Upcoming webinar: Exploring the connections between religion and female genital cutting

By Sarah Boudreau, Programs Intern

Event: Exploring the Connections Between Religion and Female Genital Cutting

Date: Thursday, October 28, 2021

Time: 2pm EST

Registration Link: https://bit.ly/ReligionAndFGC

On October 28, 2021, Sahiyo will be hosting a webinar, ‘Exploring the Connection Between Religion and Female Genital Cutting’ (FGC). 

This harmful practice is often attributed to certain religions or cultures. Some might say these acts are justified because they are tradition or holy, not to be argued by those outside of the community. But does religion alone truly perpetuate the practice of FGC? How do survivors of FGC view the topics of religion and spirituality? And how do these things affect them in their day-to-day lives as women?

This virtual event will answer these questions and examine the FGC through a religious lens, including why it occurs and how it affects millions of women around the world. We will hear 3 expert speakers raise their voices while sharing insightful professional and personal experiences.The webinar will be moderated by Sahiyo U.S. Executive Director Mariya Taher and includes a panel discussion featuring Sameera Qureshi, Rahmah Abdulaleem, and more speakers to come.

Register today and join us as we listen, learn, and advocate for change for the future.

In addition, this webinar is part of a larger public awareness campaign that explores both connections and disconnections between religion and FGC, which Sahiyo will be initiating on October 28, in honor of the International Day of the Girl Child. When advocates speak about religion and its relationship with FGC, the conversation is usually focused on attempting to disprove the relationship and connection, rather than to uplift and highlight the idea that no religion should be permitted  to promote harm to a child. This campaign will explore the major themes connecting religion and FGC, emphasizing how religion should never be used to cause harm, regardless of leadership or textual sayings. Our hope in creating this campaign is  that we will educate the broader public on the right for women to choose and give consent, as well as the importance of agency over their own bodies. 

Speaker Bios: 

Sameera Qureshi, MS OTR, is an Occupational Therapist and Sexual Health Educator. For the last twelve years, Sameera has worked at the intersections of mental and sexual health education within Muslim communities, both in Canada and the United States. After twelve years in non-profit spaces, she founded her own business, Sexual Health for Muslims, in the Fall of 2020. The goal of her work is to create online, comprehensive sexual health education for Muslims, grounded in the tradition of Islamic spirituality and psychology. Sameera’s approach not only addresses the body and mind, but more so the soul, which is what Muslims are tasked with gaining self-awareness of. Apart from offering comprehensive, online sexual health courses for Muslims, she also provides one-on-one consultations, premarital education sessions, and regularly collaborates with Muslim organizations and other professionals in the field. Sameera also facilitates professional development opportunities for sexual and mental health providers who intersect and work with Muslim clients and communities. You can find her work on Instagram @sexualhealthformuslims, and on her website www.sexualhealthformuslims.com.

Rahmah A. Abdulaleem is the Executive Director of KARAMAH: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights. which aims  to create a global network of advocates who are both knowledgeable about the gender-equitable principles of Islam, and are able to advance the cause of Muslim women’s rights in legal and social environments. Ms. Abdulaleem  works with scholars to empower advocates about the rights Islamic law grants to women; she also  educates Muslim women in Islamic jurisprudence, leadership, and conflict resolution so they may become the leading agents of change within their communities. Ms. Abdulaleem has coordinated and presented at educational and civil rights programs around the world. Ms. Abdulaleem obtained her J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School and worked at a top international corporate law firm for 14 years. You can learn more about her work on her website https://karamah.org.

Sahiyo’s new book club officially launches in October

Event: Sahiyo Discusses: Seven by Farzana Doctor

Date: October 13th, 2021

Tme: 8 pm EST

Registration Link: https://www.flipcause.com/secure/cause_pdetails/MTI0Mzc5?mc_cid=58973cee37&mc_eid=UNIQID  

Starting this October 2021, Sahiyo is officially launching our book club, Sahiyo Discusses, with our inaugural event, Sahiyo Discusses: Seven by Farzana Doctor

Designed to bring people together through literature, art, and media, this club will host quarterly meetings to bring together activists and allies in Sahiyo’s network to discuss the chosen piece of media. With themes ranging from feminism, equality, bodily autonomy, women-centered movements, and sexual empowerment – this club will focus on uplifting the stories and experiences of women everywhere.  

Our first meeting will be held on October 13th, at 8 pm EST over Zoom. We will be joined by Farzana Doctor, who will talk about her novel, Seven

Seven explores themes of family, culture, politics, and FGM/C with a surprising ending. Sahiyo Discusses members will have the opportunity to discuss the book with Farzana as well as ask pertinent questions. 

Admission to Sahiyo Discusses will be on a pay-what-you-can basis, with a recommended suggested $10.00 USD donation per event.  

If you or anyone in your network is interested in joining us please register and donate here

Thank you all for your continued dedication to Sahiyo’s mission, and we look forward to seeing you all there! 

Struggle, belonging, and community: Sahiyo and StoryCenter hosted a Voices to End FGM/C screening

By Sandra Yu

On August 19th, 2021, Sahiyo and StoryCenter co-hosted a film screening and panel discussion to highlight voices from the Voices to End FGM/C Digital Storytelling workshop. The event showcased eleven new digital stories, created virtually by a global group of advocates and survivors of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), during January and February. 

Mariya Taher of Sahiyo and Amy Hill of StoryCenter, two facilitators of the annual workshop, led an audience Q&A and presented storytelling methodology, while two guest speakers, Nafisa (pseudonym) and Lola Ibrahim (Yoruba, English), shared their experiences with the digital storytelling workshop itself. Of the eleven stories shown, three were premiered at the event and had not been released to the public yet. The full collection can be found here, with stories continuing to be released. 

“I feel liberated,” Nafisa said. “I feel lighter, and I feel scared all at once. I wanted to talk about this work and khatna and the challenges that are faced in the community for many years.”

The 2021 Voices digital collection succeeded tremendously in capturing the core concept of oppressive social norms. Almost reminiscent of short vignettes, each digital story actualized the abstract concept of social norms into concrete experiences. The stories stood individually as personal narratives of struggle, belonging, and community. Comparatively, this collection presented the larger struggles of individuals and collectives in battling gender-based violence. 

In response, audience members engaged deeply with each story, typing out messages with empathy and gratitude to each storyteller for taking up the challenge of telling their stories. It was uplifting to see how the digital stories could elicit such reactions of allyship and community-building, even within a Zoom chat. 

My personal highlight from the event was hearing Nafisa and Lola reflect on their experiences of storytelling and tackle the nuances of FGM/C in their respective communities. The digital storytelling workshop was evidently transformative, in similar and different ways for each participant. 

“Sharing my shame can make a difference,” Lola said. “You understand that. Because you own that story. And you’re able to tell the story. So you’re no longer ashamed.”

Lola’s transformation of shame to acceptance of her story is stunning to hear. Through the workshop, she found a close-knit community to listen and empathize with her story. By producing a digital story, she now engages a global community to respond to her story. 

“I felt powerless because in the world that we live in, when you’re anonymous, you feel like your voice is taken away,” said Nafisa. “You don’t have an identity, but I think sharing my story has allowed me to have a voice or has created a space for me. It has put the power back in my hands.”

Nafisa’s story is equally hopeful. Despite her anonymity, Nafisa proudly holds ownership of her story and continues to advocate against FGM/C. 

Sahiyo is excited to announce the upcoming 2022 Voices to End FGM/C digital storytelling workshop, as part of their continued partnership with StoryCenter. This workshop is open to all individuals who have a story to share about how they, or someone they know, have been impacted by FGC, and will be held virtually.

For those interested in taking part, please fill out the application by Friday, December 11, 2021.

Read more about the 2022 workshop and/or donate to support the Voices project

Practitioner and advocate training: Best practices for working with survivors of gender-based violence

In June Sahiyo partnered with Hidden Scars to host a training for practitioners and advocates working with survivors of gender-based violence (GBV) and female genital cutting (FGC). 

Gender-based violence (GBV) is a reality for many women and girls. The World Health Organization reports that one in three women will experience sexual or physical violence in her lifetime. Yet, GBV often remains hidden and shrouded in silence and shame. At the core of providing better prevention, protection, health, and social support services for women and girls are stronger data, enhanced research, and community engagement. Our presentation explored how practitioners can provide trauma-informed care to survivors of GBV, using FGC as a case study. We also provided resources for clinicians and other front-line professionals who may come in contact with women impacted by both, and who are looking to better understand how to provide better care. 

While Sahiyo’s expertise is in addressing FGC, we acknowledge that FGC is a form of gender-based violence and child abuse. Our team felt that many of the lessons that can be learned about how to help survivors of FGC could also be applied to all forms of GBV. Like other forms of gender-based violence, such as domestic violence, FGC is a learned behavior of childhood, and is often surrounded by a culture of silence and shame, and is a form of generational violence. However, GBV can also include childhood marriage, rape, sexual assault, honor crimes, domestic violence, and other crimes against women. While we used FGC as a case study, our goal was to create a training that would allow practitioners to provide better care to all survivors of gender-based violence. 

During this event, we provided an overview of FGM/C and GBV, as well as shared videos from our Voices to End FGM/C project. These videos helped our audience better understand the complicated emotions and experiences survivors go through, and to begin to think about how they as providers can better support them in their journey toward healing. We also shared tools such as the George Washington University FGM/C Toolkit, Mumkin, and other resources that are available to help them and their organizations think about how to provide better care to surviors.

Finally, in order to facilitate conversations and help our guests practice communicating with survivors, we also hosted mock conversations. These conversations were held with the goal to help practitioners become more comfortable speaking with survivors and to practice having productive conversations with patients.

We strongly encourage anyone who works in healthcare or provides direct services to survivors of GBV or FGC to watch the recording of this event on our YouTube page, or check out these additional resources below: 

Voices reflection: Revealing my hidden narrative

By Absa Samba

When I signed up to participate in the Voices to End FGM/C online digital storytelling workshop, I starting thinking about what story I would tell. So many incoherent ideas ran to my mind. It wasn’t until I attended the first session that I knew what story I wanted to tell. During the session, we watched sample stories that really centered my idea.

I have shared my experience as a survivor of female genital mutilation/cutting many times, but it wasn’t until this workshop that I realized that there was a part of my story that I had never shared. It was the opportunity to be surrounded by people with both an interest in ending the practice of FGM/C and lived experience that gave me the confidence to share this part of my story. When I speak about my experience as a survivor of FGM/C, people ask, “Why would anyone subject a person to an inhumane practice?” As an activist, I ask myself why I cannot convince some of my family members, the people I love, about the harmful effects of this practice.

The opportunity to participate in the workshop created a space for me to be vulnerable and feel supported while sharing the space with people who are doing just the same. Together, we learned, shared, supported and healed.

Voices Series: Why I still speak up about 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 Zenab Banu

I am involved in the movement to end female genital cutting (FGC) since I came to understand its impact on my married life. We had discussed the problem in 1987 in an All World Bohra Women’s Conference which was organized by the Bohra Youth Girls’ Wing in Udaipur. Sadly, the resolution that passed was not followed up. But I continued speaking up. I feel FGC should end because the rights of personal choice of a girl child and her bodily integrity have been violated without much concern by the society.

I have also attended the second Activist Retreat organized by Sahiyo, which took place in Mumbai where participants from various parts of India attended the retreat. It was a very good experience in meeting like-minded people and having long discussions, as well as learning different perspectives and ways to end the practice.

Later, when I got the opportunity to be part of Global Voices to End FGM/C, a storytelling project by Sahiyo together with StoryCenter, I was very much excited to be part of it. I really enjoyed the process of writing, recording and creating visuals of my story, though a lot of memories were triggered during the process, and I became emotional. 

