Zero Tolerance Day in the Netherlands

February 10, 2021

The 8th of February 2021, the Zero Tolerance Day (ZTD) against Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) took place in the Netherlands. Platform 6/2 organized it this year together with the Municipality of Rotterdam and the Rijnmond Center for Youth and Family. An online program was livestreamed from the Library Theater in Rotterdam, with guests both in the studio and at home. I was invited to give a workshop during this day. Of course I was very happy to contribute, together with all my colleagues, fellow activists and friends who work in the field of FGM/C in the Netherlands.

FGM/C in the Netherlands

An estimated 41,000 women who have undergone FGM/C in the Netherlands and an additional 4,200 girls will run the risk of being cut in the next 20 years. This year, the theme of the Zero Tolerance Day was ‘Stories Against FGM/C’ and the organizers of the ZTD collected stories of women that have undergone FGM/C and currently live in the Netherlands.

These stories represent the many voices and struggles that women (and men) endure while fighting FGM/C. Based on two fictional stories, we traveled with Naila and Assatou and got to know the people they met along the way, including professionals and key persons (in Dutch: ‘sleutelpersonen’). This way, the many different angles, perspectives and fields of expertise are highlighted. After the plenary program, four workshops were organized where the following topics were discussed: FGM/C aftercare and reconstructive surgery, the impact of COVID-19, stories from countries where FGM/C is a tradition and the Theater performance ‘Adhesion’ (in Dutch: ‘Hechting).

Opening remarks

Shantie Jagmohansingh was the chair and we started the ZTD with a warm word of welcome of Judith Bokhove (councilor at the Municipality of Rotterdam) and Leon Noorlander (Adjunct-director of Pharos), who highlighted the Dutch chain approach and the major achievements of the past year.

The story of Naila and Aissatou

The first story was that of Naila, a young woman from Sudan. She is pregnant and arrives in the Netherlands. Over the following months, she meets many people on her way, including a midwife, a GP, a key figure and the GGD. These professionals provided the participants a short explanation what they do and what is important in relation to care to women who have undergone (or are at risk of) FGM/C.

The second story was that of Aissatou, a girl from Guinee. She attends the theater play ‘Hechting’ about FGM/C. During the play, Guinee is mentioned as a country where FGM/C occurs, but she didn’t know that this was the case. She asks her mother about it, but her mother doesn’t want to talk about it. Ramin (Pharos) explained the prevalence estimates of FGM/C in the Netherlands and in Guinee specifically. Furthermore, Martin Vegter of Defence for Children explains that FGM/C is also a ground for asylum, but that the Dutch government is currently rejecting many claims. In the end, Aissatou is protected by the dreams of her mother.

4 Workshops

After a short break, we continued with 4 different workshops. The first workshop was provided by Dr. Refaat Karim, a plastic surgeon who performs clitoral reconstructive surgery in the Netherlands. He gave a presentation about FGM/C aftercare and explained what the operation entails. He explains that his motive to perform the operation is as follows: “A woman comes to me with a problem. I would like to help solve that problem as best I can. As a doctor and as a person, I recognize that great and important right to self-determination.” The second workshop was organized by Plan International and Defence for Children and provided an international perspective on the fight of individual women against FGM/C in Sierra Leone. Despite the fact that the majority of women in Sierra Leone (83%) have undergone FGM/C, she consciously chooses not to be cut. What was the motivation for this choice and did this choice affect her life and if so, in what way? And would she advise parents whether or not to have their daughters circumcised and why? These types of questions were addressed in this workshop. The third workshop was a theater performance ‘Adhesion’ (in Dutch: ‘Hechting’) by the Foundation Me & Society. It is a confrontational theater piece to break the taboo about FGM/C. It is an effective and accessible way to reach groups in the Netherlands that are or may be affected by FGM/C and provides an opportunity to start talking about this sensitive topic. The last workshop was provided by me and covered the impact of COVID-19 on ending FGM/C.

My workshop

During my workshop, I explained that COVID-19 continues to impact the lives of millions of people worldwide, especially the lives of young women and girls. COVID-19 specifically affects the lives of girls and women in countries where FGM/C occurs. We clearly see an increase in FGM/C and child marriage in certain African countries since the start of the pandemic, about a year ago. I also elaborated on what this means for girls in the Netherlands who are at risk of FGM and allowed all participants to ask questions. You can find my PowerPoint presentation here.

Concluding remarks

It was great to see that so many people participated in the online event. Because it was live-streamed, people were able to ask questions in the chat, which made it very interactive as well. It was a very informative day, which I really enjoyed. I would like to thank Platform 6/2 for your invitation. It was great, as always, to work together.

If you weren’t able to participate in the online event? Don’t worry! You can watch the plenary session here and the aftermovie here.