Sahiyo launches special toolkit to help the media report sensitively on Female Genital Cutting

On the eve of International Zero Tolerance Day for Female Genital Cutting 2017, Sahiyo is proud to launch its first media toolkit developed to promote sensitive and effective depiction of Female Genital Cutting/Mutilation (FGC/M) with special reference to Khatna in the Dawoodi Bohra community.

This toolkit will be available as an open-source, freely downloadable and distributable content for journalists, writers, bloggers, filmmakers, designers and other organisations who want to understand how to effectively and sensitively talk about the practice of Khatna.


FGC/M is a complex subject involving many socio-cultural factors.


The guidelines and examples in the toolkit  are intended to ensure that all media actors reporting on FGC/M are aware of these factors and are able to prioritize the ethical considerations that preserve the safety, confidentiality, and dignity of survivors, their families, their communities, and those who are trying to help them such as NGOs like Sahiyo.

This document is divided into four broad sections:

  • An introduction to Female Genital Cutting/Mutilation ‘Khatna’ as a social norm and the role of key terminologies
  • ‘Khatna’ as a social norm and the role of key terminologies
  • The impact of visuals in influencing the readers and
  • best practices for effective reporting.

We have elaborated on a nuanced use of terminology, visuals and reportage, illustrating best practices and ways for media to impact the movement on the practice effectively.


Through this toolkit, our objective is to offer an insider’s perspective on reporting and writing, to guide the media on how to create awareness in a sensitive manner that promotes social change about ‘Khatna’ or ‘Female Genital Cutting’ prevalent in the Dawoodi Bohra community in India and its diaspora worldwide.

This resource guide acknowledges the role of the media and organizations working to shed light on FGC/M .

We hope that this toolkit helps the media (or anyone interested in depicting the issue) in avoiding factual errors, sensationalized visuals, judgemental language and unintentional vilification of the community; to further be a stronger and effective partner in furthering a landmark movement to end Khatna among Bohras.

#NoMoreKhatna: Highlights from Sahiyo’s animated Twitter chat on FGC

On July 7, 2016, we at Sahiyo hosted our first Twitter chat on Female Genital Cutting (FGC) from our Twitter handle, @sahiyo2016.

The need for an online debate on this subject evolved for various reasons. For the past several months, Dawoodi Bohras on social media have been increasingly vocal about their varied views on female khatna. Then in May, a 17-year-old girl died in Egypt because of excessive bleeding caused by circumcision – a tragic reminder of the dangers of FGC even among cultures not known to practice severe forms of cutting. Finally, the controversy over khatna intensified in June, when prestigious news magazine The Economist published a shocking, irresponsible editorial advocating for the allowance of milder, medicalised forms of FGC.

Bohras, who predominantly practice Type 1 FGC – removal of the clitoral hood – were clearly divided on this issue and the time seemed ripe to have a debate on khatna on a platform as public and democratic as Twitter.

We used the hashtag #NoMoreKhatna for the Twitter chat, inviting anyone and everyone to participate – and overall, we can say that the chat was a success. A large number of individuals and prominent organisations joined in to make their voices heard, and we are thankful to all of them.

Twitter Logo poster

Most importantly, the chat included the voices of several Dawoodi Bohras who believe khatna must be practiced. Many of them took the trouble of creating new Twitter accounts to participate in this discussion, and their voices helped to showcase the challenges involved in changing social norms around khatna.

We began the chat with a set of basic questions: What is FGC? What are its types? What have you experienced or heard about Bohra khatna? What are the health consequences of FGC? The responses that emerged also led to other discussions.

We asked participants about the reasons given for the practice of FGC, and multiple points were brought up.

Unsurprisingly, the question of whether milder forms of FGC should be allowed – whether the practice should be treated as a medical procedure – sparked animated debate on the Twitter chat.

Another controversial aspect of the debate, of course, is the matter of a child’s consent and whether parents have the right to decide whether their daughter should be cut.

While these tweets are just excerpts from a much larger Twitter discussion held on July 7, you can read more about how the chat went by going through Sahiyo’s Twitter handle (@sahiyo2016) and the hashtag #NoMoreKhatna.

The chat helped us understand the challenges that lie ahead for all the women and men working to bring an end to khatna: even though any form of female genital cutting is non-consensual and a violation of a child’s universal human rights, the practice is steeped in faith and religion and there is a danger of khatna becoming medicalised in the Dawoodi Bohra community.