My overall experience of the workshop was good. But think it would be more exciting if we could meet in person with other participants, rather than doing it virtually.

I feel that the We Speak Out group and Sahiyo are doing great work in raising awareness on the issue. I hope the movement ignites awareness, consciousness and creates public opinion among society in general and women in particular.

With this hope I have joined Sahiyo’s campaign against FGC. I have shared my own story of cutting, and I hope that more women will come out and share their stories and support to end FGC.

Voices to End FGM/C Launch: 27 survivors and activists create videos to share their stories

Important links:
Watch the Voices to End FGM/C survivor and activist videos here, as they are released every week.
Read blogs by participants of Voices to End FGM/C by following the “Voices Series” here.

Today, the occasion of the International Day of Zero Tolerance towards Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C), Sahiyo and StoryCenter are proud to announce the release of ‘Voices to End FGM/C’, a series of 27 short videos addressing FGM/C, created by survivors and advocates from countries and communities around the world. 

‘Voices to End FGM/C’ supports women and men impacted by this issue to tell their own stories, through their own perspectives, in their own words. Participants receive training on how to create videos at workshops held either in-person or via webinars.

Says Global Voices Storyteller and FGM/C survivor Su Sun,  “Participating in this storytelling process was for me to be audacious, heal, and denounce how women’s bodies are subjected to violence in many different ways. To share this process with other women was a beautiful process of collective empowerment that allowed us not to be invisible and do so while using our imagination, art, poetry, music, colours.”

The program was first launched in May 2018 as ‘Sahiyo Stories’, when Sahiyo and StoryCenter hosted a residential workshop on digital storytelling for nine FGM/C survivors in Berkeley, California, in the United States. The videos created at that workshop, which have been screened at various events transnationally, can be viewed here.

In 2019, Sahiyo Stories was expanded into the Voices to End FGM/C program, under which two residential workshops were conducted in the U.S. and one webinar-based workshop was conducted for 10 FGM/C survivors living around the world. Most participants in these workshops had not previously shared their personal experiences with FGM/C. They received primary training from StoryCenter, which helped them write their own scripts and curate their own photographs and videos clips to make the finished videos. Some participants also worked in partnership with illustrators/visual artists to aid in the storytelling.

The 27 new digital stories emerging from Sahiyo and StoryCenter workshops will be released every Monday on Sahiyo’s Youtube page at http://bit.ly/VoicesFGMCVideos .

Says Mariya Taher, Sahiyo Co-founder, US Network to End FGM/C Steering Committee Member, Voices to End FGM/C Program Director, and FGM/C Survivor, “I believe that to create change, we have to speak about the harms in our community — and storytelling allows us to do that in a safe and non-judgemental way. The online Voices to End FGM/C digital storytelling workshop has allowed survivors from around the world to connect to each other in a way that truly shows that FGC is a global issue requiring a global response.”

Amy Hill, Silence Speaks Director, StoryCenter,  explains Story Center’s motivation: “StoryCenter remains deeply committed to supporting women’s rights storytelling, through our Silence Speaks program. The partnership with Sahiyo on Voices to End FGM/C is rooted in the importance of creating safe environments where storytellers can forge new understandings of their own life experiences, repair fractured relationships with family members and other loved ones, and establish meaningful, new connections with their peers who are speaking out. Our hope is that collectively, these stories will influence conversations, community action, and policies in ways that ensure future generations of girls are spared.”

Sahiyo Hosts ‘Thaal Pe Charcha’ Iftar Party in Mumbai

On May 11, Sahiyo India hosted a special Thaal Pe Charcha “Iftar” dinner in Mumbai during the holy month of Ramzan. The event was attended by 24 women and men from the Bohra community, who came together to break their Ramzan fasts and also mark two years since Sahiyo launched its flagship programme of Thaal Pe Charcha. 
Photo 1
Loosely translated as “discussions over food”, Thaal Pe Charcha provides community members with a safe and intimate platform to share their stories, experiences, and feelings about the practice of Female Genital Cutting, while bonding over traditional Bohra food. At least 50 community members have participated in Thaal Pe Charcha events over the past two years, and the Iftar dinner on May 11 saw five new participants join in, with several questions about the nature of the practice of FGC in the community, the arguments for and against it, and the work done by the movement against the practice. 

