Sahiyo began in early 2015 as a conversation between five women who felt strongly about the ritual of female genital cutting (khatna) in the Bohra community. The group includes a social worker, a researcher, two filmmakers and a journalist, and all of them had already been speaking out, in their own ways, against the practice of khatna. As their collaboration grew, they realized the need for an organized, informed forum within the community that could help drive a movement to bring an end to khatna. That is how Sahiyo, the organization, was born.
Sahiyo is dedicated to empowering Dawoodi Bohra and other Asian communities to end female genital cutting (FGC) and create positive social change. By working towards an FGC-free world, they aim to recognize and emphasize the values of consent and a child’s/woman’s right over her own body. They aim to enable a culture in which female sexuality is not feared or suppressed but embraced as normal.
Sahiyo is the Bohra Gujarati word for ‘saheliyo’, or friends, and reflects their organization’s mission to engage in dialogue with the community to find a collective solution towards ending the practice of FGC or khatna.
The NGO has received international recognition for its community-based approach in addressing FGC through research, public awareness campaigns, their website’s story-sharing platform, and advocacy initiatives.
In July 2015, Sahiyo launched an exploratory online survey to understand the purpose, extent and impact of khatna among Bohras. The survey was created with inputs from experts like Dr. Gerry Mackie, Molly Melching (Tostan), and members of the German-Iraqi NGO Wadi.
The khatna global survey found that Dawoodi Bohras practiced khatna in the following locations: Australia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Canada, India, Kenya, Kuwait, Malaysia, New Zealand, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Tanzania, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and the United States. The survey also found that of the approximately 400 survey respondents, 80% had undergone FGC. Thirty-one percent of respondents resided in the United States; after India, this was the second largest group of participants who responded to the survey. Survey results showed a definite need for community awareness and engagement programs to bring the subject of FGC out of the realm of secrecy and promote discussions about its adverse effects.
In January 2016, Sahiyo was invited to participate in a pan Asian conference in Singapore organized by Wadi, Stop FGM Middle East and Aware, that targeted capacity building programs on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting among Asian countries.
In February 2016, Sahiyo along with Speak Out on FGM ran ‘Each One Reach One’, a month-long campaign to encourage people to have a conversation about khatna with at least one other Bohra they knew.
In March 2016, Sahiyo next initiated the “I Am Bohra Photo campaign”, encouraging women and men to lend their faces to the movement by posting photos of themselves with placards saying, ‘I am Bohra and I oppose khatna because…’. Both campaigns have given momentum towards this growing movement of ending khatna within the community.
Also, in March 2016, Sahiyo was invited to attend the 60th Annual Commission on the Status of Women Conference in New York and for the first time, the Dawoodi Bohras community was highlighted as a FGC practicing community.
In April 2016, the University Women’s Association (UWA), along with the Poona Women’s Council, the Family Planning Association of India, Women’s Studies Center, ILS
Law College, Pune Women’s Forum, Miloon Saryajani, Nari Samata Manch, General Practitioners Association, Sahiyo, Speak Out on FGM and Sassoon Hospital organized a program that aimed towards creating a dialogue amongst stakeholders on female genital cutting in Pune.
In May 2016, Sahiyo spoke at a side event on FGC at the Women Deliver Conference in Copenhagen.
While in June 2016, Sahiyo partnered with Breakthrough to show the connections between FGC and other forms of gender-based violence by exposing how rigid gender norms and ideas around female sexuality, and consent, amongst others, support and enable a culture where violence is normalized. Stories from survivors of FGC and their allies went live on Breakthrough’s digital storytelling platform, THE G WORD: Transforming gender norms, one story at a time.
In July 2016, Sahiyo received news that the organization was awarded two grants to further our work in ending FGC within Dawoodi Bohra communities in India and globally. The International Association of Women in Radio and Television awarded Sahiyo a grant to conduct a media training workshop in Mumbai to teach the media how to approach the topic of khatna in a culturally sensitive, non-sensationalized way that does not cause undue harm to survivors or FGC activists. Additionally, the Wallace Global Fund awarded Sahiyo a grant to Orchid Project, as support for the organizational setup of Sahiyo. The grant allows Sahiyo to strengthen their community mobilization programs.
Sahiyo also organised its first Twitter chat in July 2016, with the purpose of fostering debate and dialogue on the topic of FGC among the Bohras.
Also, in July 2016, Nari Smata Manch recognized ‘Sahiyo’ for its contributions to build a dialogue around the practice of khatna or FGC with the ‘Daughter of Maharashtra’ Award. Meanwhile, Mariya and Shaheeda attended the Tostan Training Centre (TTC) in Senegal as Orchid Project Fellows. Their trainings serve individuals and groups who share a commitment to human dignity, transformative learning, holistic empowerment, and collective action.
In August 2016, Sahiyo held a media workshop in partnership with the International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT). At a time when the issue of FGC has been getting widespread media attention, the objective of the workshop was to train journalists on how to sensitively and effectively report on the practice.
In September 2016, Sahiyo participated in the “Gender Justice” panel session at the Islamic Society of North America Annual Conference.
In October 2016, Sahiyo conducted at the Justice and Peace Commission in Mumbai. This Commission is one of many organisations run by the Catholic Church in Mumbai to work with local communities across religious lines.
In November 2016, Sahiyo took part in the “Orange the World” campaign, highlighting orange as a bright and optimistic color to signal a future free of gender-based violence.
In December 2016, Sahiyo participated in the End Violence Against Girls: Summit on FGM/C in Washington, DC at the U.S. Institute of Peace.
In January 2017, Sahiyo launched a change.org petition calling on the U.N. and other international bodies to invest more research and support towards ending FGC in Asia. The petition was launched in collaboration with 33 organizations from around the world.
In February 2017, Sahiyo released a media toolkit to help media report sensitively on the topic of female genital cutting in a manner that promotes abandonment within communities. Additionally, Sahiyo released a two-year exploratory study on FGC within the Dawoodi Bohra community. The study showed that 81% of the survey participants wanted FGC to end within the community.
A big part of Sahiyo’s efforts to build conversations around FGC is storytelling. The Stories and Narratives section on Sahiyo’s website regularly publishes personal stories of women from the Dawoodi Bohra community and other Asian communities who have undergone FGC, as well as men who are speaking out to support this cause.