Fortunately, the Twitter discussion did not end after the two hours scheduled for the chat – it is encouraging to see that the debate continues even today!

To see the entire Twitter conversation on Storify, click here –

The Practice of Khatna or Female Genital Mutilation amongst the Dawoodi (Daudi) Bohra Shia Muslim Community – Part 1

(originally published on Ms. Dilshad Tavawala’s blog on  January 17, 2016. Reposted here with permission)

By Ms. Dilshad Tavawalla, B.A., LL.M., Barrister, Solicitor, Notary Public – Toronto, Canada

bohra woman with girl
Photo credit: Outlook Magazine, Dec 12, 2011

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) has been an international cause célèbre, and generated remarkable global attention for the past several decades.  At international and intergovernmental levels, there is unequivocal consensus that FGM/C represents an extreme violation of the human rights of women and children, a danger to sexual and reproductive health, a harmful practice and a form of gender-based violence, and that it must be abolished.  Nations around the world have intensified and expanded their commitment levels to FGM/C; more and more data has been collected, analysed and used; and the UN, its agencies and NGOs around the world have refined and scaled up their efforts on the ground to ban, and eradicate it.  In fact, the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting:  Accelerating Change is the largest global initiative to promote abandonment of the practice of FGM/C.

However, despite all this worldwide effort to end FGM/C, India in particular, has escaped much of the focus and global attention due to the fact ‘khatna or FGM/C is pervasive and secretly practised amongst the members of the Dawoodi Bohra Shia Muslim community (emphasis mine).  The cultural practice of khatna is non-existent, and virtually unknown in various Muslim sects, sub-sects and communities, as well as, other religious denominations found in India, namely, the Hindus, Christians, Parsis, Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs, etc. The Dawoodi Bohra Shia Muslim community, found in large numbers in India and Pakistan, and to a smaller extent, in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are the only Muslim community in the Indian sub-continent that practises FGM/C.

In November 2015, this secretive and clandestine practice known as khatna amongst the uniquely close-knit Dawoodi Bohra Shia Muslim community, attracted worldwide media attention. Three members of the Dawoodi Bohra(DB) community were convicted in Australia’s first ground-breaking prosecution of a FGM/C case where a retired nurse, a mother of the minor girls and a Dawoodi Bohra clergy member illegally participated in carrying out khatna on two minor girls. News of these convictions was reported worldwide in the media including newspapers such as UK’s The Guardian, The Times of India, Hindustan Times, and television news channels in India, Australian and UK.

This landmark Australian prosecution of members of the Dawoodi Bohras for illegally practising khatna has prompted several DB women in India to collectively speak out against this dangerous and harmful ritual.  Unfortunately, open discussion on FGM/C remains a taboo, even in developed countries due to cultural and religious relativism which has created a reluctance to openly confront and tackle ending FGM/C.

I do not wish this post to be seen as a criticism of the Dawoodi Bohra Shia Muslim community to which I belong, but rather a voice seeking to achieve the most fundamental values that underlie all religions, traditions and cultures – “do no harm to others”, which approach, I believe, will promote the wider issues of ending violence against girl children and women, and tackling gender equality in patriarchal societies.

The aim of this post is to also offer some cultural insight and understanding of the Dawoodi Bohra Shia Muslim community, to throw light, raise public awareness and capture the underground cultural practice of khatna through the words and lens of Dawoodi Bohra women living around the world.

I was born in, and belong to the Dawoodi Bohra Shia Muslim community.  I know khatna personally and intimately because it was performed on me at the age of 7 years.  The horror, trauma, grief and sadness remain with me till today.

To read Ms. Dilshad Tavawalla’s full article, please visit her personal page by clicking here



(Original Post on Imagining Equality Project Page, published in July 2014 by Global Fund for Women & International Museum of Women)

In this deeply personal piece, author Mariya Taher wrestles with and speaks out against khatna, female genital cutting, a tradition practiced by her family community. Read her story and the stories of six other interviewees below.



Having experienced khatna at a young age, I know firsthand the tremendous toll that a community’s traditions can have on the women and men who live according to them. What follows is my story and the story of six women interviewed for my thesis, who live in the United States and underwent khatna. The women ranged in age from 22 to 59 years, were born or spent the majority of their lives in the United States, and have some amount of higher education. They all experienced khatna between the ages of 5 to 7 years.

