Conference ‘Prevent & protect’ & Femmage for the founder of GAMS Belgium
On February 6th, on the international day of the fight against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), GAMS Belgium had the honour to hold a conference in the Belgian Senate. Most of the invitees were there for the first time, admiring the high ceilings with paintings on the walls, the red carpet and were honoured to be on the guestlist because the seats were limited.
Stéphanie d’Hose, chairwoman of the Senate welcomed us all and pointed out to look at the portraits behind us. “There are too few women hanging among all these men; yet one woman stands out : Maria Theresa of Austria. She was a mother of 16 children. What mother can combine a successful career with so many children these days?” she questioned. She reminded of the importance of the event because genital mutilation without any medical reason is a violation of human rights. She ended her opening speech with: “I also see hopeful sparks of light, such as the work of the organisation of GAMS Belgium. I want to thank you for the incredible work you are doing. Thank you to the founder Khadidiatou Diallo.” The tone was set.
Fabienne Richard, director of GAMS, highlighted the numbers with a slideshow: “200 million girls and women are affected by FGM worldwide, and she showed the evolution of prevalence in Belgium, results by province. The provinces of Antwerp and Liège have the largest numbers of women affected by FGM. In her plea, she put emphasis that there is work to be done in the distribution of resources in the country.
PANEL 1: Asylum procedures
Questions were asked by our moderator Lotte Buekenhout, legal advisor: “Is the international protection enough?” and “Has something changed since the last conference on this matter in 2019?
Marie Doutrepont (lawyer at Progress Lawyers Network) and Julie Lejeune (Director at NANSEN) each gave their lectures. Afterwards Ayse Yigit (Senator) summarised and showed her commitment with these statements:
1. Procedures for mothers of children who received international protection must change.
2. Women and girls who have undergone FGM have to be protected, also in Belgium, because of the risk of recurring FGM’. She reminded in a third point not to underestimate the damage FGM can do.
To conclude, she said: “I do want to emphasize that we are all working together on this issue, including men.” and “Women’s rights are human rights.” (…) “Politics must dare to choose. Many thanks to all the experts.”
There was heartwarming musical intervention by Robert, Malick et Bao on the kora and a guitar.
PANEL 2 – Education about emotional, relational, and sexual life
Céline Liurno (Psychologist and sexologist at Soralia) and Sophie Wouters (Coordinator at the organisation Punt) each made their points and again, a senator concluded with commitments.
“At school level we don’t separate girls from boys. They are interested. There were boys who wanted to know ‘what is an intact vulva?’
Moderator of the second panel Marianne Nguena (Coordinator of the Network FGM and the CoP) “What about training in schools?”
Senator Hélène Ryckmans mentioned that at last the family planning centres receive resources for prevention. With regards to prevention in schools there is a lot of work to be done:
“It is very important to let the girls go to the toilet when they need to.
We also need to develop their ability to say no to girls as well as to boys. We need to explain the notion of consent to them. The most important thing is training for teachers… and for girls to be strengthened in their position. With the parents they can detect the risk.”
Marianne welcomed questions from the audience with the panel delicately:
“How can you feel legitimate to talk about FGM? How do you talk about this topic? It could be seen as stigmatising. You have to be trained, there are mental, physical and psychological consequences. However, If you don’t talk to them about it, they won’t talk about it.” Sophie Wouters: “You don’t necessarily have to talk about it, but provide the space to do so.”
In between the two debates, a few moving testimonies were shared by Mariama Bah and Fos Mohamed Nur, each of them once GAMS’ beneficiaries, and now on the GAMS payroll, each making a difference in their respective communities. During the reception I overheard a guest repeating and appreciating Fos’ advice on being a friend to her daughters to gain their trust.
Fabienne Richard then officially began the ‘femmage’ in honour of founder Khadidiatou Diallo and shared a few important highlights from the first 26 years of GAMS Belgium. She recalled how Khadia’s approach made members of the parliament faint when Khadia showed them movies of the practice to take action on national level. GAMS’ strategy has changed since, and the organisation has grown.
Fabienne Richard: “In Belgium we are strong in terms of protection. The law is used in a protective way.”
Mariam Diallo, an early child from GAMS Belgium testified of how Khadia and the organisation have transformed her life. She brought many in the audience to tears.
In a short movie the audience was informed of the 4500 girls already saved in Belgium.
Khadidiatou Diallo was beaming with light throughout the event.
Khadia remembered to thank each politician, person and some institutions like Fonds Houtman who helped with GAMS’ mission in the early days. She also thanked the whole GAMS team and explicitly mentioned that “GAMS Belgium wouldn’t be what it is today without Fabienne Richard given the organisation so much of her time and her life”
Then she passed on the microphone to Diariou Sow, a young activist from Guinee who recently became a mother. After 26 years Khadidiatou passed on the presidency to Diariou in June 2022. Khadia wished Diariou luck and courage and an elephant’s skin to carry out the task.
Diariou Sow, all in white, addressed all excellencies and guests in the venue, and then made her vows as president of GAMS Belgium.
The work on combating this gender-based violence continues, there is a long road ahead. This conference ‘prevent and protect’ girls and women in Belgium was a successful and important landmark.
Text: Margarita Coppé
Photos: Layla Aerts