The Dutch government has launched a national campaign against female genital mutilation, “Say no to FGM”.
Also known as female circumcision, FGM was relatively unknown in Europe before its introduction by migrant communities. It is a practice in which external female genital organs are either altered, injured, or removed, for reasons related to culture, religion, or both.
According to the World Health Organization, about three million girls risk being submitted to this procedure every year in Africa. FGM can cause severe bleeding, and later complications in childbirth.
Better statistics in Africa
Speaking to national and international experts in The Hague on Wednesday, Dutch Deputy Health Minister, Jet Bussemaker, said that her government had no reliable statistics on the prevalence or FGM in the Netherlands.
It is known to be widespread in the Somali community, one of the largest migrant groups in The Netherlands.
“We know that 97% of women in Somalia have been genitally mutilated, she said. “But does this also mean that 97% of the Somali women living in the Netherlands are affected by this practice? Hard figures are not available.” Dutch obstetricians have reported that around 40 percent of women from countries where FGM is practiced have been genitally mutilated.
African countries, she added, have a clearer picture of the situation (see table below) with more reliable statistics.
Reverse development cooperation
The “ Say no to FGM” campaign will widen the approach that the government believes has been successful in pilot programs in six Dutch cities. It involves informing health professionals and targeting groups and families that are at risk. FGM is illegal in the Netherlands and subject to criminal prosecution.
Ms. Zahra Naleie, from the Federation of Somali Associations in the Netherlands, said at the conference that as a result of this concerted approach, the problem of FGM is now being discussed openly within the African community. The practice has also been explicitly condemned by community leaders.
Ms. Bussemaker and Dutch Minister for Development Cooperation Bert Koenders intend to visit African countries in 2010 in order to learn from successful campaigns to combat female circumcisions on the continent.