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.

Voices Series: How I got a whole new perspective on 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 Angela Peabody

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to do something I had not done before. I participated in one of Sahiyo’s Voices to End FGM/C storytelling workshops in Washington, D.C. The experience was engaging for me. Although I have a television news background, I found myself fascinated at the thought of learning how to make my own video.

I missed the first day of the 3-day experience, due to a family emergency. I was discouraged because I thought missing the first day was crucial to what was expected during the workshop. How wrong I was; Mariya and Amy [of Sahiyo and StoryCenter] called me the evening of the first day, and briefed me on what I had missed that day. They also advised me on what to expect the following day when I joined the group.

When I entered the room that morning, I must admit that I felt a bit apprehensive, not knowing any of the attendees. I was greeted warmly by Mariya, which was not surprising. But Amy came over and formally introduced herself and proceeded to introduce me to everyone else in the room. Everyone seemed welcoming and pleasant, which helped set the mood for my own comfort. Later that morning, I saw a couple of participants whom I knew. Before the end of the day, I had become familiar with a participant who followed a vegan diet as I do. She and I found much to share with each other. I was pleased that I did not need to concern myself with whether there would be food conducive to my diet. There was a vegan muffin waiting for me in the morning, and when we broke for lunch, a vegan sandwich had already been ordered. I had also become familiar with someone who is engaged to a Liberian. Since Liberia is my country of origin, she and I shared unlimited information about that country.    

Amy did an introduction of video making, and what the preparations entailed to make a video. We first needed to write the script of the video. Then we recorded the script in our own voices, which would later become the audio of the video. It was quite a strategic process; yet, it was intriguing. The homework for the evening was to find photographs to match the script, which was a challenge for me. We could not use stock images, especially due to the intellectual property law. The images needed to be real life photos. I did my search and found several photos, but I was not sure how they would blend with what I had written in my story.

The final day was full of matching photos and audio. Amy gave us a course in combining the images and the audio. As she demonstrated on the big screen, we followed her instructions by doing our individual videos. We were even taught how to add the credits at the end of the video. With a lot of help from my newfound future fellow Liberian, I had my video ready by mid-afternoon. I learned to superimpose images so that my story had a more impactful result.

At the end of the 3rd day, we were asked to share with the group what affects the workshop had on us. The inspiration to share our stories was effective; whether or not a participant had experienced female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), or if she had had a different encounter with FGM/C, telling our stories through the eyes of our videos was enthralling. We ended the evening with a preview of everyone’s video. As an advocate against FGM/C, I have seen and heard stories at various levels, but those videos gave me a whole new perspective.  

In summary, I congratulate Sahiyo and StoryCenter for holding these workshops. It is a great experience for not only survivors of FGM/C but also for advocates, health providers, and everyone working to end the practice of FGM/C. I am glad I was a part of it. 

 

Voices Series: How listening to survivors' stories made me a better advocate

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 Karen Kwok, MSN, FNP-BC

I sought participation in the Voices to End FGM/C workshop to better understand the patient experience of survivors of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). With increased awareness, I hope to be a better advocate and provider for women’s physical and mental health. The best practices for addressing FGM/C applies to all patient scenarios with creating safe space for active listening, appreciative inquiry and openness for building long-term rapport (if counseling is requested), and providing necessary physical and mental health services and referral resources without judgement.

Challenges to addressing FGM/C include the limited time with provider productivity demands, few available gynecological surgeons specializing in FGM/C labiaplasty with insurance coverage, and few resources for culturally competent mental health services.

Long-term consequences of FGM/C include long-term emotional anguish, gynecological and gastrointestinal pain, and obstetric complications. With the long-term relationship in primary care advocacy, family medicine providers are best positioned to support patient sexuality with initial and ongoing training in female anatomy, counseling strategies on gender orientation and sexual positivity, and patient care best practices. From this workshop, I hope to improve my skills in FGM/C counseling and gynecological health service delivery with increased awareness of women’s sexuality in the global context.

