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Belgium: Over 35,000 Women and Girls Subjected to Genital Mutilation or Are at Risk by Robert Semonsen

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Belgium: Over 35,000 Women and Girls Subjected to Genital Mutilation or Are at Risk

A government-commissioned study has revealed that more than 35,000 women and girls living across multicultural Belgium have either been subjected to—or are at risk of being subjected to—the profoundly barbaric practice known as female genital mutilation (FGM), which is pervasive in certain Muslim societies.

The study, commissioned by State Secretary of Gender Equality, Equal Opportunities, and Diversity Sarah Schlitz and Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke, was presented to the press on Tuesday and revealed that 23,395 women and young girls in Belgium have been forced to undergo FGM—partial or total removal of their external genitalia. At the same time, another 12,000 are “potentially at risk of excision” due to their origins, the Antwerp-based newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws reports.

Of some 35,000 victims and potential victims recorded in the study, over a third are underage.

In the Dutch-speaking Flemish Region of Belgium, home to 6.6 million people, more than 16,500 women and underage girls have either suffered from FGM or are in danger of being subjected to the practice, an increase of 45% compared to 2016. Additionally, in the Brussels-Capital Region and the French-speaking Walloon Region, 10,000 and 8,800 females, respectively, have either already undergone FGM or face the possibility of undergoing it.

Since Belgium began monitoring the prevalence of the FGM in 2007, the number of victims has been consistently rising.

The ‘practice,’ according to the United Nations (UN) constitutes a violation of human rights, a form of torture, an extreme form of violence, and discrimination against women and girls—and all too often results in severe physical and psychological complications throughout the victim’s lifetime. 

Speaking about the study’s immensely alarming figures, Fabienne Richard, the director of the non-profit organization Group for the Abolition of Sexual Mutilation (GAMS) and one of the authors of the study, noted that most of the women with FGM injuries received them in “their countries of origin,” adding that: “Their Belgian-born daughters run the risk of being circumcised if preventive work is not done.”

“There is a crucial need to inform and raise awareness of the communities concerned, especially as the holidays approach, which is a high-risk period with returns to the countries of origin,” Richard warned.

Richard says that the acute uptake can be explained by Belgium’s mass reception of women from Somalia, Guinea, and Djibouti, countries where the practice is nearly universal—and where 90% or more of women aged 15 to 49 have been subjected to FGM, according to data from the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF).

The number of victims and potential victims of FGM has risen sharply in Germany as well, climbing to 68,000 since 2017, an uptick of 44%, according to an announcement made in 2020 by former German Minister of Family Affairs Franziska Giffey.

Per UNICEF figures, at least 200 million women and girls living in 31 countries across Africa, the Middle East, and Asia have been subjected to some form of FGM, such as clitoridectomies, excisions, or infibulations.

Robert Semonsen is a political journalist based in Central Europe. His work has been featured in various English-language news outlets in Europe and the Americas. He has an educational background in biological and medical science. His Twitter handle is @R_Semonsen.