On the 6th of February 2019, I attended the Zero Tolerance Day (ZTD) against Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) in the Netherlands. This year, the event was organized by Veilig Thuis Amsterdam-Amstelland and took place in the Amsterdam Public Library. The theme this year was 'Change through Connection' (‘Verandering door Verbinding’).
The ZTD focused on the important role of key persons ('sleutelpersonen') and emphasis was put on the Dutch Chain Approach ('ketenaanpak'). According to this approach, solid connection and effective collaboration between all different actors in the field of FGM/C is crucial to achieve results, including in terms of prevention, healthcare and law enforcement. Therefore, key persons are indispensable in the Dutch approach, as they are an important link between the target group and professionals. During the ZTD, special attention was paid to their connecting role. You can find the full program here (in Dutch).
In 2003, the United Nations declared the 6th of February as the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation. It became an annual awareness day, which is celebrated all over the world. The aim of the ZTD is to raise awareness about FGM/C, with the ultimate aim to urge all countries that FGM/C needs to stop. Since 2004, Platform 6/2 organizes the Zero Tolerance Day annually in the Netherlands. Platform 6/2 is a collaboration between different organizations that work in the field of FGM/C, including Amref Flying Doctors, Defense for Children-ECPAT Netherlands, Federation Somali Associations Netherlands (FSAN), Pharos and Plan International Netherlands. This year, the platform was supported by Veilig Thuis Amsterdam-Amstelland.
The chairman of the day, Ali Yahye, who himself is from Somalia, welcomed all participants very warmly. It was nice to see that each and every year the amount of people attending the ZTD is increasing! He also shared his personal story and explained that his mother did not want to let his sister undergo FGM/C, but that she - unfortunately - could not resist the pressure to do so. He emphasized that FGM/C is still happening today and that girls in the Netherlands are at risk of becoming a victim of FGM/C.
Jan Woldman, who is the Adjunct-Director of GGD Amsterdam, opened the ZTD. He explained how key persons can help communities that want to stop FGM/C. Key persons can be women who underwent FGM/C themselves, or who know a lot about it, but it could also be men.
Then, Zahra Naleie (Senior Program Manager of FSAN) was invited to the main stage, as FSAN was celebrating their 25 year birthday! Congratulations Zahra!
Key persons and the Dutch Chain Approach
The next presentation was provided by Diana Geraci, Project Manager at Pharos. She first explained how the Dutch Chain Approach to fight FGM/C in the Netherlands works. The Dutch Chain Approach is well known in many European countries and the Dutch government, together with NGOs, have achieved a lot. The chain covers prevention, care and law enforcement and she explained how and why the key persons have a central role in this chain, as they encourage communication between professionals and the family/children concerned. This approach has yielded good results in the past years, but Diana also explained that there is still room for improvement and she mentioned some aspects. Important players - such as health care professionals - do not yet appear to be sufficiently involved in the Dutch chain approach, resulting in a sometimes fragmented cooperation.
After the plenary session, four different workshops were organized.
The role of key persons FGM in the Netherlands by Marthine Bos (Project Manager Prevention FGM/C, GGD IJsselland).
Over the past years, Marthine has trained many key persons. She shared with us her experiences and elaborated on the important role that key persons fulfill. A key person was presented as someone with a golden heart, and who is not afraid to talk about the old age taboo. She explained how people from communities can become a key person and how key persons are trained, as it is very difficult for both men and women to reach out for help concerning FGM/C as it is still in many communities a taboo subject. This is also the reason why key persons are really important in the elimination of FGM/C, as they can make the issue discussable. We also watched a video interview I produced together with Marijke Hoebee for De Wereldwijven, where two very brave ladies - who are both also key persons for FSAN - talk about their experiences of undergoing FGM/C in Somalia and Ethiopia respectively. It is great to see how they are empowered and now share their experiences with the ultimate aim to prevent that the new generation is subjected to FGM/C.
Cooperation in the aftercare by Ruth Kaufmann (Forensic nurse and case manager, GGD Amsterdam).
Ruth explained that the GGD Amsterdam has since one year (introduced as of 1 January 2018) consultation hours ('spreekuren') regarding FGM/C. During the consultation hour, a trained GGD nurse is available for questions or health complaints of women who underwent FGM/C. If necessary, the nurse can refer the women to a medical specialist, such a gynecologist. This is important, because approximately 14,000 girls aged 0-19 years live in Amsterdam who (or whose parents) come from a country where FGM/C is a common practice. She explains that cooperation agreements are made between the various chain partners in Amsterdam in relation to the prevention and early identification of FGM/C and she explained the follow-up process after signaling. This is connected to the local chain of domestic violence and child abuse. The parties involved in the chain include Youth Health Care, GPs, pediatricians, midwives, Safety Home, Child Care and Police. Ruth explains that six women have attended the consultation hour so far, including one in 2019. She says that the GGD Amsterdam is happy that it is working as some women have found their way to the consultation hour, but at the same time they still have a long way to go, as there are many women living in the Netherlands and particularly Amsterdam who underwent FGM/C.
The role of men in the fight against FGM by Babah Tarawally (Anti-FGM/C campaigner of Amref Flying Doctors).
Babah talked about the important role of men in relation to the elimination of FGM/C: what they can do to help and how they can eliminate the practice. He explained that men have a huge role to play, as they often have a dominant position in the communities where FGM/C is practiced. What men, according to Babah, should do is listen, talk and personalize their experience with FGM/C, give a good example on how you should deal with FGM/C, dare to disagree and to correct other men on their behavior. We also watched the documentary “Jaha’s promise” which showed how Jaha succeeded in criminalizing FGM/C in her country, The Gambia. We discussed ways on how men can be taught that FGM/C is bad: there is the 'soft way' of respectfully talking about it and giving personal examples on how FGM/C is bad, finding influencers who can preach the word, and persuade important figures as the Imam by spawning. However, men can also learn it the 'hard way' by showing them a video of the cutting itself or witness the consequences of FGM/C themselves, as usually they do not 100% realize or know what is really happening.
The role of girls advocates in the fight against FGM/C by Linda Barry (Programme Officer, Defence for Children-ECPAT the Netherlands).
Linda talked about the importance of participation of the youth in the fight against FGM/C. She explained why it is important that FGM/C is a topic that is discussed in schools, for example as a part of sex education. Also, she expressed her wish that FGM/C becomes a topic that is easier to talk about among girls that already have been cut. Theatre proves to be helpful to accomplish this. Among other things, she also discussed that we can empower women through the use of social media.
After the workshops, all four facilitators of the workshops summarized the main issues discussed during the plenary session. Zahra Naleie, Senior Program Manager of FSAN closed the ZTD, by pointing out how important our work in the field of FGM/C is: "FGM/C remains a concern, but we should not forget that we have achieved a lot in the past years in the Netherlands!"
Afterwards, there was time for drinks and networking.