Symposium International Women’s Day at Tilburg University
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Public Speaking
March 22, 2022

Symposium International Women’s Day at Tilburg University

The 8th of March 2022, the Symposium Committee of Students Tilburg Amnesty International (STAI) organized an event about Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) at Tilburg University. We invited two guest speakers for this special occasion: Dr. Annemarie Middelburg and Istahil Abdulahi.

The hybrid event took place at Tilburg University Campus, and we were happy to see many students join us live as well as remotely through Zoom. The evening started with an introduction of the two speakers by the chair of STAI. 

Introduction to FGM/C 

Then Dr. Annemarie Middelburg informed us about what FGM/C is, the numerous risks which come with the procedure as well as the reasons for its large acceptance in certain societies. The patriarchal beliefs about what is considered proper sexual behaviour for girls and women play an important role: “People believe that sexual desire of girls and women needs to be reduced to avoid promiscuity,” Dr. Annemarie explained. She also shared how she was put herself in a difficult position when she was in Senegal. Local women asked her (despite feeling and knowing the harms of the practice herself) whether her daughter should undergo the same agony. If the daughter does not undergo this procedure, she would be ostracized, not meet the social norms and therefore not find a suitable husband, which is essential for her existence and acceptance within the community. On the other hand, proceeding with FGM/C would mean lifelong emotional and psychological distress as well as long-term complications like menstrual problems, urinary problems, scar tissue, keloid, and many more.

Moving story 

Afterwards, Istahil Abdulahi shared her moving story. She originates from Somalia and underwent the most severe form of FGM/C herself at the age of 6. Istahil explained to us what exactly happened the day she underwent the practice. She also explained how she applied for asylum in the Netherlands, how she settled down here and only then realised what had been done to her when she was still a young girl: “The problem, I think, with people from my country, is that we never learn how to talk about anything […] But the world will become a better place if we will start sharing our stories.” This was one of the reasons for Istahil to start sharing her story and raise awareness regarding this issue. These two inspiring and strong personalities are now good friends and work closely together in raising awareness and making a change. 

A more just world 

The audience was moved and shocked by the fact that this still is the reality for so many girls and women living today. Due to the comfort and openness of our speakers, we were all given the chance to ask questions, which gave us an even deeper understanding and insight into this problem. All of us were keen to know how to help and step in to stop this awful procedure and change the circumstances of many girls worldwide. We are really thankful that this eye-opening event showed us that there is still a lot of work to be done to fight for a world with more equality and justice. 

For those who missed the event: the PowerPoint presentation of Dr. Annemarie Middelburg can be downloaded here: