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.

 

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Intern Spotlight: Sahiyo editorial intern Jenny Cordle

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Jenny Cordle joined Sahiyo’s team as an editorial intern in October 2018. She is currently researching the intersection of maternal and child health, traditional healing and spiritual beliefs in Northern Ghana through Georgetown University for her Master’s of Science in Global Health. Jenny’s passions include documenting human rights issues through photography and nonfiction writing. In 2016, she received a Certificate in Documentary Photography and Nonfiction Writing from Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies, with her work focusing on female genital cutting in Mali, West Africa. She worked as a communications associate for Tostan. Read about Jenny’s experience with Sahiyo below:

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

I became an editorial intern in October of this year. I learned about Sahiyo’s work through a network of people in Washington, D.C, working to encourage abandonment of female genital cutting.

2) What does your work with Sahiyo involve?

I have the honor of honing the voices of many who share their experiences on the blog with FGC through storytelling and editing.

3) How has your involvement with Sahiyo impacted your life?

I have been on a journey to work in some capacity on FGC as a human rights issue since I lived in a small community in Mali, West Africa, where girls were cut. Sahiyo has given me that opportunity. I have been writing about my time in Mali and I will get to share those stories through Sahiyo’s platform, which is an honor. Working with Sahiyo has been an educational experience that has taught me more about FGC in Asian communities. It has also connected me to a network of tireless human rights activists.

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

Sahiyo is an incredible organization with dedicated global advocates. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have an interest in human rights advocacy. We need as many passionate people as possible to speak out in support of ending FGC. Check out our website on ways to get involved!

 

Volunteer Spotlight: Alisha Bhagat

Alisha is passionate about working with organizations to think systematically about a sustainable future for people and the planet. She is a futurist and strategist at Forum for the Future, a sustainability non-profit that works with companies on long-term thinking and systems change. Prior to joining Forum, Alisha was a foreign policy consultant for the US government. She first became an activist through protesting the war in Afghanistan in 2001. Alisha has served on the board of BitchMedia, a feminist media organization since 2016. In the past, she was a Girl Scout troop leader in her community. She holds an MS in Foreign Service from Georgetown University and a BS from Carnegie Mellon University. When not thinking about and shaping the future, Alisha is an avid gamer and science fiction enthusiast. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, adorable daughters, and loving cat.

1)    When did you first get involved with Sahiyo?

I first became involved with Sahiyo in August 2016, when a friend connected me with Mariya, Sahiyo’s co-founder.

2)    What opportunities have you been involved with at Sahiyo?

I made a documentary back in 2004 called Deen and Duniya that deals with religion and modernity in the lives of Dawoodi Bohra women in Mumbai. One of the topics covered is FGC. The film had been casually circulated amongst friends and family but given its relevance to Sahiyo’s work, Sahiyo asked if they could feature it on their blog so I did a short write up of it, which you can read by clicking here.
Most recently, I helped organize an activist retreat in New York for eleven activists associated with Sahiyo and working on FGC within the Bohra community. It took many months of planning, but we had a really productive retreat where activists were able to connect, find community, and better equip themselves to be change agents.

3)    How has your involvement impacted your life?

Being an activist is very empowering and meaningful to me. When I first found out about FGC in the Bohra community, I felt a number of things: shock, outrage, and helplessness. Engaging in activism is a way to reclaim power and agency. I strongly believe that the future is what we create so if this is something we do not want, we need to work towards making this practice a thing of the past. I’m so glad to be part of a community of people who feel similarly, who share not only the same cultural and religious background but also the same values. My involvement makes me hopeful for the future.

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

Start with a small action. Perhaps it is talking about Sahiyo’s work with a friend or sharing a survivor story. Maybe it means hosting an event or attending a workshop. The first step to engage is challenging but doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Think about a way that you could engage and contribute and find a way to do so that is personally meaningful. Also, if you don’t know how to participate – reach out! There is so much we can do together.

Sahiyo Volunteer Spotlight: Geethika Kodukula

Geethika is a graduate student of Biostatistics in Public Health at Kent State University, Kent Ohio. Originally from Hyderabad, she has been involved in social work since 2011 when she started studying Math, Stats and Computers at St. Francis Degree College for Women. She is a dog-person and endeavors to study Mental Health and suicidality among vulnerable populations. When she is not working on her research, she tries to read fiction and play video games.

1)    When did you first get involved with Sahiyo?Photo4_Geethika

I first reached out to Sahiyo in April 2016.

2)    What opportunities have you been involved with at Sahiyo?

I proofread and edit the newsletters, blog posts and media reports for readability, help with sending out the newsletter, spread word among my peers, and help maintain the Sahiyo blog.

3)    How has your involvement impacted your life?

I am proud to be a part of this community. It’s terrific to read our volunteers’ and founders’ achievements each month. The impact that we are trying to create together empowers me and helps me fight the helplessness I feel in the face of injustice. Survivor stories each month keep me motivated to keep fighting.

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

Never underestimate what you can do. Ask for help when you need it. Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters. Don’t forget to take care of yourself!

