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Saturday, March 28, 2020

International day of zero tolerance against FGM: 27 short films break silence around khatna through personal stories

The day marks the movement against a human rights violation that is practised across the world, in which a woman’s external genital organs are cut, pierced or removed for cultural or non-medical reasons.

Written by Benita Fernando | Mumbai | Updated: February 6, 2020 2:46:56 am
Female Genital Mutilation, what is Female Genital Mutilation, short stories on fgm A screenshot from the video that will be released Thursday. (Photo credit: Sahiyo and StoryCenter)

As a six-year-old, Fakhera was taken to an old building in Bhendi Bazaar by her mother. In a dark room, two strangers asked her to remove her undergarment. “I was a meek child and my mother was an autocratic person. I did as I was told. I don’t remember anything after that. I blacked out,” Fakhera recalled. Later, when Fakhera had to urinate, a sharp pain hit her. She started screaming but her mother hushed up the incident, dismissing her daughter’s pain.

Fakhera, 54, has shared her story for a short film series, ‘Voices to End FGM/C’, which will be released on February 6, observed as the International Day of Zero Tolerance towards Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C). The day marks the movement against a human rights violation that is practised across the world, in which a woman’s external genital organs are cut, pierced or removed for cultural or non-medical reasons. Globally, 3.9 million girls are at risk of being cut every year.

In India, it is known as khatna in the Dawoodi Bohra community, where female circumcision is practised through the complete or partial removal of the clitoral hood. Fakhera, a Bandra resident, said, “Khatna is a hush-hush affair in the community.”

The video stories are produced and released by Sahiyo and StoryCenter. Sahiyo, started in 2015, campaigns against khatna as well as other forms of FGM/C. In order to bring survivor stories to the fore, Sahiyo partnered with Berkeley-based StoryCenter, a platform that helps people use storytelling for education and social change, in 2018. Together, they launched the first edition of “Voices to End FGM/C” in 2018, in which the women who had had undergone FGM/C when they were girls took part in workshops that enabled them to share and produce their video stories.

Last year, Sahiyo put out a public call for storytellers for the second edition. Mariya Taher, one of the co-founders of Sahiyo, said, “Not all the storytellers are from the Bohra community and we did have one male participant who spoke about what it was like to learn that it happens to his sister and how it impacted his relationship with her.”

The stories are narrated in the first person by women from India, the UK, Tanzania, Singapore, Bahrain, Sweden and the US. The three Indian participants in the series are Fakhera, Dr Zenab Banu from Udaipur, and Mumbai-based journalist Aarefa Johari, a FGM/C survivor and Sahiyo co founder. In many accounts, survivors didn’t undergo FGM/C in their home country, but while abroad.

The series also touches upon a form of FGM/C that is not really discussed — labia elongation. Some storytellers were paired with illustrators and designers. Fakhera’s story, for instance, has been illustrated by architect and urban researcher Maitri Dore.

“You don’t have to have prior writing or video experience. We teach the storytellers how to create a story, they write up their scripts, and then we teach them how to create a storyboard. For our in-person workshops, the storytellers learn how to edit the videos themselves. Some women choose to have a combination of their personal photos and artist images while others choose not to have any photos. The idea behind the workshops is really to empower the storyteller and let them have agency over their story,” Taher said.

The short films can be viewed on Sahiyo’s YouTube page. Fakhera and others like her are curious to see what the response will be like. “There is a lot of resistance from the Dawoodi Bohra community to stop the practice. They believe it is part of sharia and to oppose it means to oppose the high priest. They don’t see it as opposing FGM/C. Dissent is not expected and you are depicted as a cruel, insensitive mother for wanting to put an end to this practice,” she said.

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