By interweaving their voices with my own khatna experience, I hope to show the wide spectrum of emotions and experiences involved in such a complicated practice. Most importantly, I hope to break the isolated feeling, the unspoken taboo surrounding FGC. We are not alone. FGC is a shared experience by many women, bound by tradition, living today.

“When men are oppressed, it’s a tragedy. When women are oppressed, it’s tradition.”

~ Letty Cottin Pogrebin

Female Genital Cutting (FGC). Some refer to it as Female Circumcision; others call it Female Genital Mutilation. As a child, I knew it as khatna. No matter the name, it is the process of removing part or all of the female genitalia. Within the Dawoodi Bohra religious community, a ritual performed on girls. I never knew it violated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, let alone was a practice criminalized in the United States by the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996.

According to the United Nation’s Children Fund, more than 125 million girls and women alive today have been cut in Africa and the Middle East. As many as 30 million girls are at risk of being cut over the next decade.[i] Within the United States, the Center for Disease Control, found that in 1990 an estimated 168,000 girls and women were living with or at risk for FGC. In 2000, it was found that an estimated 228,000 women had undergone the procedure or were at risk, resulting in a 35% increase from 1990.[ii]

The practice is categorized as violence against women, yet the community I was raised in, often praising themselves for emphasizing women’s education, practiced it. In graduate school, for my thesis, I sought to answer the question of why FGC continued in this day and age.

Upon initial research, I found, to my dismay, that reports on FGC within the United States, only included immigrant women from African countries where the practices was widely known to occur. Excluded from statistics were women like me, born in the United States, growing up in a community whose origins were from Asia and knew FGC to be an important tradition. Further, few qualitative studies, depicting the stories of women, American women, who had knowledge of the practice within this country existed. Here then is my story and the story of six women interviewed for my thesis, who live in the United States and underwent khatna. [iii]

I found, to my dismay, that few qualitative studies, depicting the stories of women, American women, who had knowledge of the practice within this country existed.

These women shared their experiences due to a promise of anonymity. They had to. They did not want loved ones – those who performed khatna or allowed their daughter to undergo it, getting in legal trouble.  Within the United States, consequences of contributing to FGC can result in removal of child custody, prison time and/or deportation.[iv]

The Khatna Stories

(Note: quotes from interviews are italicized)

The summer before I began second-grade, my family visited relatives in India. One morning, my mother and aunt took me to an apartment inside a run-down building located in Bhindi Bazaar, a Dawoodi Bohra populated neighborhood in south Mumbai. Inside the apartment, several elderly ladies dressed in saris greeted us. Initially there was laughter and much chatter. Then I was asked to lie on the bare floor. The frilly dress I wore was pulled up to reveal my midriff and my underwear pulled down, revealing parts I had been taught were to remain private. I couldn’t see what it was, but something sharp cut me and I began crying out in pain.

You’re given a pain injection, pain medication, to numb the area and the piece of skin that’s removed is not even a centimeter, not even a millimeter it’s so tiny.

Once the procedure was complete, my mother embraced me and the elderly ladies, trying to be friendly, handed me a soft drink called Thumbs-Up to chase away tears streaming down my face. We then left the dilapidated building and I hid the memory from my conscious for the next several years.

As a teenager I learned what happened was Type 1 FGC, where all or part of the clitoral hood is removed, sometimes along with the clitoris. But this image is not brought to people’s minds with FGC is mentioned. Instead, Type III or infibulation, the most severe form, involving removal of all or part of the external genitalia, is the form garnering the most attention. Leaving Type 1 to be understudied.

People try to generalize the practice. They put it in a box, so when you think of FGM you think of tribal communities in Africa. African girls getting sewn up and glass bottles and shards of glass cutting them and you think of the worse, you think of the extreme.

After learning khatna violated human rights, I became angry with the Dawoodi Bohras and for a few years, I emotionally struggled with what had been done to me. I also wondered if khatna had negatively impaired my sexual abilities. Gynecologist today cannot distinguish any genitalia differences, perhaps there were no adverse effects. I do not know. But I alone did not have this fear:

I was scared because my mom always talks about how she hates sex and it’s the worst thing God ever created. It’s probably because she doesn’t fucking enjoy it. Geez, no wonder because who knows how much of her clitoris is gone.

