Reflecting on Moving Towards Sexual Pleasure and Emotional Healing After Female Genital Cutting Part 2

On November 17th, Sahiyo hosted part two of the ‘Moving Towards Sexual Pleasure and Emotional Healing After Female Genital Cutting’ webinar. Two specialist speakers helped to lead the webinar: Haddi Ceesey, a health educator on sexual and reproductive health, and Nazneen Vasi, an expert in physical and pelvic floor therapy. 

Nazneen began by asking the audience what the pelvic floor is and then explaining it comprises the external female genitalia. I was shocked to realise I wouldn’t have been able to answer if someone had asked me this question. The comprehensive detail that Nazneen went into very effectively emphasised how little we as women are taught about our own bodies. She also emphasized how important it is to understand the workings of the female body to fully appreciate how trauma is physically reflected in the body. Nazneen described how trauma to the pelvis, for example, can present as sexual pain, incontinence, or loss of organ support, which can result in prolapse. Female genital cutting (FGC) specifically can cause pelvic floor dysfunction, which presents as pelvic pain, weakened muscles, and constipation, among other things. It felt very important to learn about such specific consequences of FGC, in order to start grasping the suffering of so many women. 

The importance of advocating for our own public health was subsequently expressed, especially as there are so few healthcare practitioners who are trained specifically in the support system of the pelvic floor. It seemed to provide further evidence for the erasure of women in medicine and healthcare; when male bodies are seen as the universal norm, their symptoms and side effects are often automatically applied to all, and their female counterparts’ symptoms and side effects are all too often disregarded. This inequitable norm provides all the more reason to prioritise your own health, especially as a survivor, in order to move forward and reclaim one’s own body. You can read more about Nazneen’s work and Pelvic Floor Therapy in relation to FGC here

Haddi explored this journey to healing further, discussing general wellbeing and how FGC has been found to directly impact mental health, especially in young people. The physical problems resulting from  FGC, such as pregnancy complications, period pains or poor sexual health, inevitably lead to a worsened quality of wellbeing; FGC survivors have often cited anxiety, stress and fear concerning sex and intimacy. When speaking to mothers, Haddi found that their concerns about sex stemmed from a fear of potential complications they would face having more children, based upon their previous difficult childbirths. Interestingly, many of the women surveyed wouldn’t even directly address sex; they would instead talk about marriage and let the rest be inferred. 

I thought that this very effectively highlighted a significant part of the problem as to why FGC still occurs – it is inevitably much more difficult to address this gender-based violence if practicing communities see sex and sexuality as a taboo, or as something private or shameful. It makes it a lot harder for survivors to be open about their sexual struggles stemming from FGC, or to get support in overcoming these issues.

Haddi concluded her part of the webinar on a constructive note, focusing on how survivors can move forward in intimate relationships; she suggested increasing conversations about intimacy and pleasure within sexual partnerships, as well as with other survivors. Haddi explained that these women can learn a lot from each other alongside providing support. Additionally, it is clear that there is not nearly enough comprehensive legislation on FGC, and that it must include education and resources to help survivors live healthy and fulfilled reproductive and sexual lives. Finally, Haddi encouraged survivors to spend time with themselves and their partner, to explore their bodies and find different erogenous zones. There are also some very exciting developments currently in clitoral reconstruction and restoration, which specifically puts emphasis on regaining pleasure.

Overall, I found the talk to be very positive and empowering. Both speakers went into important detail about the physical and psychological consequences that FGC can have on sexual and reproductive health, and both gave expert advice and multiple different methods to help survivors start to regain their sexuality. 

Watch the full event here

Read the transcript here

Watch Moving Towards Sexual Pleasure and Emotional Healing After Female Genital Cutting Part 1 here

The World Bank hosts webinar on the  Intersectionality between Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting and Racism

On November 9th, Sahiyo co-founder Mariya Taher participated as a speaker in the World Bank-hosted Webinar “Intersectionality: Female Genital Mutilation and Racism.” 

The webinar was an event of the GFLJD Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting Legal Working Group. The panel of speakers was composed of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) experts and activists from around the world, who explored the ways in which inherent underlying racism is preventing the effective protection of every women and girls while leaving no-one behind; the ways in which FGM and racism’s consequences on health, education, wellbeing, social and economic development are similar and cumulative; the idea that special laws criminalizing FGM/C are tinted with discrimination when every country already has applicable general laws on bodily harm, injuries, mutilation, VAWG and femicide; and the idea that development actors’ general reluctance to address FGM/C directly can to some extent result from a span of underlying racial and gender biases.

