Transforming vulnerability into power: exploring empowerment among women with female genital mutilation in the context of migration in belgium.

AGBOLI, Afi A. (1,2); Botbol Baum, