Mariya Taher is a Gender Violence Activist who defends women’s rights through storytelling

At our Third Annual Gala on Nov. 6, MALA was honored to recognize the groundbreaking work of Mariya Taher, a long-time gender violence activist and co-founder of Sahiyo, an organization dedicated to ending Female Gential Cutting (FGC).

Mariya was awarded MALA’s first annual Human Rights Storytellers Award in recognition of her outstanding contribution to defending human rights through storytelling, in particular working to protect women’s bodies from cutting – and bringing women who have been cut on a journey of healing and empowerment.

Mariya has worked in the field of gender violence for nearly ten years, focusing on issues of domestic violence at W.O.M.A.N., Inc.; Asian Women’s Shelter; and Saheli, Support and Friendship for South Asian Women and Families.

She was a 2014 Women’s Policy Institute for The Women’s Foundation of California and her team successfully passed legislation to provide low-income survivors of domestic violence with basic needs grants.

Currently, she works with the Massachusetts Women’s Bar Association on passing state legislation to criminalize FGC and build public awareness campaigns on FGC within the state. She serves on the steering committee for the U.S. Network to End FGM/C. The Manhattan Young Democrats named her a 2017 Engendering Progress honoree and she was named 1 of the 6 FGC experts to watch by

In 2015, she cofounded Sahiyo, which provide resources and support to women and girls who are either survivors, or at risk of Female Genital Cutting (FGC). Sahiyo focuses on women in Dawoodi Bohra communities, but has reached out to include survivors of all different backgrounds. Sahiyo’s approach emphasizes agency and empowerment through storytelling in order to spark discussion and strengthen solidarity within the community.  MALA is proud to honor this work, and privileged to collaborate with ambitious and dedicated individuals like Mariya.

At the Gala, MALA cofounder Zainab Khan delivered the following tribute:


The cornerstone of MALA’s programs is the upholding of human rights.

Through our tremendous outreach and the courage of our story-tellers, MALA has received hundreds of stories central to this theme, ranging from child marriage, to political dissidents, to asylees, refugees, survivors of gender based violence, and more. These stories from survivors truly depict triumph over adversity.

MALA’s integrative approach to human rights advocacy incorporates community organizing and coalition building.

For the past four years, MALA has been part of the annual meeting of the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women. We have also partnered with organizations such as UNICEF and Malala Fund to work on campaigns to shed light on multiple dimensions of human rights issues.

This year, MALA is honored to present its first Human Rights Storytellers Award to Mariya Taher, founder of Sahiyo, a non-profit dedicated to empowering Asian communities to end female genital cutting (FGC) and create positive social change.

For nearly a decade, Mariya has worked to end gender violence through her teaching, research, advocacy, program development, and direct service. Currently, she is working with the Massachusetts Women’s Bar Association to pass state legislation to criminalize FGC.

Through grassroots story-telling programs and by providing an accessible and safe platform for survivors to share their stories, Mariya tirelessly paves the way to expand advocacy and awareness, as well as legislative change. Mariya’s organization, Sahiyo, has also been recently awarded the prestigious Viive Healthcare: Positive Action Change Grant to increase the story-telling project to lead digital stories.

An estimated 500,000 women and girls are at risk in the USA of undergoing FGM, and it is through the efforts of leaders such as Mariya that we can have hope for the future.

Tonight, we are honored to recognize Mariya and celebrate her story as a leader initiating powerful change through her transformative work to a worldwide audience.


Mariya Taher at MALA's Third Annual Gala Storytellers Award

Mariya Taher (right) at MALA’s Third Annual Gala on November 6.

To see more photos from MALA’s Third Annual Gala at the Chicago History Museum, visit MALA’s Flickr page.


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