Stories of Resilience against Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting on Radio 1
Published in  
Public Speaking
March 15, 2024

Stories of Resilience against Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting on Radio 1

In March 2024, NPO Radio 1 broadcasted an impactful series on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C). Honouring International Women’s Day, survivors, advocates, and experts were on Dutch national radio, sharing stories, urging for compassion, education, and action. From challenging misconceptions to reclaiming autonomy, these broadcasts called for more awareness about the practice and a future free of FGM/C!

Radio programme 5 Days

5 Days... is a show on Radio 1 that seeks personal stories in a different municipality every week alongside the news. Through these broadcasts, survivors, advocates, and medical professionals shared their stories that consist of resilience and empowerment used to break cultural taboos and systemic injustices on the topic of FGM/C. Various themes have been discussed within four episodes, such as the impact of FGM/C, prevention of the practice and how women can re-claim their identity.

Misconceptions about FGM/C

The first episode began with Dr. Annemarie Middelburg and Istahil Abdulahi sharing their experiences and expertise. Istahil shared her personal testimony and explained how her childhood innocence was debilitated by the trauma of FGM/C. Annemarie provided more background information and explained that FGM/C is not a religious practice, but a traditional practice linked to ethnicity. It is important to challenge misconceptions and address the pervasiveness of this practice around the globe.

"When my mother saw us undergoing the cut, she fainted. There was nothing she could do, so she was just quiet and we never spoke about it again.”

This episode also highlighted the need for healthcare professionals in the Netherlands to discuss the topic with women from risk countries. Research shows that Dutch healthcare professionals often lack knowledge about the practice, for example in relation to the types of FGM/C, where it happens and what the reasons are for performing the practice. They often don't know about the health consequences of FGM/C, including the psychological implications of FGM/C, such as PTSD and issues of identity and womanhood, have only recently garnered attention. Initially, focus was primarily on physical complaints, with medical professionals often still failing to link them to the practice. Their conversation underscored the urgent need for education and awareness to recognize and address misconceptions, and the importance to also focus on the physical and psychological effects of FGM/C.

The first episode (March 4th) is available here.

Social pressure, Community and Family

In subsequent episodes, change advocates Lubna Abdul and her husband Ahmed Ibrahim, both orginally from Sudan, spoke about the delicate balance between tradition within communities and progress. They shared the importance of familial supportin breaking the cycle of FGM/C. The couple courageously opens up about their upbringing and their determination to break the cycle of taboo surrounding FGM/C. Through openness and challenging conversations with their daughter and son, they strive to create a different environment for their children compared totheir own upbringing. Resisting against societal, familial and community pressuresis hard. Nonetheless, their story illustrated the potential of safeguarding women’s rights for future generations making it an inspiring illustration of how changeworks within practicing communities.

The second episode (March 5th) is available here.

Empowerment and Education

Furthermore, medical anthropologist Martine Bos together with Fahama Said, youth protector for unaccompanied minor refugees continued the dialogue, emphasizing the importance of empowerment and educationin combating FGM/C. Martine's encounter with the practice in Sudan showcased the cultural complexities that come with the practice, highlighting the importanceof cultural sensitivity when addressing the topic, and the much needed nuance for change approaches to be effective. She explained that people from practicing communities know that culture is fluid and allowed to change: "You may treasure the good and let go of the bad.” Fahama’s dedication to opening dialogue within immigrant communities showed the transformative power education can have. The importance of cultural sensitivity stood out in this episode. As outsiders, it's tempting to condemn practices like FGM/C without understandingtheir cultural context correctly. For practicing  communities, the tradition runs deep, making it challenging to change. Convincing them to abandon FGM/C requiresunderstanding the complex cultural layers of the tradition.

The third episode (March 6th) is available here.

Reclaiming Your Body and Self-Determination

The series ended with a reflection on healing, as plastic surgeon Refaat Karim and gynaecologist Judith Dekker shared their journey of restoring the confidence and autonomy of survivors through reconstructive surgery. Over the past ten years, they have operated about 60 women. These operations do not only serve for physical relieve, but also for the ability of women who underwent FGM/C to reclaim their bodies and feel empowered through self-determination.

“ The most important reason that people want clitoral reconstructive surgery is to reverse the injustice that has been done to them.”

In this episode you notably hear the dedication of Refaat and Judith, who approach every patient with equal care and compassion. They shared that the essence of every doctor-patient conversation, is listening to the wishes of the woman that is in front of them. They want to see the women in their entirety, including their social and familial situation. Repairing the well-being of these women isimportant to shed some extra light on while this group of patients has beenoverlooked for far too long.

The fourth episode (March 7th) is available here.

The broadcasts ask to stand in solidarity withsurvivors in workingtowards a future free of the practice of FGM/C. It wasremarkable how guests bravely discussed and challenged the topic of FGM/C ineach episode. More information about the four radiobroadcasts can be be found here