Tell us about you/your organization.
Sahiyo is the Bohra Gujarati word for ‘saheliyo,’ or female friends, and reflects our organization’s mission to empower Asian and other practicing communities to end female genital cutting (FGC), and create positive social change through dialogue, education, and collaboration based on community involvement. Sahiyo’s story began in 2015 as a conversation between five women who were strongly opposed to FGC practiced in the Bohra community, a Shia Islamic sect originating from India, they grew up in, and who had each in their own capacity been advocating to end FGC. Over time, Sahiyo has also expanded to include in our programming other FGC practicing communities and also divided into two legal entities — Sahiyo India and Sahiyo U.S. Sahiyo U.S. focus on communities throughout the US and Canada. Sahiyo is currently one of the few organizations working globally on highlighting FGC in Asian communities and other underrepresented communities where the practice continues.
How is your organization working to end female genital mutilation in the United States?
Sahiyo U.S. offers a variety of resources and programs that spread awareness and education about the harms of female genital cutting (FGC) and provide outlets for those affected by this human rights violation to share their stories and heal. Sahiyo understands that FGC continues because cutting is viewed as an acceptable social norm within practicing communities. Since our founding, Sahiyo has worked with people directly affected by the practice, encouraging them to come forward and speak out against it. Sahiyo U.S. Programs are storytelling, US Activist Retreats, volunteer and intern program and community outreach.
What are the challenges and opportunities in trying to end female genital mutilation?
FGC is a complex issue requiring a multi sectoral approach in order to work towards prevention of this harmful practice and to support survivors. One of the challenges in addressing FGC lies in the very nature that there is in underrepresentation of the true number of women and girls affected by FGC. Globally, 200 million women are estimated to have undergone FGC. Within the U.S., the estimate is half a million. Yet, these figures come from most data collected on FGC prevalence rates only from sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. A recent report by Equality Now, US End FGM/C Network, and European Network to End FGM highlights that FGC is found in at least 92 countries, but due to this misconception of FGC as an issue that only affects the African continent, there are few programs and resources available for FGC survivors in many parts of the world where this issue is not recognized. Sahiyo seeks to work with survivors of FGC, their families, and their larger religious/ethnic communities virtually and in-person (prior to the pandemic) to provide support and fill this gap in services. Creating safe spaces and mechanisms that allow community members to engage in dialogue on the topic without fear of reprisal, or, if that cannot be avoided, establishing a built-in support system to turn to when reprisals occur, are critical factors necessary for social change. Storytelling can also be an instrumental mobilizing tool in propelling change, and helping to address the fact that FGC is indeed a global issue.
How is the network helping you to achieve these goals and why is it important to be in the network?
The U.S. Network to End FGM/C is collective of multi-sectorial stakeholders form health, law, government, civil society, survivors, and community members across the United States, and the world. By being part of the US END FGM/C Network, Sahiyo is further able to participate in and access this national community of advocates and activists, working to end the practice and support survivors. We are able to build collaborations and work to strengthen our advocacy and initiatives in partnership, thereby increasing our impact. The network has helped Sahiyo build contacts and connections and be active members of an impact-making, fast-expanding movement.
We can end female genital mutilation in the United States because all girls deserve to be protected from harm and we need to enable a shift in culture that does not fear or repress women’s/girl’s bodies and female sexuality, but embraces them as normal in all their varied forms and expressions.
Get in touch with SAHIYO.