Discover our new prevalence study on FGM in Belgium

This concerns more than 35,000 girls and women in Belgium! Yesterday, our director, Fabienne Richard, a midwife with a PhD in Public Health, and Dominique Dubourg, a demographer at the Walloon Agency for Health, Welfare, Disability and Families (AVIQ) presented a new study on the prevalence of female genital mutilation in Belgium. The research was commissioned by Sarah Schlitz, Secretary of State for Gender Equality, Equal Opportunities and Diversity, and Franck Vandenbroucke, Minister for Public Health. Here is a review of the figures and recommendations presented at the press conference. This presentation was, to our great delight, widely covered by the media, both on the Flemish and Francophone sides.

It is the fourth study of its kind: the new study on the prevalence of female genital mutilation in Belgium was conducted by GAMS Belgium and AVIQ with a large consortium of institutions (CGRA, Fedasil, Médecins du Monde, IWEPS, ONE, Opgroeien, ULB, IWEPS). The study estimates that more than 23,000 circumcised women live in Belgium and that more than 12,000 minor girls born to circumcised mothers are at risk of female genital mutilation if no prevention work is done (year 2020).

The 2018 study, which was based on 2016 data, estimated 17,575 women ‘very likely to be cut’ and 8,342 girls ‘at risk of FGM’. Their numbers have been steadily increasing since monitoring began in 2007.  “This means that our country respects the Geneva Convention and continues to welcome people who need it”, says our director and researcher Fabienne Richard. “Migrants are often younger and have children, which is why the category ‘girls at risk’ is also increasing,” explains demographer Dominique Dubourg.

Higher figures in Flanders

More than 16,500 either had a FGM, girls at risk and women live in the Flemish Region (this represents an increase of 45% compared to 2016) compared to 10,000 in the Brussels-Capital Region and 8,800 in the Walloon Region. Each year, 1,700 excised women requiring appropriate care give birth in a maternity hospital.

The provinces of Antwerp and Liège, as well as the Brussels-Capital Region, are the areas with the most excised women and girls or those at risk of being excised. These figures are also an indicator of our needs and demands for funding at the federal, regional and community levels in order to be able to offer optimal support to all our beneficiaries in both the French and Flemish speaking sides of the country.  Flemish speaking colleagues Jessica Tatout, Flore Bollaert, Ladan Dirir and Lotte Buekenhout also explained in a concrete way the consequences this could have on their daily work.

“There is a crucial need to inform and raise awareness in the communities concerned, especially as the holidays approach, which is a high-risk period when they return to the country of origin”, warns Fabienne Richard. As a reminder, GAMS Belgium has launched a campaign to raise awareness of the risk of FGM during the holidays on social networks.

In addition, we find the establishment of a FGM (female genital mutilation) pathway for families who come to Belgium through family reunification and recommendations to the integrate the subject of FGM into the curriculum of health care workers. More generally, according to our researchers, a standardised policy is needed in schools to identify all forms of sexual violence against children at an early stage by adopting an integrated approach (incest, excision, etc.)’.

You can download the short version of our new study here (in French):

Estimated prevalence of girls and women having undergone or at risk of undergoing female genital mutilation living in Belgium, 2022

A few words from the women involved

“No culture can justify violence against girls and women,” said Diariou Sow – new president of GAMS Belgium. She reminded us how important it is to continue to fight against FGM in Belgium with the different communities and in the countries where excision is practised. Our coordinator for community mediators, Mariama Bah, also explained how important it is to be able to train volunteers on a long-term basis and throughout the country.

Involvement of public authorities for better prevention

We would like to thank the Secretary of State for Gender Equality, Sarah Schlitz, and the Minister of Public Health, Franck Vandenbroucke, who commissioned this study. At the press conference, the Secretary of State announced her support for two upcoming awareness campaigns. One to raise awareness of the two accredited centres offering comprehensive care for excised women (CeMAViE at the St Pierre  University Hospital in Brussels and the VrouwenKliniek at the UZ in Ghent) and the other to prevent the risks of excision as people approach their holidays, which are often synonymous with returning home. A pledge of trust for which we are grateful. We also invite you to read the press release written on this occasion right here.

A broad media coverage of the situation

Thank you to the journalists who showed up to discover the figures of the prevalence study and report on our recommendations in the public sphere. You can find many interviews and web articles on VRT, Radio 1, Het Laatste Nieuws, De Morgen, De Standaard, Gazet van Antwerpen for the Dutch-speaking press and even Grenz Echo, on the German-speaking side. You can also watch a replay of RTL‘s French-language 1pm and 7pm news programmes and RTBF‘s 1pm news programme, as well as online at Le Soir, 7sur7, RTBF and RTL.

It is with a global media coverage that we will be able to raise awareness and fight together for the abolition of female genital mutilation

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