetings

On March 16th, 10:30 am EST, Sahiyo and StoryCenter will be hosting the parallel session webinar, “Using Storytelling to Shift Social Norms and Prevent FGM/C,” at the 65th session of the Commission on the Status of Women meetings. 

At this event, we will introduce our 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, we will explore the theoretical underpinnings of the Voices Project, highlight the success of our digital storytelling workshops, and share 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. 

Sure to be an eye-opening exploration of one of StoryCenter’s and Sahiyo’s most impactful and transformative programs, “Using Storytelling to Shift Social Norms and Prevent FGM/C” is open to all who wish to attend. 

In order to attend the event, please follow these registrations steps:

  1. Register to attend and become a CSW advocate on the NGO CSW65 virtual platform here. Registration is free.
  1. Once your registration is confirmed, you can log on to the virtual platform
  1. Navigate to the Agenda page by hovering over the “Schedule” heading in the top navigation bar of the NGO CSW65 virtual platform website and choosing “Agenda”.
  1. Once you are on the Agenda page, choose “Tuesday, March 16th” from the dates listed at the top of the page. When you reach the page that lists all of the events happening on Tuesday, March 16th, scroll down to the 10:30 am time slot. 
  1. Find our event titled “Using Storytelling to Shift Social Norms and Prevent FGM/C.” Click on the ‘plus’ button in the right hand corner of the event description. The platform will automatically add our event to your CSW65 agenda.
  1. You can add our event directly to your calendar by going to the event page and choosing “add to my calendar.”
  1. On the day of the event, just click on the link to our event on your agenda, or find the event again by following steps 1-4. 

You can also watch this short video on YouTube with a step-by-step tutorial of how to register on the NGO CSW65 virtual platform and find events!

Sahiyo staff spoke in a symposia entitled Mothers and daughters: continuity, love, fear and belonging

Sahiyo Communications Coordinator Lara Kingstone and co-founder Mariya Taher were honored to speak on behalf of Sahiyo in a symposia entitled, Patriarchal Inscriptions: Female Bodies Contested, Invaded, Defended & Owned, hosted by King’s College London Faculty of Arts and Humanities. 

The session that Sahiyo participated in served to address feminism, survivors’ relationships with mothers, other forms of gender-based violence and abuse, as well as systemic injustice. The symposia in general served to address the following questions: “Feminism has made the exploration of relations between mothers and daughters central to its project. How are these considered fraught, damaged, broken, or, in the eyes of FGM-supporters, strengthened by clitoridectomy? How does FGM compare to other abuses women endure that fracture their inclination to identify and support one another, instead of becoming invested in, or complicit with, systemic injustice?”

Taher and Kingstone discussed and presented Sahiyo’s Voices to End FGM/C: Using Storytelling to Shift Social Norms & Enhance Prevention as part of the panel on Mothers and daughters: continuity, love, fear and belonging. Many storytellers and survivors explore fraught or strengthened relationships with their mothers in their digital videos as part of the Voices to End FGM/C program in collaboration with StoryCenter. By sharing these stories with participants, Sahiyo aimed to further understanding regarding the deeply complex mother-daughter relationship in the context of FGM/C.

Read the full program.

Digital advocacy: The future of activism for survivors and activists

by Sandra Yu 

Activism is the policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change.

Prior to Sahiyo, I thought to be an activist was to be loud. Anything less than protests and demonstrations picketing for change outside the White House was not really activism. Actionable change came from legislation and policy changes. I scoffed at digital activism – trending hashtags and posting black squares on Instagram didn’t mean you were an activist.

At Sahiyo as a programs intern, I gained a new appreciation for storytelling and digital advocacy as forms of healing and activism, respectively. In contrast to the physical mobilization of masses in protests, picketing, and policy-based activism, storytelling is a distinctly emotional and psychological mobilization. I remember watching my first Voices to End Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) video – Change by Rhobi Samwelly.  She shared her story in the short span of 3 minutes and 51 seconds, and in that short period of time, I felt as if I had visualized her pain, trauma, and conviction to end FGM/C. It is through storytelling that one will understand the need for activism; the picketing will come later.

Storytelling is particularly impactful in activism against FGM/C. As a harmful and pervasive social norm in many cultures, FGM/C is silently maintained across generations under the guise of cultural normativity. To break the culture of silence is to risk ostracization from their families and communities. Yet, many survivors have taken that plunge and have engaged in storytelling to protect future women from being cut. As allies, it is our job to amplify their stories so that more people may hear them and become inspired to create change.

