On the occasion of the International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM, GAMS Belgium organised a webinar to shed light on the stories of the women affected. Panellists addressed the legal, medical and sexological aspects of female genital mutilation, as well as the political gaps regarding prevention, support and protection of people affected in Belgium.
Throughout the webinar, video clips were shown that were made by affected women to tell their stories with the support of GAMS psychologists and community facilitators. They served as a ground for the discussions.
Lawyer Selma Benkhelifa tackled the issue of asylum-seeking in Belgium. As a matter of fact, parents of a refugee girl in Belgium do not automatically receive the refugee status, which leaves them with a dilemma: either go back with their daughter, exposing her at risk of FGM, either without her or stay illegally. GAMS Belgium strongly advocates for this to change, and therefore published an open letter together with Fem&Law in the Belgian press.
GAMS Belgium’s Director Fabienne Richard then insisted on the importance of training all frontline professionals, including medical staff. It is indeed of utmost importance that affected people receive proper care and support.
Sexologist Cendrine Vanderhoeven further discussed her practice on tackling the consequences of FGM on one’s sexuality: “Affected women can have pleasure, contrary to what they have been led to believe. I offer them a space to talk & I accompany them in the discovery of their sexuality. We laugh a lot, it is liberating.”
Hélène Ryckmans, Senator and MP for the Walloon Region and the Wallonia-Brussels Federation was willing to give some impulse to the harmonisation and strengthening of political and financial support to the fight against FGM all over Belgium, and not solely in the Walloon Region as it is now the case.
Fabienne Richard concluded with 3 recommendations to the Belgian State:
- Provide structural funding to ensure efficiency. GAMS Belgium’s permanent funding in Wallonia is a relief; the Walloon example should be applied to Brussels and Flanders.
- Value the role of the communities involved. The expertise of community animators and peer educators should be recognised. They deserve a salary for the crucial and incredible work they do.
- Reinforce prevention at school. The potential of school medical services should be exploited through a real early prevention programme for detecting children facing FGM and other intra-familial violence as soon as possible.