On International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, survivor Mariya Taher shares her journey
Each year February 6 marks International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) as part of the UN's effort to eradicate the age-old practice.
Female Genital Mutilation is a custom practiced by the Bohra community in India. According to UNICEF, at least 200 million females today have undergone the cut around the world. But on the upside, 23 countries in Africa have banned the practice after UN General Assembly voted to work for its elimination.
On this day, we spoke to Mariya Taher, a survivor herself and co-founder of Sahiyo, who shared with us her efforts to end female genital cutting (FGC) and mutilation in Dawoodi Bohra Muslim communities.
Having worked avidly to end this practice, what is the current situation of FGC cases across the world?
I think it is important to note that FGC is a global issue that is being practiced in most countries even today that crosses economic and religious backgrounds, educational levels, races, religions, ethnicities. It is a harmful practice that people for a long time thought only existed in Africa, though it was a misperception. It is only in the last few years that we are really understanding how globally prevalent FGC is. We did a change.org petition to help bring awareness to FGC in Asia and other countries.
What immediate measures should be taken to stop this practice?
I think it is important to recognize that there is no immediate solution to FGC. FGC is an ingrained social norm within many communities, and to look at preventing FGC from continuing to the next generation, it is important to engage in dialogue with community members, as well as to work with various social sectors (legal, health, government, community advocates, etc) in order to work in a multisectoral way to address the issue.
What role can the government play to stop this age-old practice?
I believe the government must cooperate with other social sectors to work together in ending this practice. This means the government should help elevate the voices of the activists, fund programs for research and support for survivors, pass legislation and policies that support ending FGC, work with others to create awareness on FGC through public education and outreach programs.
Has online campaigns like 'Speak out on FGM' and films like " A Pinch of Skin' made any difference?
Oh definitely. Sahiyo, an organization I co-founded with a few other women have really emphasized the role of storytelling for ending FGC. Our campaigns have allowed women and girls to speak up (both anonymously and with identities revealed), when previously they were afraid to do so in public. They feared social ostracism and resisted being labeled as victims. Our work has also allowed men to speak up about their views on FGC. We have been able to encourage women to discuss the issue openly, break the silence on the topic, and bring about a change for better.