Sahiyo Volunteer Spotlight: Roshan Kokane

Roshan Kokane is based in India and has been Sahiyo’s social media intern since July 2017. He is a journalist and web editor by profession and graduated in journalism from the University of Mumbai. He plans to continue his education in the field of journalism, human rights, public policy and public health to build a career and life in which he can effectively support every cause he believes in. To learn more about how he has supported our work at Sahiyo, read his interview below.
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1) When did you first get involved with Sahiyo?
I first got involved with Sahiyo in mid-2016 when I interviewed one of their co-founders for the article I was working on. Luckily, I got really intrigued upon chatting with them and knowing what they do and instantly felt the need to support the project. I have no first-hand experience of undergoing genital cutting and neither does someone from my family but when I first read about it in my college, it affected me. I knew I had to support the project somehow and began working with Sahiyo. I still help them out whenever I can and in whatever capacity they find me useful in.

2) What opportunities have you been involved with at Sahiyo?
I have started working on Sahiyo’s social media channels. I want to help the organisation in amplifying its reach and get more people to understand the impacts of Female Genital Cutting on survivors. I also look forward to helping Sahiyo with their website and reporting.

3) How has your involvement impacted your life?
I have really learned a lot from the little time I have spent working with Sahiyo. The co-founders are extremely humble and come with great knowledge and understanding of the subject. They have the right kind of treatment mapped under their objectives for everyone who seeks involvement. The recent investigation had a tremendous impact on the policies around Female Genital Cutting in Kerala and they work the organisation does is truly inspiring for me. Through my involvement, there has been a lot of learnings on human rights, violation of human rights, abuse, trauma, survivors’ strength and compassion for each other.

4) What pieces of wisdom would you share with new volunteers or community members who are interested in supporting Sahiyo?
Please support Sahiyo in every way you can. This is the social innovation (creating change and impact through conversations) we need to ensure that every human being deserves their right to live and no power can bring anyone to do something that’s not just abuse but a severely traumatic practice under the pretext of curbing their sexual desires or citing religious or health benefits. Sahiyo does a commendable job in proving that there are no medical benefits to female genital cutting and is very ethical and strong as a group with its values to end Female Genital Cutting worldwide.

Sahiyo Volunteer Spotlight: Shabana Feroze

Based in Bahrain, Shabana Feroze is a Bahraini citizen originally from India. She started volunteering with Sahiyo in April 2017 and is the owner of advertising agency The Silver Kick Company and co-owner of a lace fashion business called Lace Love. She teaches Les Mills group fitness classes in the evenings and is a style and travel blogger at TheSilverKickDiaries.com. She believes in chasing her passions and standing up for what she believes in.

1)    When did you first get involved with Sahiyo?

I first got involved with Sahiyo in April, when I signed the petition for the UN to invest in research and support to end FGC in Asia. I commented on the petition that I’m signing as I’m a victim myself, and Mariya responded to me asking me if I would like to share my story on Sahiyo’s website.  I then shared my story on the website and became a volunteer soon after.

2)    What opportunities have you been involved with at Sahiyo?

I try and help in any way I can as I want to support these incredible women who founded the group, and this worthy cause, as much as I can. I have helped make the website feedback evaluation questionnaire, helped to draft social media posts, and have been an interviewee for a research project based in Mumbai that will help activists who aren’t from the community. Currently, I’m working with the social media intern at Sahiyo to make their social media more effective and reach more people. And of course, I have shared the petition with my network and keep sharing news about FGC and Sahiyo’s research as much as possible so I can get friends and family to support the cause, and get them to share it with their friends and family.

3)    How has your involvement impacted your life?

I do think that being involved with Sahiyo has helped to reduce the pain of being a victim of FGC. It makes me feel so good that I’m able to be a voice of Sahiyo, and to help spread the word that FGC is harmful, unnecessary and traumatizing. Ever since I realized I’m a survivor of FGC (my memory had blocked it out), I have been wanting to do something to stop FGC and through Sahiyo I get to do it. It has given me the courage to be able to talk to my cousins and friends to not have it done to their daughters or other girls in the family.

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

Every little bit counts. There are many small jobs that need help inside the organization which we, as outsiders, don’t realize. So please volunteer and help out in those jobs. The founder members are already doing a lot of selfless work and spending lots of time to make Sahiyo a strong voice, and every little thing you can do to help them will help Sahiyo become stronger.

Sahiyo Volunteer Spotlight: Lubaina Plumber

Lubaina Plumber is a U.S. based volunteer who has been with Sahiyo for a year now. She was a human rights lawyer in Mumbai who just graduated from Washington University School of Law, St Louis with her Masters in Law. She plans to continue her education in the field of public policy and management to build a career and life in which she can effectively support every cause believes in. To learn more about how she has supported our work at Sahiyo, read her interview below.Photo 2

  1. When did you first get involved with Sahiyo?

I got in touch with Zehra Patwa, whose article I read a few years ago and she, in turn, put me in touch with Mariya Taher. I spoke to Mariya about opportunities to work for the cause and began my journey, being involved with Sahiyo.