Yet since learning what happened to me, I never once grew angry at my mother. She was doing what she believed was necessary for me to be a good Dawoodi Bohra girl. My mother was only following the traditions she had been raised with:

My mother told me she’d been approached by a woman in the community, an elder like the priest’s wife and she told my mother it was time for me to get it done. And my mom didn’t question it because she felt it was something that we all had to do. And she herself had done it and her mother before her had been cut.

And tradition is a hard beast to slay, if the practice becomes normalized, common, like getting your period:

It was something we all knew we had to get done at that age [7]…It’s like when you get your period…if other people have gotten it then it’s just a rite of passage and you’re ok.

Like any tradition, to those with family and friends who underwent the same procedure, and to see them come out okay, the fear and uncertainty of the unknown is taken away.  But for others, there is an emotionally scarring that cannot be erased.

I felt violated. I felt it was a situation completely out of my control. I went through everything you go through in a trauma- although it happened many years before. I went through that trauma at 19 and it lasted for years. I was depressed. I was acting out.

Some suffered. Some did not. There had to be a reason why this centuries old practice was continued generations after generation. I learned of many reasons:

I don’t know if it’s a definition of being Muslim or if it’s one of the criteria for having to become Muslim, but it is a pretty important factor when people convert to Islam they have to get this done…I mean not just for an external appearance or for society to know it has been done. I mean not for that reason alone, but it somehow affects your mind and body and that change is necessary for you to become Muslim. In that regard I would get it done, but to be honest I would just continue it because of the tradition.

I’ve asked around as to why it has been [performed] and I’ve gotten different answers like some of it’s just been for religious purposes, but our bhen sahab (religious clergy’s wife) told us it enhances your sexual experience but I’ve heard otherwise. I think it’s more done because they’ve been following it for many years and they don’t stray from tradition.

Tradition constitutes the transmission of customs or beliefs between generations. Tradition was the overarching theme for continuing khatna among Dawoodi Bohras. The practice was believed to connect women to their culture and for those who agreed with the practice, it was part of their identity. Even when communities crossed oceans to establish new lives elsewhere, this tradition continued, providing a sense of comfort often lacking in an alien world.

I found through observation that people within the United States overcompensate for the fact they’re not living in India and far from their homeland. So they really make sure they stay within the culture that they know, so for that reason I feel they probably practice it more than people in India who have probably left the practice because they’re  around that community all the time and people here it’s like we don’t want to lose that culture, we don’t want our kids to lose that culture, so they abide by every single rule more so.

The need to hold on to culture is a strong pull within this community, perhaps more so in the United States, where the ideals and values often feel contradictory to those in the homeland.

I think it’s still done by a lot of our immigrant parents to their children here because of the western temptation and sex and partying and all of these things that their children are exposed to…that might not normally happened in India or Africa

Not all agree with the practice. Yet, speaking against it comes with consequences.

I didn’t want to [speak up and] make it bad for my parents because all they have is this community and they want to be a part of it and they choose to be a part of it. I don’t identify with it but it’s all they have. They’re here. They’re immigrants from another country. They’re not going to find people like them anywhere else. They need that and now they’re old and they want it even more.

She continues to explain:

It’s the social ostracism that people are worried about. Not belonging and the gossiping and the reputation trashing.

The need to belong, to feel socially accepted, a universal feeling, can prevent those who would oppose FGC from speaking, feeling they would be in the minority and not wanting to be socially excluded.

I shared the khatna stories, not so that any of us can be viewed as victims of an intolerable act, but to illustrate FGC is a complicated custom. It cannot simply be considered an act continued by ignorant people, the reasons given for its’ continuation have been rationalized and been given cultural or religious significance. My wish is not to disgrace this community but to demonstrate the role tradition plays in continuing a practice oppressive to women. Khatna is considered a private matter, not one to be discussed openly. Yet, that is the first step towards bringing an end to this centuries old practice imposing violence on women. Let the conversation continue.


[i] Retrieved June 30, 2014, from UNICEF –

[ii] Female Genital Cutting Research. (2008, February 11). African Women’s Health Center. Retrieved October 4, 2012, from Brigham and Women’s Hospital:

[iii] World Health Organization. (2010, February). Female genital mutilation. Retrieved on

April 12, 2010 from

[iv] Legislation on Female Genital Mutilation in the United States. (2004, November).

Retrieved March 20, 2009, from Center For Reproductive Rights:

– See more at: