Texas woman charged for Female Genital Cutting: Sahiyo press statement

A woman from Houston, Texas (USA) has been charged under federal United States’ law for transporting a minor out of the country for the purpose of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C). 

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) which is investigating this case, the 39-year-old woman allegedly transported the child sometime between July 10 to October 14, 2016. 

This is the first time that the US Department of Justice has indicted anyone under this specific clause of the US anti-FGM/C law, i.e, transporting a minor girl outside of US borders to facilitate the practice of genital cutting. While FGM/C has been illegal in the United States since 1996, this clause was introduced in 2013. 

The FBI is investigating the case with the support of the Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center, a government agency that works to identify, locate and prosecute human rights abusers in the US. 

While further details about this case are awaited, it is important to note that the Houston woman has not been charged under the new federal anti-FGM/C law that was signed by the US President on January 5. Since the alleged crime took place in 2016, she has been charged under section 116(d) of the older federal law against FGM/C.

The older federal law has been the subject of controversy since April 2017, when two Michigan doctors and six other members of the Dawoodi Bohra community became the first people to be prosecuted for performing/facilitating FGM/C on at least nine minor girls in the Michigan area. In November 2018, even though a US District Court judge acknowledged that FGM/C was a “despicable” practice, he ruled that the federal law prohibiting it was unconstitutional. 

This ruling was based on a technicality: the judge stated that FGM/C is considered a “local criminal activity” to be looked into at the state level rather than the federal or national level. The ruling triggered a controversy because it placed girls in the US at the risk of being cut. Only 39 out of 50 US states currently have laws prohibiting FGM/C, allowing room for girls to be transported across state borders to be subjected to the practice. 

The new “Stop FGM Act of 2020”, signed by the government this month, closes this loophole and allows federal authorities to prosecute people suspected of carrying out FGC anywhere in the country. 

Sahiyo statement:

We at Sahiyo have been advocating for a complete end to the harmful practice of Female Genital Cutting, also known as Khatna or Khafz in the Dawoodi Bohra community, since 2015. FGC is a violation of the rights and bodily integrity of women and girls, and can have long-term physical, psychological and sexual consequences for them. 

In light of this indictment of the Houston woman, we strongly urge members of all FGC-practicing communities to completely abandon this age-old ritual, not just because it is illegal in the US and several other countries, but because it is harmful, patriarchal, medically unnecessary, and detrimental to the well-being of girls and women. 

At the same time, we also urge all global media publications to report on this case — and on the subject of FGC — with sensitivity and nuance. We request the media to refrain from vilifying specific communities, or using terms such as “barbaric” or “mutilation” that might trigger a survivor’s trauma. To learn more, check out Sahiyo’s Guide: A Resource Guide To Best Practice For Sensitive and Effective Reporting on FGM/C.

For more information, email info@sahiyo.com or to contact Sahiyo U.S., email mariya@sahiyo.com.

मेरी अनुमति के बिना मेरे सबसे गुप्त अंगों को काटा गया

(This article was originally published in English on November 5, 2016. Read the English version here.)

उम्र: 64

देश: संयुक्त राज्य अमेरिका

महिला जननांग विकृति या FGM के खिलाफ खड़े होने का समय आ गया है। यह लंबे समय से बाकी है। यह तब भी सही नहीं था जब मेरी माँ इससे गुज़री, यह तब भी सही नहीं था जब मैं इससे गुज़री और यह तब भी सही नहीं था जब मैंने अपनी बेटी के साथ यह होने दिया (मेरे माता-पिता के दबाव में)।

जिस दिन भारत में मेरे साथ एफजीएम किया गया था, मुझे उस दिन की याद है। मैं लगभग छह या सात साल की थी। मेरे भाई, जो मुझसे उम्र में बड़ा था, उसको एक दोस्त के घर पर खेलने के लिए दूर भेज दिया गया था। एक महिला, जिसे मैंने पहले कभी नहीं देखा था, वह आयी और मुझे मेरे माता-पिता के बेडरूम में ले जाया गया जहां एफजीएम किया गया था।

मुझे लगता है कि उस घटना और उस दिन की असहज स्मृति को मैंने दबा दिया है – बस उस महिला और मुझे नीचे लिटाए रखने वाली मेरी माँ की तस्वीर को छोड़कर। मुझे याद नहीं है कि खतना के पीछे का कौनसा कारण मुझे बताया गया था। लेकिन मुझे याद है कि मेरी अनुमति के बिना मेरे शरीर के सबसे गुप्त अंग के साथ जो किया गया था, उससे मैं बहुत नाराज़ थी। यह मेरे जिस्म पर अतिक्रमण था। सबसे अधिक, मुझे इस बात पर नाराजगी है कि जिस व्यक्ति पर मैंने उस छोटी उम्र में जीवन में सबसे अधिक भरोसा किया था, उनहोंने मेरे साथ ऐसा होने दिया। हो सकता है, इसीलिए, मेरा एक हिस्सा है जो मेरी माँ को माफ नहीं कर सकता है और मुझे आश्चर्य है कि मेरी बेटी ने मुझे उसी काम को करने के लिए माफ कर दिया है।

एफजीएम को सही दिखाने के लिए इसे धर्म के लिबास में ढका जा रहा है। पर जल्द ही साहियो जैसे संगठन इस क्रूर प्रथा को बंद कर देंगे। जब तक सैयदना एफजीएम की निंदा नहीं करते हैं, और अपनी बात अमल नहीं करते हैं, तब तक मुझे खुद को दाउदी बोहरा कहने में शर्म आएगी।

U.S. Court’s dismissal of FGM/C charge in Michigan case is disappointing, but does not condone genital cutting

By Mariya Taher
Co-founder, Sahiyo

I was sitting in my office, reading a blog post submitted to Sahiyo by a woman doing research on Female Genital Cutting in India, when I received a phone call. I answered it, not thinking twice, not knowing that what I was to hear next would leave me dumbstruck.

The call was from a news reporter, who wanted my reactions to the latest news about the United States’ first legal case on Female Genital Cutting (FGC) — the Michigan case involving two doctors and six others brought up on federal charges of performing FGC on nine minor girls in the U.S. I hadn’t heard of the latest news yet. And then, the reporter dropped a bombshell.

It turns out, a U.S. District Judge has dismissed the FGC charges in the case and declared the federal legislation banning and criminalizing Female Genital Cutting in the U.S since 1997 as unconstitutional!

My immediate reaction was, “That’s crazy.” Then my mind shifted to what had happened to me on October 19th, at the inaugural screening of Sahiyo Stories, a collection of digital stories created by U.S. women who have undergone FGC or who have loved ones who have undergone it. After those videos were shown at the screening, a couple walked in, joined the audience, and began to counter the stories of the survivors. They stated that FGC was harmless, that the survivors sharing their stories must only be trying to get attention. I worry that because of what this U.S. District Judge has ruled, what happened at that screening of Sahiyo Stories, might become all too common when survivors share their FGC stories in the hope of preventing harm to future generations of girls.

As stated in the Detroit Free Press by Tresa Baldas

The U.S. District Judge concluded that “as despicable as this practice may be,” Congress did not have the authority to pass the 22-year-old federal law that criminalizes female genital mutilation, and that FGM is for the states to regulate. FGM is banned worldwide and has been outlawed in more than 30 countries, though the U.S. statute had never been tested before this case.

There is no doubt that the decision will be appealed by the government, but this response worries me because without the law, what can we point to, when parents and families are trying to do the right thing and not succumb to the community pressure they face in having their daughter undergo FGC? And at Sahiyo, we do hear from these parents. We hear from parents who tell us they have spared their daughters as well as parents who regret not doing more to protect their daughters, but felt pressured by the community, by members of their families, believing that they had to get it done. That social pressure is real and threatening and at Sahiyo we understand the fear of being ostracised from your family or your community for speaking against what others believe is a religious necessity.

