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Edited by Mai Al-Khatib-Camille
Since 2016, Bahraini entrepreneur Shabana Feroze has been working with Sahiyo, a global not-for-profit organisation campaigning against female genital cutting (FGC).
Shabana’s work with Sahiyo is focused on awareness through digital media, visual communication and content creation for global audiences. Leading an all-women team at her creative agency, the Silver Kick Company (TSKC), Shabana has worked on international campaigns for Sahiyo in the movement against FGC.
The practice of FGC, despite being medically harmful, continues as a socially acceptable norm in several communities concentrated across Asia, Africa and parts of the Middle East. More than 200 million girls and women alive today have been cut in more than 30 countries.
This ritual is widely viewed as being against Islamic teachings but continues to be practiced due to differing opinions in various schools of thought. The practice is unequivocally deemed illegal in Bahrain.
Shabana, who is Bahraini by nationality and Indian by ethnicity, said in an exclusive interview with GulfWeekly, “I was part of the Dawoodi Bohra community and I learned about the practice when I was seven. In 2016, I came across Sahiyo’s petition to end FGC by 2030.
“I signed it and this marked the beginning of my work with Sahiyo and was soon followed by a video interview with two of the founders. Eventually, I introduced Sahiyo as a voluntary company policy in my own agency so the employees - whether designers, interns or partners - could contribute in their own ways towards Sahiyo. With more skill sets, we are able to work on various campaigns for the global not-for-profit for a better tomorrow.”
The practice of FGC, which has been recognised as a human rights violation by the World Health Organisation, United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), is often performed on young girls who are incapable of providing informed consent between infancy and the age of 15.
“The Dawoodi Bohra community, like certain other religious communities, believe it is necessary as a religious right,” explained Shabana. “My mission to end this practice has led me to provide training for my TSKC team regarding the nuances of the ritual from socio-political, religious and psychological aspects. The primary goal is to not offend any community that practices this ritual but rather offer a different perspective and inspire change.
“Our work being strongly guided by Sahiyo is threefold- scientific information in communication, non-dramatised storytelling by survivors and compassionate design. Since the practice is concealed and secretive, we try to inspire social change, rather than force it which only leads to defensive reactions. Bringing about social change can also negatively impact survivors when they are exposed to harsh and gory images or visual cues such as blades or the colour red. We avoid instigating feelings of shock or anxiety and focus on the softer aspects of childhood and the strength of womanhood.
“Ancita Sherel, creative director at my agency worked with international award-winning designer Najla Qamber, to design the “Digital Activism Guide” by Sahiyo co-founder Priya Goswami, which focused on educating supporters in using the right tone of voice to be heard on digital platforms. A tweet can start a revolution and dialogue can transform a social norm.
“The challenge is that it’s not easy to get survivors to support the campaign and get involved, even anonymously. Many fear a backlash from the community or their own parents.”
When discussing the subject, there are a few key things to keep in. Step one is listening to the other person without any bias. Next, ask questions empathetically to fully understand what frame of mind they’re in at the time in order to reflect on their experience and delve deeper into the topic. Lastly, tell them they are not alone to reduce feelings of isolation.
“Let’s at least start dialogue on reformation and paving a new path for future generations,” added Shabana. “The conversations will not always end in unanimous viewpoints so keep in mind an individual’s freedom of expression and respect their opinions. It’s never about attacking the community or a person. It’s about trying to bring a social change through storytelling, raising awareness and discussion.”
Sahiyo and other anti-FGC organisations such as Orchid Project and WeSpeakOut have seen significant shifts in thinking about the practice, as a result of their efforts. In 2017, Sahiyo published the results of a two-year exploratory study conducted in the Dawoodi Bohra community, in which it found that 81 per cent of the participants wanted FGC to end.
Shabana added: “Sahiyo offers a lot of training, resources and guides on effective communication to its volunteers. FGC like most social debates is psychological negotiations. We have a societal system that venerates older generations that are averse to change and reformation. We are dealing with educated adults that have been systematically and methodically indoctrinated. When discussing anti-FGC sentiment, we have to use tact, diplomacy, empathy and optimism that would cater to the logical and humane psyche of these individuals.”
To find out more about FGC, sign the petition or donate, visit www.sahiyo.com or email Sahiyo at firstname.lastname@example.org. Designers, content writers and video editors can get in touch with the creative agency on email@example.com if they’d like to volunteer for Sahiyo work.