How can faith leaders support survivors?
“We cannot just close our door sitting in our temple, and then just talk to our people. That's not enough. And even though to the religious practice, meditative practice, is for ourselves, eventually, when we get out of our temple, when we get out of our church, when we get out of our synagogue, we need to be able to talk to our political leaders, and we need to talk to our school administrators.”*
Why are faith leaders important?
Faith leaders play a significant role in the fight to end FGM/C by being allies within faith and larger communities. As faith leaders, you can have great influence and your disapproval of FGM/C can affect the opinions of your congregation and community.1 Since FGM/C has been heavily tied to religion, your stance against it, as a faith leader, is powerful to helping end the practice.2
Read more about the challenges in ending FGM/C and why faith leaders are important to this fight here: Challenges in the eradication of female genital mutilation/cutting.
FGM/C can be a traumatic experience that can have long lasting effects. For example, women who have experienced FGM/C may have negative mental health consequences - learn more in the women and survivor toolkit. They may also feel they have been harmed spiritually as religion is often used to justify the practice.3,4 Faith leaders can provide guidance and support to women in rebuilding spiritual relationships after FGM/C.
How can you provide spiritual guidance to survivors?
Create a safe environment
Create a safe environment: A safe and approachable environment helps survivors feel comfortable talking about FGM/C.* For example, use peer discussion groups, women or men-only groups, survivor support groups, and other group environments to share open dialogue. Use phrases like a "calling in" rather than "calling out" space, and start the conversation with a personal experience or story to show vulnerability as a leader when discussing difficult topics.
Spiritual guidance and discussion
Spiritual guidance and discussion: Listen openly to survivors' stories without minimizing their experiences.* Remember, some survivors may find it difficult or may not be ready to speak about FGM/C.* Ask her to think and write about her experience instead and be open to discussing if/when she is ready.*
Provide tools: Provide her with religious texts and arguments against FGM/C and highlight that your religion does not support such practices that harm women and girls, even if others may have said this in the past.* You can help her to heal spiritually, but also can refer her to support like mental health or healthcare services.*
Amplify their voices
Amplify their voices: Engage with survivors of FGM/C and encourage them to share their stories on religious platforms, if they are comfortable doing so.*,5 Statistics are important, however, creating a platform for survivors to share their stories with your support further empowers them, and is an important way to raise awareness about FGM/C.6,7 If survivors share their story, they may relive the trauma. It's important to have a mental health professional on hand.
Encourage empowerment: Support and advocate for the general empowerment of girls and women within your religious and faith-based institutions, like continuing education and speaking out against gender-based violence.*
Below is a printable, more detailed version of the information above for supporting and advocating for survivors of FGM/C:
*Interviews conducted with faith leaders in Fall 2020.