This decision also concerns me because it will be used by proponents of FGC to further suggest that they are justified in pursuing FGC because FGC has been proven harmless. Even though, the fact remains, that this is not at all what the Judge has said in his decision to rule the FGC federal law unconstitutional. To the contrary, the decision made by the Judge clearly recognizes that FGC is a terrible crime.

What the Judge has stated is the following:

“As laudable as the prohibition of a particular type of abuse of girls may be … federalism concerns deprive Congress of the power to enact this statute,” Friedman wrote in his 28-page opinion, noting: “Congress overstepped its bounds by legislating to prohibit FGM … FGM is a ‘local criminal activity’ which, in keeping with long-standing tradition and our federal system of government, is for the states to regulate, not Congress.”

The Judge has ruled that the issue of FGC falls under state law jurisdiction (intrastate) versus federal (interstate). In other words, the judge’s ruling opens up a jurisdiction question and NOT a question on whether FGC is harmful or not.

If “local criminal activity” must be regulated by the state, then it goes to show just how vital it will be for all states in the U.S. to pass laws banning FGC. Currently, only 27 states in the U.S. have such laws. Massachusetts, the state I live in, does not. (See petition ‘Ban FGM/C in MA’).

Even when laws are passed, I believe that it will be important to remember that FGC will most likely still continue just as other forms of gender-based violence such as domestic violence and sexual assault unfortunately continue despite the presence of laws against them. FGC also continues because as a social norm entrenched in the culture, this harmful practice has been touted as a religious or cultural practice that is needed to control women’s sexuality.

This reality points to the importance of education and community engagement to help create social change within communities and amongst groups where FGC might be happening.

To that end, Sahiyo will continue to organize and participate in community events to educate our friends, family and community about the harms of FGC and why it should be abandoned.

Learn more about FGC in the U.S.

If you would like to write about your views on the Judge’s ruling or the Michigan case in general, send a write-up to info@sahiyo.com

 

A Tradition That Branded Me

By Severina Lemachokoti

I chose to tell this particular story about my experience with Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) because the story defines me, who I am, and shows what my culture/tradition branded me with. The story reflects the reality of what I went through and what I felt as a little girl. This is my other life that no one knows unless I share it with them. Sharing my story at the Sahiyo Stories workshop was a bit hard, but at the same time, it was a relief because I shared it with women who can relate to my hurt, women who have gone through painful and traumatic experiences as other FGM survivors. I felt comfortable and at ease with my sisters. I enjoyed the sisterhood, the courage, and passion that each of them embraced during the entire time. The storytelling process was smooth and very educative. I was able to revise my own story and put it in a way that I am confident will make a difference to our communities.

My advocacy on FGM is primarily focused on community education and the mental health of the survivors. As an activist, I believe that FGM will end when our communities are educated on the negative effects of FGM and find alternative ways of celebrating cultural practices without cutting girls’ genitalia. I am also aware that it is the right of each community to uphold their traditions and beliefs, but culture should not violate the rights of young girls in any way either. The mental health of survivors is a critical issue that needs to be looked into and addressed. Most of us are traumatized and still bear the pain of the cut even after so many years and it is necessary that survivors get healed in order for them to step up and talk about FGM in a way that can save other young girls who are at a risk.

My story is not very different from those of other survivors, but at the same time, I

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Severina with Lena Khandwala at Sahiyo Stories Workshop

believe I am unique and so my story is unique because of the painful experience and feelings that I had during the cutting. My hope is that my story and the stories of my other sisters will change our communities. 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 basically do my activism work till the end of my days, and advocate for supporting the mental health of FGC survivors across the world.

To learn more about Sahiyo Stories, read:

More about Severina:

17904081_1414046985328334_8283055367043356965_nSeverina Lemachokoti is an anti-FGM campaigner, a human rights defender and a gender activist from the Samburu community in Northern Kenya. Severina graduated from Wichita State University, Kansas State with a Master’s Degree in Liberal Studies, with focus on Community Psychology, Sociology and Women Studies. She was the Cultural Ambassador- Kenya, at Wichita State University and participated in various activities that fostered diversity and inclusion. She worked as a graduate research assistant in the Criminal Justice department and also worked at the graduate office as a receptionist. Severina is a professionally trained teacher and holds a bachelor’s degree in counseling psychology and a higher diploma in psychological counseling. As one of the survivors of FGM, Severina uses her own experience to educate young girls from Kenya and her community to say “NO” to FGM and other harmful cultural practices. She has helped in changing the lives of young girls and women in her community through mentorship programs in schools and churches. Severina worked as a program officer for the ANTI-FGM Board, a government body under the ministry of gender to implement the ANTI-FGM act of 2011 and the 2010 constitution of Kenya to protect the rights of young girls in Kenya. Severina is a member of various organizations in Kenya and Africa that defend the rights of young girls and has spoken in various conferences including the UN on the rights of young indigenous girls and women.

Looking from the Outside-In: Initial Perceptions of Female Genital Cutting

By Batoul Saleh

A campaign event for Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar and former Michigan rep. Rashida Tlaib was disrupted on August 11 by Laura Loomer, a conservative media personality. Invading the event, Loomer claimed that Omar, a Somali-American, supported Female Genital Cutting/Mutilation (FGC/M), along with other accusations about her African culture and background, essentially questioning her ability to successfully fulfill political office because of her origins.

Laura Loomer is an “investigative Journalist [and] Former Project Veritas operative” and according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, she has also been “investigating Muslim candidates” across America prior to the August 11 incident. She later rationalized her unannounced and uninvited appearance at Omar’s event saying that she was “helping Minnesotans “break free from Sharia”.

However, Loomer’s assertion that “[Omar] voted against legislation that would have made Female genital mutilation a felony in Minnesota” because “she didn’t want to offend the Somalian community” while saying that she is “ Somalian first” and “Anti-American” goes no farther than being a rash, racist comment made to instill fear in Minnesotan voters. In reality, the bill that Loomer was referring to, H.F. NO. 2621, which looks to “expand the crime of female genital mutilation; updating requirements for education and outreach; expanding the definition of egregious harm; [and] expanding the definition of a child in need of protection or services to include a victim of female genital mutilation” only had four representatives vote against the bill: David Bly, Rena Moran,  Susan Allen, and Tina Liebling — Ilhan Omar, in fact, voted in favor of the legislation.

This is just a single incident of bigotry; however, for those who have not experiencedScreen Shot 2018-09-20 at 7.47.18 PM.png it themselves or were not raised in a community where FGC is prominent, uninformed and insensitive judgments about FGC/M can be passed on as fact, leaving those who are from those communities stereotyped, ridiculed, and shamed for where it is they come from.

After this incident, many Americans, without knowing the truth about Ilhan Omar’s position on the FGC/M case, replied with intense anger and racism against her. With false information coming from alt-right politicians and journalists, the truth is easily distorted, and those individuals can spread those initial misconceptions about Female Genital Cutting just as easily as journalists like Laura Loomer did to encourage division and xenophobia, as shown in the tweets above. (See Sahiyo’s Media Toolkit on effective and sensitive reporting on FGC)

The accusation that Loomer created and spread publicly stems from her failing to separate the values of a person’s country and that country’s political and social beliefs from the personal beliefs of the individual. Just as a considerable amount of Americans now do not align themselves to the US government’s values and decisions, women of African, Middle Eastern, and South East Asian origins are just as much, if not more, unbounded by the uncontrollable beliefs of their government and community. In fact, a US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health study concluded that  “prevalence of supporting the continuation of FGM among adolescent girls in Kenya is only 16%, Niger 3%, Senegal 23%”. It has also been recorded by Sahiyo that 81% of the female Bohra community disagreed with the continuation of FGC. Though the prevalence of FGC in the respective countries is high, adolescents girls in these countries are in opposition to its practices.

Thus, there is a clear distinction between someone’s cultural norms and the attitudes they hold, and from an outsider’s perspective, it is vital that the media coverage and education they receive about Female Genital Cutting/Mutilation should be just as nuanced and integrated as the reality of FGC/M.

Why I Chose to Tell My Story About Female Genital Mutilation at the Sahiyo Stories’ Workshop

By Renee Bergstrom, EdD

I chose to tell my story of FGM because I am aware that being silenced is a universal issue for those who have experienced it. When I read my story the first day at the StoryCenter, I was surprised that my voice cracked with emotion. Our sisterhood developed quickly from the strength of shared history in spite of differing cultures, and I felt so privileged to be included. The world needs to hear all our voices in order for this female injustice to end.

The storytelling process was beautifully orchestrated and we were guided to compose our messages for the greatest impact. All apprehension regarding telling my story dissipated. Before my story became public knowledge, my advocacy was focused on developing and distributing brochures in collaboration with my Somali friend Filsan Ali. Pregnant infibulated Somali women give this bilingual brochure to their physicians and midwives to plan safe labor and delivery and prevent unnecessary C-Sections.

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Renee Bergstrom at Sahiyo Stories Workshop

In 2016, the time was right to share my story because so many young women were standing up to their political, cultural and religious leaders, matriarchs, and patriarchs. Instead of being seen as a Western woman imposing my beliefs on another culture, I am supporting their efforts. Recently, other white Christian women from North America have contacted me with their FGM stories, thus my current advocacy plans involve listening, but also connecting these women with resources and opportunities to share their stories.

To learn more about Sahiyo Stories, read:

More about Renee:

Version 2Renee Bergstrom, EdD, is an educator who advocates for relationship-centered medical care. She and her husband, Gene, have been married 53 years. They have three children, ten grandchildren and one great-grandson. They live in a dynamic art town in Midwest America where they are very involved in the community. Renee loves to read, watercolor paint, weave, garden and bike. She has been an advocate for women’s justice throughout her life.

The subject was heavy, but my heart felt light: My experience at Sahiyo’s StoryCenter workshop

By Salma Qamruddin

Female genital cutting (FGC) sounds like a distant and antiquated practice, especially to those living in the US. Americans think FGC happens in remote African villages or in times of yore, but not locally and not now. Unfortunately, this is simply untrue. Sahiyo is an organization dedicated to opening up the conversation around modern FGC practices. Their 3-day workshop, Sahiyo Stories, invited women to break the silence around FGC by transforming each woman’s personal FGC story into a short film. These are my experiences attending Sahiyo Stories…

Unlike many of the other attendees, I am new to the sphere of activism. Although I’m just beginning to speak out against female genital cutting (FGC), Sahiyo Stories was a transformative point in my activism journey because it helped me refine my voice and allowed me to work among some of the trailblazers of FGC activism whose work is genuinely driving social change. From Severina Lem who has traveled the world working to unravel tradition-based cutting practices, to Renee Bergstrom who has created invaluable resources for victims of FGC to get proper medical care, and to Mariya Taher who co-founded Sahiyo with the goal of dismantling the practice through storytelling, every woman I met amazed me with their confidence and drive.

Though these accomplished women came from all places and all walks of life, our connection to one another was sparked almost immediately. Because we had to open our hearts to discuss such a personal subject matter, we all had to let our guard down by design. All of us carried trauma that few other people could relate to; it was refreshing to finally be in a room where everyone genuinely understood the pains we’d all experienced. From strangers to sisters, the respect and love in the workspace was tangible.

While preparing for Sahiyo Stories, I read up on what information was already available on FGC. Sahiyo partnered with a healthcare research firm to identify the biggest challenges facing activists speaking out against female genital cutting (FGC). Reading through the report, I was surprised how closely my journey to activism perfectly aligned with the “standard” journey for most activists. On one hand, I felt validated that I was not alone on my path and that there were others whose struggles were harmonic to mine. However, my story also felt less special. The goal of Sahiyo Stories was supposed to present unique experiences with FGC, but if I am a “cookie cutter” activist, what did I have to say that hadn’t been said? Even though I was not very confident in what my story brought to the table, I decided to share my first “a-ha” moment about FGC; the time when I realized that I had been cut.