  1. What opportunities have you been involved with at Sahiyo?

I have written some articles, worked on a handbook and other material and actively participated on the Whatsapp group, set up the Instagram page, and try to do as much as time permits when the opportunity presents itself.

  1. How has your involvement impacted your life?

Working with an organization teaches one a lot about group involvement, support, and unity. Being involved with an organization that fights for a cause that is very personal for me, is like having a platform for your voice. Sahiyo has given me the gentle push and reminder to keep fighting for my cause, whether or not I see results immediately.

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

I am an advocate and fan of being involved with organizations that support the causes you believe in. Support is the best way of showing your concern and using your time wisely. I would say that people should be open-minded and not hesitate to raise questions — if there is something you don’t agree with, ask and you will receive answers. My personal experience has lead me to believe that Sahiyo respects their volunteers and their opinions as much as we do the cause and the fight for it.

Sahiyo Volunteer Spotlight: Chandni Shiyal

Sahiyo is an organization with the mission to empower Asian communities to end female genital cutting through community collaboration, and this work could not be done without dedicated volunteers supporting us. To show our appreciation, we would like to spotlight those volunteers who have made invaluable contributions to this organisation.

Chandni Shiyal, a Ph.D. scholar in Mumbai, has been involved with Sahiyo almost from its inception, as a committed field worker reaching out to Bohra women at the grassroots level. Read about her Sahiyo experience below, in her own words:

1) When did you first get involved with Sahiyo?img-20161026-wa0000

I first got involved with the organisation when Sahiyo was established. My involvement began when I came in contact with one of Sahiyo’s co-founders Aarefa Johari after I started pursuing my Ph.D. research focusing exclusively on FGC in India and Africa.

2) What opportunities have you been involved with at Sahiyo?

I have written a blog and also helped handle logistics during the first media workshop organised by Sahiyo. I have also been interviewing many Bohra friends and Bohra women regarding Khatna or FGC. By interviewing them I had the opportunity to have deliberate discussions with them and learn more about their perception and views on Khatna. I shared with them my own findings about the social, physical and psychological impact of this practice. A few of my interviewees reacted positively towards opposing FGC and said they would make sure that their daughters did not undergo Khatna though they themselves were subjected to this practice.

3) How has your involvement impacted your life?

I have been concerned about women’s issues and have always wanted to work and contribute to women’s causes. I was very impressed by the efforts of seventeen courageous women who openly signed a petition against Khatna, a sensitive issue that was never discussed on a larger scale in India and kept secret within the community itself. Being part of group discussions with co-founders of Sahiyo and volunteers across the world has built more confidence in me to stand up for women’s rights.

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

To achieve women’s equality is not just the responsibility of women but the responsibility of the entire community itself. There are various forms of violence like FGM, domestic violence, rape, etc. faced by millions of women each day across the world. Everyone should not remain silent but come forward to build a discrimination-free world, where every woman is respected and they have the right to live life according to their choice and decisions.

Short Bio:

Chandni Shiyal has completed her M.Phil. on the subject of Female Circumcision/Female Genital Mutilation in Africa: A Case Study of Ethiopia  from the Centre for African Studies, University of Mumbai. She recently published a book titled Female Circumcision/ Female Genital Mutilation: A Human Rights Violation A Case Study of Ethiopia. Ms. Shiyal is currently a Ph.D. student researching on Gender Inequality and Women’s Health: A Comparative Study of Ethiopia and India.

Sahiyo Volunteer Spotlight: Mariya Ali

 

Sahiyo is an organization with the mission to empower Asian communities to end female genital cutting through community collaboration, and this work could not be done without dedicated volunteers supporting us. To show our appreciation, Sahiyo would like to begin spotlighting those volunteers who have made invaluable contributions to our organization.

Mariya Ali is a U.K. based volunteer who has been with Sahiyo for over a year now. She is a mariyaaliproficient writer and has a fine eye for detail. To learn more about how she has supported our work, read her interview below.

1) When did you first get involved with Sahiyo?

I first got involved with Sahiyo in July 2015. A friend of mine spotted an article that I wrote on FGC and connected me with her cousin, who is a co-founder of Sahiyo.

2) What opportunities have you been involved with at Sahiyo?

I contribute to the putting together of the Sahiyo newsletter and I have written some articles that have been posted on the Sahiyo blog. I have also had the pleasure to meet other people who have the same passion as I do to end this practice.

3) How has your involvement impacted your life?

For many years I couldn’t really connect with anyone about what had happened to me – it was an unspoken event and a memory that I wasn’t able to understand. I’ve found a network of people who are supportive and understanding and we all have a common goal. I’ve found a forum where I can ask questions. I also feel like I am finally part of something that is making an impact and part of a collective voice that is finally being heard.

Working with Sahiyo has given me a deep sense of contentment. The pinnacle for me was when a friend of mine, who is a mother of two young girls, told me that through reading the articles that I shared, she had decided not to perform FGC on her daughters. Something as simple as sharing a post can have a significant impact.

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

Don’t be afraid of speaking up. You may think that your voice is a whisper, but many voices together make a roar. Even if it is in your own home, break the taboo. This is not a private, personal issue; This is a violation of human rights.