In July of 2021, Sahiyo hosted a similar webinar: “Critical Intersections: Anti-Racism and Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C).” The event included thoughtful commentary from advocates and survivors of FGM/C on the overlap between racism, oppression, culture, and FGM/C. The speakers also shared the struggles theyhave faced while working to bring an end to this harmful practice globally. You can watch Sahiyo’s webinar here, and read the transcript of the webinar here.

Sahiyo leads training for Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners

On November 9th, Sahiyo team members volunteer Zahra Qaiyumi, Programs Intern Sarah Boudreau, and Programs Coordinator Cate Cox led a training for Massachusetts based Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs). SANEs are registered nurses who have completed additional training and education to provide comprehensive healthcare to those who have experienced sexual assault. As an extreme form of gender-based violence, knowledge about and awareness of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) is integral to the care that SANEs provide. 

During the event, Sahiyo provided much needed education to over 200 participants in virtual attendance. Topics discussed included defining FGM/C and its clinical consequences, the legal context of FGM/C both locally and nationally, and an interactive discussion about best practices for providing healthcare to survivors utilizing the Voices to End FGM/C digital storytelling project.

Participants were active in the discussion, recounting times when they encountered survivors of FGM/C in a clinical setting and how those interactions could have been improved. They also self-identified gaps in their own knowledge of the practice, including timing of deinfibulation in pregnancy and how to perform a pelvic exam on someone who has experienced infibulation. 

Cultural humility-based training of healthcare workers who come in to direct contact with FGM/C survivors has the potential to improve the quality of life of survivors, improve access to appropriate healthcare and potentially prevent the practice in future generations. We also shared some of Sahiyo’s resources, including our Trauma Series Blogs and the Mumkin app

As an organization, Sahiyo hopes to participate in more events like this and continue to evolve training content to fit the needs of survivors and the individuals providing them care.

Sahiyo featured in Align case study and webinar

After an ALIGN literature review revealed a lack of research on how broadcast media contributes positively to gender norm change, Faria A. Nasruddin has developed a series of case studies for the ALIGN platform that draw on the experiences from individuals and organisations in three key sectors: (1) education-entertainment, (2) commercial media, and (3) news media and journalism. Participating organisations include: Population Media Center, BBC Media Action, the Geena Davis Institute, the Representation Project, Sahiyo, Sancharika Samuha, and the Global Media Monitoring Project. These case studies, although varied, all revolve around the question: How can organisations mobilize broadcast media to effect positive gender norm change? What are the most effective strategies, and what are their results?  

To launch the case studies, ALIGN hosted a webinar with media practitioners, journalists, and researchers from South Asia to dialogue about the state of the South Asian media industry in terms of gender representation and how to tap into the transformative potential of broadcast media. Topics discussed varied from the effect of the #MeToo movement on the media industry to how to make education-entertainment engaging and effective. The diverse panel of speakers both highlighted the progress of those leading the way in changing the broadcast media industry and prompted key questions that the case studies address in greater depth.

Sahiyo participates in Massachusetts Healthy Youth Consortium

On November 1st Sahiyo partnered with The Massachusetts Healthy Youth Consortium (MAHYC) to hold a training for K-12 teachers about the importance of using education as a means of preventing female genital cutting (FGC) and how they can become advocates against this practice. The goal of MAHYC is for educators, health professionals, policymakers, and other advocates to work collaboratively towards helping to pass The Healthy Youth Act which would ensure that comprehensive curricula are taught in public schools that choose to offer sex education. Massachusetts ranks 12th in the nation for at-risk populations, with nearly 15,000 girls at risk, with the largest at-risk areas being Boston, Newton, and Cambridge. FGC is often rooted in secrecy and isolation, and girls at risk are often taught never to speak of what they experienced. Sahiyo believes that education can be a powerful tool to break this silence and bring some clarity to the myths surrounding female genital cutting.

