Immigrant Women Victims of Genital Mutilation: Assistance Still Insufficient

Women immigrant women victims of genital mutilation: help remains insufficient

Each year, a significant number of women seek protection from Canada in order to escape the threat of excision (on them or their daughters) in their country of origin.

Despite the efforts and commitment of certain Montreal organizations to help immigrant women who have suffered a form of genital mutilation in their country of origin, the psychosocial and medical support they need to reclaim their bodies and their sexuality remains. insufficient.

“I left home shortly after giving birth to save my daughter, who would have been circumcised if I had stayed. We hid until we left for Canada,” recounts not without emotion Aminata*, who arrived in Montreal from Senegal in 2017 with her little girl of a few months.

“Cutting is now banned in my country, but people still do it on the sly. My mother wanted to bring my youngest daughter to Senegal to have her circumcised after I gave birth, but I prevented her from doing so”, adds the mother of the family.

Since 2003, article 5 of the Maputo Protocol of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women prohibits all forms of female genital mutilation. But this practice, exercised in particular on young girls between childhood and adolescence, persists in about thirty countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

Protection in Canada

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than 200 million girls and women still alive have been victimized of genital mutilation, of which more than 12.5 million currently reside in the West.

Participating in the genital mutilation of girls and women or taking steps to remove a child from Canada to perform the procedure in another country is a criminal offense in Canada.

Although there are no official statistics, Canada receives thousands of immigrant and asylum seekers each year from countries where female genital mutilation remains a common practice.

These women constitute a social group which must be protected according to the Geneva Convention.

It's still a taboo subject, we don't talk about it much in Quebec, but there are many immigrant women who have been circumcised in their country of origin.

Anne-Marie Bellemare, social worker at La Maison Bleue in Park-Extension

Support and accompaniment

The team of professionals at La Maison Bleue has developed expertise in helping women who are victims of genital mutilation during pregnancy and childbirth. Midwives and doctors work there in close collaboration to ensure the psychosocial and medical follow-up of these women who live with deep physical and psychological sequelae.

“Childbirth for women for whom healing after excision has gone wrong can be traumatic,” says Ms. Bellemare, who is delighted to be able to accompany circumcised women on the day of their delivery. “That wouldn't be possible if I worked at the CLSC or elsewhere.”

There were a lot of people around me when I gave birth to my second daughter here. It was a nightmare to have to spread my legs in front of them.

Aminata, immigrant woman circumcised in Senegal at the age of 3

Aminata says she is grateful for the psychosocial and medical support obtained from the professionals at La Maison Bleue, but she deplores the lack of awareness of the reality of women victims of genital mutilation elsewhere in the health system. “Not all doctors are familiar with what I went through and they are surprised to see my lips cut out. It makes me uncomfortable every time I have to be examined,” says the 30-year-old mother.

Continue raising awareness in Quebec

< p>Formed in 2015 by Zenab Sangare, the Committee for the Fight against Genital Mutilation of the Action Network for the Equality of Immigrant and Racialized Women in Quebec (RAFIQ) offers women who have been victims of it a safe space to share their stories and their experiences.

It is important to continue to raise awareness of the fact that thousands of circumcised women live among us.

Zenab Sangare, coordinator of the International Day of Tolerance zero for female genital mutilation, marked each year on February 6

“Thanks to the activities of the committee, many women who had difficulty talking about their experience have become community relays,” says Ms. Sangare, who deplores the interruption of financial support from the Ministry of Justice to the committee, received from 2017. until 2020.

Last February, Ms. Sangare set up the Zenab Sangare Foundation with the aim of raising funds to help finance reconstructive surgeries and psychosocial and sexology support services for female victims of genital mutilation.

Women who wish to undergo this surgery must currently pay up to $10,000, as this surgery is not covered by the Quebec and Canadian public health systems.

“Several women on the committee had surgery in the United States or France in the past and they thrive very well today, but few women have access to surgery,” laments Ms. Sangare.

“Cut women, we feel different from others. I would like to have my body repaired, but I can't afford the medical consultations or the operation,” Aminata tells us.

*name changed to protect her identity.< /em>

This text was produced as part of the Local Journalism Initiative.

A possible case of excision in Quebec

Recall that on May 5, the RAFIQ Committee for the Fight against Genital Mutilation issued a press release in response to the report of a possible case of excision of a 2-year-old girl in Saguenay and the refusal of the Direction de la protection de la jeunesse (DPJ) to take action.

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