Two of the participants also brought their children for the event, including the seven-year-old daughter of Zohra, an FGC survivor. Girls in the Bohra community are typically cut at age seven, and Zohra expressed pride in the fact that she would not be continuing the practice on her daughter. 

The first Thaal Pe Charcha in Pune city

Earlier, in April, a Bohra FGC survivor and activist from Pune city hosted a small Thaal Pe Charcha lunch at her own home. The survivor, who identifies herself with the pseudonym Xenobia, had participated in Sahiyo India’s 2019 Activists’ Retreat in January. One of the workshops at the retreat was about hosting one’s own Thaal Pe Charcha in order to expand the conversations about FGC to more people. Xenobia was one of the first participants to volunteer to host her own Thaal Pe Charcha after the workshop, and the lunch she hosted at her house had 7 participants. 

Read about Xenobia’s experience of hosting the lunch in her own words, by clicking here.

Sahiyo Staff Spotlight: Lara Kingstone

Lara Kingstone started her career in community organizing in a UK-based program designed to integrate London communities and empower youth to become active and engaged citizens. Lara earned a BA in Political Communications at IDC Herzliya, an Israeli University, while working as a journalist at The Culture Trip and producing and hosting a human rights radio program. She then worked at an educational center which aimed to help Palestinian and Israeli young people learn English together, and get to know each other as peers and partners in peace. After graduating, she moved to the Thai-Lao border where she volunteered at Child Rights and Protection Center, a small non-profit which aims to prevent human trafficking and gender-based violence, while providing a safe and confidence-building living environment for at-risk young women. Lara then moved to Boston, and interned with Big Sister before starting her part-time role at Silver Lining Mentoring as an Outreach Coordinator, where she aims to find volunteers to become long-term mentors for youth in foster care.

She joined Sahiyo in August 2018.

When and how did you first get involved with Sahiyo?

In August 2018, I applied for the role of Communications Assistant, thrilled to see that an organization that so closely aligned with my interests was hiring. I have a background in non-profit work, and working to ensure dignity and human rights for women globally. I’d been interested in Female Genital Cutting, and the work to end the practice for years, doing a thesis paper on it in college, and had actually heard of Sahiyo a few years prior, whilst learning about global efforts to end FGC.

What is the nature of your work at Sahiyo?

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I’m now the Communications Coordinator. The work is constantly different, which I enjoy. It varies from working on grant applications and event reports, to supervising our lovely social media interns, to providing administrative assistance to the team. And anything else that pops up!

How has your involvement in this work impacted your life?

Joining Sahiyo has been incredible. I’ve been hit with a rush of motivation and energy, because I feel intensely passionate about the work and organization. I find myself truly inspired by our global team, and all the partners we connect with. I’m confident in the leadership as they have experience and knowledge of the community and practice we’re focusing on. I trust this team of brave, resilient and hard-working women, and I’m so honored to be able to support the work in any way I can. From day one it’s been intense and challenging, and I find myself constantly learning and growing with it. It’s very exciting being with such a fast-growing organization like Sahiyo, and getting to see the rapid changes and progress the team makes. I’m a big fan, and hope to be onboard for a long time.

Is there any advice you would like to share with others interested in joining or supporting Sahiyo’s work?

Do it! Sahiyo has so many different opportunities for being involved, even offering anonymous ‘Private Activism’ for those who are more comfortable in that capacity. If you have skills to bring to the table and feel passionately about Sahiyo’s goal, joining is definitely a worthwhile move, that will leave you feeling connected, empowered and proud to be part of this whirlwind movement.

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.