Upcoming Webinar: Moving Towards Sexual Pleasure and Emotional Healing Part 2

By Amela Tokić

Last October, Sahiyo hosted a webinar called Moving Towards Sexual Pleasure and Emotional Healing After Female Genital Cutting. This provided an opportunity to hear from three inspirational speakers: psychotherapist and author Farzana Doctor, activist Sarian Karim-Kamara, and psychotherapist Joanna Vergoth, on female genital cutting (FGC), sexuality and its connection to mental health. The webinar jump-started an important discussion on ways survivors can begin to move towards their own sexual pleasure and emotional healing after FGC. 

Sahiyo didn’t hesitate to delve into difficult and taboo subjects surrounding FGC, such as psycho-social and mental impacts of FGC, and provided survivors and non-survivors a space to better understand the process of sexual and emotional healing after FGC.

Coming this November, Sahiyo will be hosting a second part to the webinar: Moving Towards Sexual Pleasure and Emotional Healing After Female Genital Cutting Part 2. The webinar will dive deeper into these topics with three new expert panelists: 

  • Nazneen Vasi, pelvic floor therapist and founder of Body Harmony Physical Therapy.
  • Manal Omar, founder of Across Red Lines,
  • Haddi Ceesay, health educator and consultant for HEART

Register for the event here: 

The event is open to anyone who wishes to attend.

Watch the recording of the first webinar

Read the transcript of the first webinar

Read the blog post for the first webinar

Read answers to questions from the first webinar

The event is sponsored by Sahiyo.

Sahiyo partners with FAWCO to lead an educational webinar on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting in the United States

By Beth Fotheringham

On the 16th of September, the FAWCO Target Team collaborated with Sahiyo for an educational webinar about FGM/C in the United States. The webinar sought to highlight the essential work Sahiyo does in their work to end FGC and support survivors.

At the start of the webinar, Sahiyo co-founder and U.S. Executive Director Mariya Taher  provided context with her own expertise on both ‘khatna’ and the Dawoodi Bohras, a community that partakes in the  harmful practice of FGM/C. Through her own journey of speaking out as a survivor, she recognised the need for an organised forum within practicing communities, as well as the individual and collective benefits of creating positive social change through empowerment. It was evident that this had informed Sahiyo’s own unique approach to supporting survivors and raising awareness, which centres on storytelling. 

Mariya proceeded to clarify the various terminologies used in talking about female genital cutting (FGC), as well as the different types of the practice; she deftly outlined why Sahiyo uses ‘cutting’ instead of ‘mutilation,’ while respecting the right of survivors to choose how to define and describe their own experiences. 

She unflinchingly laid out the fact that 500,000+ women and girls are estimated to be living with, or at risk of, FGM/C in the US. This was especially shocking for me to learn, due to so much of the discourse surrounding FGC focusing on cases in Africa or “developing” countries, and evidence of such practices being greatly underreported in the Western world. This figure was made even more impactful when Mariya further deconstructed the statistic. She posited that this is most likely an under-representation, as it does not include any diasporic communities from countries not included within the 32 countries studied by UNICEF. 

For example, the Bohra community, who do practice FGC, are not counted in this statistic, nor are most other Asian countries where evidence of FGC exists. The most recent study into FGC prevalence found evidence of FGC in 92 countries worldwide, strongly suggesting that the statistic from the United States is a considerable underestimate. Through the webinar, we learned that there are current efforts within the US by the Center for Disease Control and Prevent (CDC) to capture more accurate data, which sounded promising, but that data collection is in its early stages. 

In another part of the webinar, various survivor stories from the Voices to End FGC project were introduced. Renee Bergstrom’s story was particularly powerful in addressing and disrupting common misconceptions about where FGC takes place and to whom. Jenny’s story portrayed the devastating silence that upholds the practice happening generation after generation; Maryah Haidery’s story explored the various psychological consequences of FGC. All were both informative and inspiring.

Mariya also spoke on the legal context of FGC in the United States, explaining and analysing the current federal legislation, while applying it to real legal cases. This was especially helpful to understand — as someone who lives outside of the US I find the state/federal separation particularly confusing — and it became much clearer how abuses of human rights, such as FGC, are able to slip through the gaps of the law.

After watching the webinar, I found it indisputably apparent that there are neither sufficient federal nor state laws to effectively uphold the work against FGC in the United States, and absolutely appalling that not even every state has legislation against the practice (with only 6/7 states having comprehensive laws against FGC). Though I understand that criminalisation of FGC is by no means the only, or most effective, way of ending the practice, I think it is important in taking a clear (and sometimes symbolic) stance against FGC with coherent legislation that automatically supports the work of activists and survivors to stop FGC in different countries. Alongside this, it also helps families who are doubtful of the benefits of FGC for their daughters have a legitimate reason not to carry out the procedure while not having to outright stand against the rules of their cultures and communities. 

I found it especially inspiring to hear from Mariya how Sahiyo’s work has been instrumental in passing state laws; most recently, and successfully, in Massachusetts. Sahiyo is now engaged in similar work to pass a state law in Connecticut, one of the ten remaining states without any legal protections against FGC whatsoever. I think focusing on the progress that has been made definitely provides effective encouragement to keep working for change.

It was similarly uplifting to learn that the Voices Projects have resulted in survivors feeling a sense of empowerment and a surge of desire for collective action, as well as experiencing a strong sense of comradery with other storytellers. This embodies what inspires and impresses me most about Sahiyo: not only are they doing crucial work to end FGC and stop future generations of girls, women and others from having to undergo the practice, but they also have an important focus on supporting those that have already been through it. Listening to the stories of these survivors conveys clearly how successful this parallelled approach is.

Interestingly, in Sahiyo’s study of 400 Dawoodi Bohra women, which found that 80% of the  women had been cut, 81% also said that they didn’t want the practice to continue into the next generation. FGC is a social norm that has been justified, with silence being a key part of why it has continued. I now understand how telling these stories breaks the silence and takes the conversation out of hidden, private spheres and into the public one. Mariya spoke of particularly relevant research that found when it comes to social norms and culture change, if 25% of a community changes or adopts a new norm, then it becomes wide scale enough for permanent change to occur.
Mariya concluded her talk by discussing Sahiyo’s various other programs, such as Thaal Pe Charcha, Bhaiyo, Sahiyo Activist Retreat, and Community Education and Outreach, all of which have had substantial success in supporting FGC survivors and raising awareness. It was clear by the end of the webinar how essential the services Sahiyo provide are to survivors alongside the wider communities, and what an integral role they play in worldwide efforts to stop FGC.

A reflection on the medical perspectives on female genital cutting (FGC) webinar  

By: Amela Tokić

On October 9th, 2021, community-led movement End FGC Singapore, which strives to empower Muslim communities in Singapore to end the practice of female genital cutting (FGC), hosted a virtual event to bring more attention to the medical impact and medicalization of FGC. 

Saza Faradilla, co-founder of End FGC Singapore and facilitator of the event, introduced the historical background of FGC in Singapore and the rise of FGC medicalization.  Guest speaker Dr. Ida Ismail-Pratt shared her medical perspective on the sexual, physical, and psychosocial impacts of medicalized FGC on women and girls. While the full event will not be published, End FGC Singapore will be sharing snippets on its Instagram page.

The Medical Perspectives on Female Genital Cutting (FGC) webinar dove deep into the impact FGC poses through migration, with a particular focus at western countries as well. This gave an interesting perception of FGC as a deeply rooted cultural norm, and thus many women and girls born in western countries would seek out FGC in the countries they had migrated to; alternatively, they could be forcibly brought back to their origin countries for the procedure, if FGC is not legally accessible in the migrated countries. 

This left many participants pondering and asking the questions: Is there a medically safe way to perform FGC? How would I recognize if FGC was performed on me? Is there a difference in consequences when FGC is performed on adults or infancy?

My personal highlight from the event was hearing Dr. Ida Ismail-Pratt share professional studies on the sexual impact FGC has on women. The studies focused on both women who have not undergone FGC and those who have undergone FGC, and it concludes that sexual desire is not impacted by having undergone FGC or not. This is a powerful statement, as many who undergo FGC are believed to have a lessened sexual drive as a result. However, the primary impact FGC has on women is the effect it poses on their sexual experience(s) – lower sexual satisfaction. 

This webinar was a perfect blend of a medical perspective along with a statistical analysis. It not only provided a professional opinion of the impact FGC has on women and girls, but it also provided solid evidence from survivors of FGC as well. One of the most startling findings is that the majority of women and girls are not even aware that they have undergone FGC, since it was done at such an early age. If they are aware, they often do not know who performed the procedure or with what medical instrument. 

For those interested in being part of future virtual events hosted by End FGC Singapore, you can follow them on Instagram and/or Eventbrite.

Read more about past webinars and/or donate to support the end of FGC in Singapore.

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:

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

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