 

 

 

 

 
 

Reflections on the Voices alumni COVID-19 storytelling workshop

By Lara Kingstone

Sahiyo held a StoryCenter-led COVID-19 storytelling session for Voices To End FGM/C alumni in May. The session was created to continue building community online and offer a space for women to share their stories during the pandemic. 

This workshop was designed to be an informal and relaxed space for those affected by female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). By sharing lived experiences during the time of COVID-19, we sought to provide a space where these women could express emotion, thoughts and questions to a sisterhood of nonjudgmental ears. I was reminded, as I am in so many of the spaces created by women, how unbelievably resilient we are even now. Participants shared stories of their lives and I was blown away by the resilience, grit and sustained strength these women exhibited.

It must be noted that this session was held days after the shameless murder of George Floyd, as protests against police brutality and hundreds of years of structural racism began to spark. 

It was incredible, speaking to women from different locations in the world, in different kinds of quarantines, some with families, some alone. We all are experiencing this chapter differently, but share common threads. 

Multiple participants spoke to the experience of being overwhelmed, angry and uncertain. 

The content spoken about during this session was confidential, but themes of frustration with the flawed systems in the United States continued to rise.

Trauma has come up for a lot of people in the past few weeks, and months as well. We need to consistently allow ourselves time to reflect, and vent and process. I’m so grateful that part of Sahiyo’s work is creating these opportunities for healing.

Voices Series: A Reflection on a nine-month journey

By Su Sun

When I was contacted by Mariya in the beginning of 2019 to join the Voices to End FGM/C workshop, I’d just found out I was pregnant. Previous experiences of obstetric trauma roamed around my head and it seemed to me that this project could be an opportunity to reunify two vital experiences that I’ve carried with me rather silently: khatna and violence during the delivery of my first child. Khatna follows us in every period of our lives, as a shadow, as a fear, a vacillation, whenever we have to deal with our bodies. How much better could I tell these stories, as I vividly remembered them, if not using the format of a poem? Verses that revive and denounce.

Additionally, it was important to me to turn the focus on who is the perpetrator of this traumatic experience and highlight the systems of oppression operating behind them: patriarchy and racism entangled. Nine months of a journey where my belly was growing and the story was being created. The experience of using the digital storytelling format, the first time for me, was a fulfilling one, with encouraging and inspiring dialogues with the team (both Mariya and Amy), flexibility to use our ideas as means of expression. Continuous communication and feedback. It was both creative and therapeutic to imagine the story and how to build it. Moreover, I am very thankful for being part of this project along with other women.

 

 

 

 
 

Voices Series: Why we must continue to protect our girls

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 Rhobi Samwelly

I decided to share a story about my experience with female genital mutilation (FGM) because I want people to know who I am, and learn through my touching story. I hope my story will help other girls and bring change to our community. The story reflects the reality of what I passed through and what I felt as a girl and the first born from my family. The story is informing other people to understand the tradition of FGM and its implications. The story keeps me with tears in my eyes every time when sharing with different people.

Sharing my story with the Voices to End FGM/C workshop was the right thing to help other people learn. I was encouraged to be part of the group in order to change our community with this tradition of FGM. I shared with women who’ve gone through painful and traumatic experiences as other FGM survivors. I enjoyed the courage and passion that each of them embraced during the entire time. The storytelling process was smooth and very educational. I was able to revise my own story and put it in a way that I am confident and make a difference to our communities.

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My advocacy on FGM is focused on community education, sharing my story and providing safe houses for girls to be rescued and protected when forced by their families to undergo FGM. I have managed to rescue and protect 1607 girls from FGM and early marriages. Many girls are cut while knowing the effects of FGM, and no one is ready to protect them in their houses during the seasonal cutting. As an activist, I believe that FGM will end when we use the combination of different strategies in the fight against it. 

I know it is the right of each community to uphold their traditions and beliefs, but culture should not violate the rights of girls and young women. I believe I am unique and my story is unique because of the painful experience of nearly dying and feelings that I had during the cutting. 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 continue my activism and rescue girls to be protected at the safe houses until FGM will be history. 

Voices Series: How I reconnected with my purpose through storytelling

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 Nonya Khedr 

Sahiyo and StoryCenter created a remarkable experience for me at the Voices to End FGM/C digital storytelling workshop. The workshop included phenomenal women and men who wanted to use their stories to advocate against the practice. Although sharing my story put me in a position where I felt extremely vulnerable and exposed, I certainly felt safe.

During the workshops, we learned how to create and articulate our stories in order to advocate against the practice. We took breaks to participate in healing exercises such as yoga and meditation. I was very grateful that we took time out of the workshops because it helped me reconnect with myself and acknowledge where I was. It gave my brain time to rejuvenate after revisiting traumatic experiences.

These exercises emphasized the importance of taking time out of my everyday life to take care of my wellbeing in order to strive and grow in my career. A few weeks later, I am now more mindful of how to manage my work, reconnecting with my purpose and remembering why I am doing this work. I am taking better care of my self with prayer, exercise, and downtime. 

The workshop inspired me to keep moving forward with the work I’m doing with my organization, SheFFA. I started SheFFA earlier this year to advocate against FGM/C, and provide support for women who have undergone the practice. Before coming to the conference, I experienced so many stressful and discouraging moments working on it due to the overwhelming amount of work and being a full-time college student. However, being a part of an environment full of powerful women and men who are passionate about eradicating FGM/C gave me more hope to move forward. I have developed lovely relationships with people who are extremely supportive and whose goals align with my mission.

The story that I have created during the workshop will be used to bring more awareness against FGM/C with the intention to empower other people to speak out against the practice and to make a greater impact.

 

 

Sahiyo Partner Organization Highlight: StoryCenter

StoryCenter creates spaces for transforming lives and communities, through the acts of listening to and sharing stories as a vehicle for education, community mobilization, and advocacy. Since 1993, they have helped over 20,000 individuals tell their stories. They collaborate with organizations around the world on workshops in story facilitation, digital storytelling, and other forms of participatory media production. In 2018, Sahiyo, in partnership with StoryCenter, launched an inaugural digital storytelling workshop. Nine women’s stories have since elevated the conversation about female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) in the U.S. and globally. The stories were distributed online and via media channels, as well as at live community screening events. They are being used as educational tools to support discussion among survivors within their communities, with a focus on challenging the social norms sanctioning FGM/C, and encouraging an end to the practice. Sahiyo is honored to have Amy Hill, StoryCenter’s Silence Speaks director, partner with Sahiyo on the Voices to End FGM/C project to expand the number of digital stories since the first 2018 workshop.

1) When and how did you and your organization first get involved with Sahiyo?

I first met Mariya when she attended a digital storytelling workshop I was leading with alumni of the Women’s Foundation of California’s Women’s Policy Institute in 2017. She produced a stunning video about her own journey of sharing her female genital cutting story, as part of her advocacy efforts against the practice. I had always been interested in doing work on the topic as part of our global women’s rights efforts, and I felt that Mariya, with her focus on personal storytelling as method for breaking the silence, ending stigma, and building leadership among women for speaking out against FGM/C, would be the perfect collaborating partner. I approached her, and together, we put on a pilot digital storytelling workshop for women survivors of FGM/C. It was a deeply powerful experience for everyone involved. I think even Mariya and I were a little surprised by how effective StoryCenter’s core methodology in digital storytelling was, for working with this issue.

2) What does your work with Sahiyo and StoryCenter as a joint partnership involve?

Our first digital storytelling workshop grew into a global effort called Voices to End FGM/C, which brings survivors and advocates from practicing communities together to share stories and craft them into short digital videos as a way of building nurturing, healing relationships and solidarity, and mobilizing the storytellers to become further involved in efforts to address and prevent cutting. So far we’ve done a total of four digital storytelling workshops: three in person, and one fully online, to create a collection of more than 40 poignant and compelling short videos. Mariya and I have co-facilitated all of the workshops, and Sahiyo has done a brilliant job of continuing to engage with the storytellers afterward. They’ve written blog postings about the storytelling experience, made presentations at public screenings and conferences and more. Sahiyo’s skill in getting the stories out into the world is almost unparalleled in my 20-year history of work at StoryCenter. They are very sophisticated with social media outreach and have been able to bring a lot of media attention to the stories, which is exciting. 

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3) How has your involvement with Sahiyo impacted your own organization’s work?

Speaking of social media, StoryCenter helps people create amazing content that can be circulated widely online and via mobile phones, and yet our main focus has typically been not on distribution, but on putting together and facilitating participatory media workshops that truly enhance the wellbeing of storytellers. While all of my work has focused explicitly on how stories can be useful in the world for creating change, it’s not the norm for our programs. But the Voices to End FGM/C project has inspired more of our staff to push for innovative ways to publicly circulate stories that come out of our processes, and Sahiyo’s Communications Coordinator even met recently with one of my colleagues who is jump-starting our Instagram presence and was interested in looking at Sahiyo’s approach to featuring the Voices stories as a model. We’ve also joined the U.S. Network to End FGM/C, which is exciting for us to be part of a larger group of individuals and organizations committed to ensuring future generations of girls do not go through what some of our Voices storytellers have endured, as a result of being cut. Our partnership with Sahiyo has evolved so beautifully and organically. I feel that it has helped me trust more than I already did the idea that our work at StoryCenter has to be based on solid human relationships and shared visions for change, rather than on rigid agendas or desires to be successful in a conventional way.

4) What words of wisdom would you like to share with others who may be interested in supporting StoryCenter, Sahiyo and the movement against FGM/C?

Stories matter. Everyone’s voice is worthy of being heard, and creating spaces where individual perspectives can be aired, where people’s pain can be witnessed, really does build solidarity and is essential to movement-building. FGM/C is a form of trauma; trauma fractures our ability to connect in healthy, intimate ways; and storytelling is a way to repair those rifts, to enable people to find solace and support and strength for the difficult parts of the journey together. 

 

Voices Series: Why I'm grateful for sharing my story of Female Genital Cutting

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 Anonymous

Honestly, I have never felt like a victim. What I am here to do is to create more awareness about female genital cutting (FGC)  in a creative form. My video touches on other religious issues subtly, and that’s why there is a repulsion to go public from my family, and I absolutely understand that.

Having to do this dialogue with my family and myself about being open or anonymous led me into a phase of depression where I felt locked, felt I cannot speak freely. It actually helped me evolve. This was deep. I have just aged in the process of making this decision to even release the work.

Now that it is clear to me, I understand how politically it can affect my family just because my story involves more than just FGC. With that clarity I chose to remain anonymous on this piece, largely the overall impact of having this done makes me more robust, more open with subtle diplomacy and less naivety. This phase strengthened self-belief, maybe in the future being anonymous can become history. Very thankful.

 

Voices Series: We remember stories we're told as children

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 Fakhera

My experience with the Global Voices to End FGM/C digital storytelling workshop in July 2019 workshop was not an isolated event in itself, but is part of a larger mission, i.e. elemination of the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM). It is a practice prevalent in my community, the Dawoodi Bohra Muslim community. FGM is a practice that has been handed down as a tradition to be followed without being questioned.

When my niece, Farzana, an eminent writer and therapist, a voice recognised in the literary circle in Canada, introduced me to Masooma Ranavli, the principal advocate on FGM through her organisation, Speak Out On FGM, it gave me an opportunity to participate in a movement against this practice. I later joined Sahiyo, another organisation with the same mission.

The storytelling workshop is a continuum of the same mission. It is one of the ways by which the message is spread and conveyed. Female genital mutilation must stop. Gender bias must stop.  

As children we may not remember the things we studied, but we definitely remember the stories that were told to us. They left a lasting impact on us; such is the power of storytelling. My story has been unique to me. Yet, it resonates with the stories of many women like me who have been cut as little girls. It’s a story which I am hopeful will kindle the hearts of many to stand up against this patriarchal practice.