I recently attended a webinar that spoke about how we can best amplify voices through digital advocacy. Digital Storytelling and Advocacy: How Stories Can Support Progressive Change was hosted by StoryCenter and moderated by Amy Hill; one of Sahiyo’s co-founders, Mariya Taher, presented on the Voices campaign as a panelist. In the webinar, Amy speaks about the need for storytelling as an avenue of advocacy. She presents research on how telling and listening to stories can increase self-esteem and wellbeing, help communities bond and become politicized, and inspire people to take action for change. I translate that as storytelling allows for transformation. It allows survivors and community members to transform the trauma of FGM/C on their bodies and mental health into a point of connection with others of the same community.

Across activist communities, storytelling allows for a transformation from discomfort to vulnerability. Isabel, another intern at Sahiyo, wrote about her experience with StoryCenter and Sahiyo’s co-hosted webinar, Intersecting Stories, where she engaged in intimate storytelling that glimpsed into “the magical nature of storytelling – how words weave friendships, trust, and respect.”

I believe storytelling has a way of transcending the individual to bind communities together through shared values and experiences. In the current age of digitization, we see stories framed in a variety of mediums such as Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. While it may be easy to get lost in trends, hashtags, and stories in digital activism, I find that digital advocacy is equally powerful as traditional media in allowing us to amplify the voices and stories of survivors. The process of connecting people and communities across the world through a screen is an important concept to develop. I’m proud to be a part of an organization that creates change through digital advocacy and storytelling.

Get involved with the next cohort of the Voices to End FGM/C project!

Since 2015, Sahiyo has provided various storytelling platforms for women and community members from all over the world to share their experiences of female genital cutting (FGC), in hopes of preventing this harmful practice from occurring to the next generation of girls.

Now, we’re excited to announce our 2021 Voices to End FGM/C digital storytelling workshop, as part of our continued partnership with StoryCenter. This workshop is open to all individuals based in North America and Canada. Due to the pandemic, this workshop will be held virtually. 

When: Six online sessions held on consecutive Wednesdays, from January 13th through February 17th. 3:00 pm -5:00 pm Pacific Time / 6:00 pm-8:00 pm Eastern Time.

Who: The workshop is open to women who have experienced FGM/C, as well as family members, friends, advocates, and others of any gender identity who would like to share a story. There is capacity for up to 12 storytellers.

What: Each participant will create their own video through the use of voiceover audio, still images, and video clips. This participatory media process will be guided by facilitators from Sahiyo and StoryCenter. 

For those interested in taking part, fill out the application by Friday, December 11, 2020. 

Following the workshop, Sahiyo will support storytellers in publicly sharing their videos as part of our ongoing education and advocacy work to end FGM/C.

If you would like more information on this revolutionary storytelling experience, email Mariya at mariya@sahiyo.com

To see digital stories from previous “Voices to End FGM/C” workshops, click  here.

Why I shared my experience at Voices to End FGM/C with the medical community

By Mariam Sabir

I had the opportunity to participate in the Voices to End FGM/C project with Sahiyo, StoryCenter and The George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health in November 2019 where a diverse group of survivors and health professionals shared their experiences with FGM/C. 

I am currently a fourth-year medical student at American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine. I will be applying for residency this year to Family Medicine in the hope to provide a form of care that encompasses all factions of patients’ lives.

Meeting and listening to the stories of these wonderful women empowered me to discover my role in ending FGM/C. My role, I determined, was to increase awareness among health professionals. It is vital that physicians learn to identify survivors during a woman’s physical exam and learn how to approach this sensitive subject with discretion.

Voices_Poster_V3.001 

While having no past experience in presenting FGM/C to the public, I decided that perhaps a poster presentation would be the best initial step. The American Academy of Family Physicians National Conference which is attended by thousands of medical students and residents every year seemed like the perfect opportunity to spark discussion amongst the family physicians who see their patients regularly for annual physicals. My colleague, Zahra Qaiyumi, and I wanted the poster to be engaging while also conveying the statistical data related to FGM/C and a description of the project itself. However, just like the project, it needed to have a personal touch which is why I decided to use pictures of real participants from the project itself, as well as their dialogue.  

Due to COVID-19, the conference shifted to a virtual platform where our poster was displayed in the “Poster Hall” for any member of the conference to view at any time. Although I was unable to engage in lively discussions about FGM/C the way I had imagined, this is just the start to what I hope will be several more medical conferences and presentations.

 

Voices Series: Why I create art that evokes hope for survivors of FGM/C

This blog is part of a series of reflective essays by participants of the Voices to End FGM/C workshops run by Sahiyo and StoryCenter. Through residential and online workshops on digital storytelling, Voices to End FGM/C enables those who have been affected by female genital mutilation/cutting to tell their stories through their own perspectives, in their own words.