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Salma and other participants during Sahiyo Stories Workshop

Despite entering the workshop with some insecurity, the process of putting my story onto paper, editing the script and illustrating the words was cathartic. In order to translate my thoughts into a digital story, I had to boil my experience down to its core and dissect why this story matters to me. It was a process that involved deep reflection. As my story started to come alive, my confidence grew with it. One of the most beautiful moments for me was when speaking with Orchid, a Sahiyo Stories facilitator who believed that, “everyone has the best voice for their own story”. Both Orchid and Amy, the two StoryCenter staff members, had an incredible talent for pulling out the real meaning from a story and empowering us through the process. Even though the subject was heavy, talking through my story with them made my heart feel light.

Though the process of creating digital stories was helpful, the highlight of Sahiyo Stories was the screening of the completed products. We sat together, laughed together, and cried together as we watched the digital stories for the first time. The room was a stirring pot of emotions. As we watched each person speak their truth, we felt their emotions and their pain. Their words resonated with us, not only because we could all relate to FGC, but because the struggles were tied to themes that all humans experience: isolation, grief, family, tradition, and healing. The power of what we had created was instantly recognizable. Being a survivor of FGC is a multi-faceted experience. It affects so much more than just anatomy. Even though all of these stories are tied together by the common thread of FGC, they capture so many different components that no story is alike. Personally, when my story was screened, I felt a rush; it was proof that my voice is unique. It was validation that I, along with every person who has a desire to speak out, has something valuable to offer by sharing their voice.

Overall, Sahiyo Stories served as the catalyst in my personal journey down the road of activism and I’m excited to see what comes next…

To learn more about Sahiyo Stories, read:

More about Salma:

SalmaSalma Qamruddin works as a scientist based out of Chicago and is new to the world of activism. She works at calling attention to current FGC activist efforts through digital platforms and serves as the current Social Media Intern for Sahiyo. She hopes that Sahiyo Stories can be a tool that takes us one step closer to an open and honest conversation about the prevalence of cutting in this day and age.

My inner healing at Sahiyo’s Activist Retreat in the U.S.

By Anonymous

Country: United States
Age: 34

To be honest, it was hard for me to make the decision to go to the Sahiyo Activist Retreat earlier this year. I grew up in the Dawoodi Bohra community in India, and having had my share of challenges with the community that involved threats to my family, I felt like I didn’t have the courage within me to start another battle that involved me fighting against FGM/khatna. But I knew deep down inside that none of my battles with my community had ever ended, and if I stopped speaking up now, another girl somewhere else would have to suffer like me.

I have been away from India for the last 7 years, and it took a retreat like this one for me to realise that I had not interacted with a single person from within the Bohra community here in the US since I moved here, and how much I had missed that. My only experiences of being with other Bohra women was in India, either at a religious prayer service or ceremony or at a Bohra women’s ‘meneej’ (kitty party) group that I was forced into by my mother and friends. I had never had an opportunity to be in a room full of Bohra women, where we could have an open, honest and authentic discussion about the challenges women faced in the community, and identify ways we could empower each other, stand up against the injustices done to us, and fight for change within the community. The Sahiyo Activist Retreat allowed for that and much more.  

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Since most of my experiences were in India, I was keen on learning about how the community functioned here. And through my very first interactions and impressions, I knew that it was no different here and that the community was as strict, perhaps even more here than in India. It was also clear from the start that every single woman present in the room including myself, had shared hopes from the retreat; to find a space where we could openly share our FGM /khatna stories, to build a strong support group, to gain knowledge and tools to confidently speak up against FGM/khatna, and most importantly, to find a space to heal.

The agenda for the two-day workshop was packed but allowed enough time for us to bond with each other, and my healing began almost immediately. The workshop had a bottom-up approach, wherein each participant got to share their stories and all the work that they had already been doing to end FGM/ khatna in the community. The sessions that followed helped us further our knowledge and understanding of FGM/Khatna by providing us with in-depth studies and evaluations, effective communication tools, and defining ways to support activists inside and outside the community worldwide.

