Lecture Amnesty International Student Group Groningen

February 11, 2019

The 6th of February 2019, after attending the Zero Tolerence Day in Amsterdam, I gave a lecture in Groningen. I was invited by the Activism Committee of the Amnesty International Student Group Groningen (AISG).

The aim of the lecture was to raise awareness about Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) among the student population. In the announcement of the event, the students wrote the following:

The moving story of Waries Dirie was depicted in “Desert Flower” and the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) gained worldwide attention. This phenomenon and the suffering of young women is not a fictional scenario used in cinematic productions, in reality, millions of women are experiencing it across the globe; even within the borders of Europe!

But what does female genital mutilation exactly mean? How does it affect women’s reproductive system, their sex drive and their general health? What are its short and long term consequences? Does it really occur in Europe? What general laws are there to protect against it? And most importantly: Is there a solution?

Join us on February the 6th, the International Day of ZERO TOLERANCE For Female Genital Mutilation, where our speakers: Dr. Marjan van den Berg and Dr. Annemarie Middelburg, will share their extensive and valuable experiences with us on this topic, from medical and socio-legal perspectives.

It was really nice to be in Groningen for this event. Many students participated – almost too many for the size of the room – but we managed to squeeze everybody in. We started with a lecture of Dr. Marjan van den Berg, who is a gynecologist at the UMCG and is part of Centrum Seksueel Geweld (Sexual Violence/Assault Center) in Groningen. She has a special interest in pediatric gynecology and has had experience with women who had undergone FGM/C while working in Rotterdam. In her talk, Dr. van den Berg discussed FGM/C from the medical perspective, including short and long term effects on women’s health and the guidelines followed by doctors in the Netherlands when they are providing health care to women who underwent FGM/C.

Afterwards, I gave my lecture about my experiences in the field of FGM/C. I decided not to give a presentation using a powerpoint with text (like I usually do), but instead I shared my story by showing students pictures from many different countries, including a massaai girl from Kenya, an imam from Senegal, a prisoner from Burkina Faso, a grandmother from Ethiopia, and so forth and so on. In my talk, I focused on the legal perspective towards FGM/C, including the effectiveness of the national and international laws concerning FGM/C, challenges faced by legislators protecting FGM/C victims and my own experience working in this field.

After the two lectures, there was enough time for discussion. The Q&A session was very lively, students had so many questions! I absolutely enjoyed answering all those questions, because these questions were going in many different directions. We discussed for example the difference between FGM/C and male circumcision, the conflicting human rights, the need for legislation, the reasons why mothers decide that their daughters should undergo FGM/C, the way FGM/C is done, the medical, social and sexual consequences of the practice, the medicalisation of the practice, etc. Afterwards, we had a beer and continued the discussion.

A few days later I received the following kind words of Nina Valentini of the Amnesty International Student Group Groningen:

We, the Activism Committee of the Amnesty International Student Group Groningen (AISG), hosted Annemarie for a lecture in February 2019 in the context of the Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation. The aim of the lecture was to raise awareness about Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting among the student population. Annemarie exceeded our expectations. Her lecture was highly informative, and managed to give a detailed insights especially into the cultural circumstances surrounding FGM/C. The stories of her first-hand experience researching the topic added a very personal dimension to the talk and illustrated the concrete and timely presence of a topic that in the minds of many only happens ‘far away’. Additionally, her answers to questions from the audience highlighted her immense knowledge on the subject and she gladly stayed after the lecture to discuss further comments.

I would like to thank the organizers of the event for their invitation!