By Musfira Shaffi

Working on this project was challenging in many ways. Anyone reading Rhobi’s words will immediately be struck by the strength and bravery in her story. My job was to merely complement it with imagery that would evoke a similar visceral reaction in the viewer.

The responsibility of effectively conveying the sensitive subject matter is one that I struggled with, which is why I chose collage as a technique for visual storytelling. I wanted to fuse the private and the public, which is why I paired archival images from Rhobi’s childhood with royalty-free stock imagery, in order to depict the universality of her story. I used a severe palette of red, black and grey to affirm the physical and psychological trauma of female genital cutting.

Rhobi’s story is in equal parts heartbreaking and exhilarating, which, in turn, inspired me to create a moving allegory that would evoke memory, violence, and finally, hope. 

 

Voices Series: How I found purpose through survivors' stories

This blog is part of a series of reflective essays by participants of the Voices to End FGM/C workshops run by Sahiyo and StoryCenter. Through residential and online workshops on digital storytelling, Voices to End FGM/C enables those who have been affected by female genital mutilation/cutting to tell their stories through their own perspectives, in their own words.

By Debasmita Dasgupta

Working on this project has been life-changing. Not that I did not know about female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), but talking directly to people who had to go through such traumatic experiences brought me closer to the truth. I was absolutely moved by the courage of two of the participants, who dared to speak up despite all odds. That courage is irresistible and I am sure it will continue to inspire many more souls like mine.

I feel fortunate that I could tell their stories through my art. I am delighted that my art found a purpose. I am hopeful that my art will make an attempt to light up some of the dark corners of the world, where the peril of FGM/C still exists. In solidarity!

Voices Series: Why your story is worth sharing

This blog is part of a series of reflective essays by participants of the Voices to End FGM/C workshops run by Sahiyo and StoryCenter. Through residential and online workshops on digital storytelling, Voices to End FGM/C enables those who have been affected by female genital mutilation/cutting to tell their stories through their own perspectives, in their own words.

By Mariam Sabir 

I walked into the workshop thinking, “I should’ve just came as a volunteer, not as a participant. I don’t even have a story to tell especially since I am not a survivor of female genital cutting (FGC) myself.”

Another thought was,“I am just a medical student, what insight can I give them from a health perspective when I have not even started practicing yet?”

All these anxious thoughts were left far behind within a few hours of “story circle,” which is a part of the workshop where participants sit in a circle and share their story. I cannot explain how I felt during those few hours while hearing each participant’s powerful story and bonding with such incredibly strong women. I felt humbled and honored, moved and motivated to be in the presence of such courage and passion.

When it was my turn, I was surprised at how much I wanted to say! I thought to myself, I can do this. I can do this for each and every woman who has undergone FGC and every survivor who is still struggling with its consequences. I am the future of medicine and if it doesn’t start here, then where? If there’s one place a woman should feel safe to discuss FGC, it should be with a medical professional who is expected to have some knowledge about this issue. 

Sahiyo and StoryCenter cultivated an extremely friendly and judgement-free zone with a strong sense of sisterhood: allowing everyone to feel comfortable enough to share their story. They allowed us to dig deeper to retrieve those crucial moments within our stories that relayed everything we wanted in just a few words. In addition, StoryCenter made it extremely easy to create that story in a way that matched our vision.

I hope that this blog encourages more women to come forward with their stories.

You have a story and it matters.

It will help break the circle of silence that has allowed FGC to continue under the pretense of tradition and culture. 

Voices Series: Why I, as an artist, collaborated with survivors of FGM/C

This blog is part of a series of reflective essays by participants of the Voices to End FGM/C workshops run by Sahiyo and StoryCenter. Through residential and online workshops on digital storytelling, Voices to End FGM/C enables those who have been affected by female genital mutilation/cutting to tell their stories through their own perspectives, in their own words.

By Esther Elia

As an artist, I wait for moments like the Voices to End FGM/C workshop with excitement and anticipation–moments where my passion can be linked with the passions of others to create projects that bring to light the true injustices of our world, including the traditions that have fallen through the cracks and deserve a critical eye.

I got to collaborate with two women who have the foresight, courage, and self-awareness to question a tradition that has been taken for granted, and thrust it into the public eye so that others may also think critically about the effect FGM/C has on women. It was my great privilege to be a part of this project and create images that would impact the viewer, and most accurately reflect the storyteller.

For a subject matter so wrought with strong emotion, simplicity of image became my strategy. The story was the main character, and my art functioned as the supporting characters, giving the main message its meaning. This is a project that I will always remember and be proud to have been a part of.