The discussion that stood out for me the most was the one that focused on community and survivor-led movements, and the importance of having Bohra men and women from within the community fighting to end FGM/khatna. I have always believed that for any change to truly take place, all the effort and groundwork needs to happen by individuals who represent the community, who understand the systems, history, culture, and nuances of the community, and that means each one of us Bohra men and women. If we want to end FGM/Khatna, each one of us needs to take leadership and ownership of this problem. Men need to become allies for women, and women need to become allies for other women in the community.

Copy of IMG_3784Through breakout sessions and one-on-one conversations, we came up with action plans and ways in which each one of us could contribute to this movement. And of course there were informal post-dinner ramblings, debates and heated discussions on FGM/khatna, and many other women’s issues faced by us in the community.

Three months later, I sit with this fire within me that began during the retreat. I find myself more at ease when talking about FGM/khatna with friends and work colleagues. I still haven’t been able to openly talk about it, for I fear the backlash my parents will face in the community in India, but I’m confident that that will also change someday. I am now helping coordinate logistics for a storytelling workshop that will educate and empower 8 women participants to become powerful and effective storytellers. I am also excited to organize a ‘thaal pe charcha event during the summer with the hope to bring both, women and men, to have an informal dialogue about FGM/khatna, and learn from the findings provided by Sahiyo.

Lastly, my inner healing that began during the retreat continues to change me in positive ways. It is allowing me to let go of my past, and channel my energy to be a better activist, to not dwell in self-pity, but to become a strong ally and force of change within the community.

Raising the conversation on Female Genital Cutting in Massachusetts

During February, Lesley University and Brandeis University in Massachusetts hosted events to elevate the conversation and build awareness on the topic of FGC as it occurs in the U.S. and the larger global world.

On Feb 12th, Lesley University hosted Examining the Intersection Between Tradition and Gender Violence. The event showcased a screening of A Pinch of Skin, a documentary on IMG_9830.JPGFGC in India by Priya Goswami, followed by a panel discussion moderated by Mariya Taher with speakers attorney Joanne Golden, community health leader Abdirahman Yusuf, and OBGYN Dr.  Melody Eckardt. Panel speakers shared their perspectives on FGC, drawing on their personal experiences with survivors across their multiple cross-cultural and professional fields to bring attention to this often silenced issue. To read more about the event, click here. Additionally, on Feb 14th, The Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University hosted a conversation with Mariya Taher on “How Storytelling can Change Social norms, and Help to End Female Genital Cutting.”

To learn more about the event, visit ‘A Pinch of Skin’ Documentary Screening and Discussion.

Law alone cannot end the practice of Female Genital Cutting

By Sabiha Basrai

Country: California, United States
Age: 34 years old

It is important that the issue of FGC or Khatna, as known to the Bohra community, is brought out from the shadows and discussed openly. Many people do not understand how brutal the practice is and simply prefer not to discuss it because of the entrenched shame around women’s sexuality and reproductive health that is enforced through patriarchal social structures. I hope that the Detroit case in which a Bohra medical doctor was arrested on charges of performing FGC on minor girls, encourages more families to say no to the practice so that future generations of young girls will be shared.

This harmful practice is not an issue of being religious or not religious. Neither is it an issue of right and wrong. Khatna is just wrong.

The Detroit case does, however, raise concerns about the surveillance of Muslim Americans. Our mosques and community centers are already targeted by law enforcement who racially profile us and infringe upon our civil rights. It is important that all Bohras understand that law enforcement does not necessarily have our best interests in mind and could exploit the issue of Khatna to justify further harassment and surveillance of our communities. Khatna should end, but I believe the practice will only truly end through community education and organizing within the jamaats (Bohra congregations).

None of us want to see violence occur in our communities, but we must be conscious that law alone is not the answer, and in some instances, the negative action of some law enforcement officials have been detrimental to the safety and security in our communities. Therefore, I caution all Bohras living in America to never speak to law enforcement without a lawyer present. And, I encourage Bohras to also find ways to work within the community to end harmful practices such as Khatna.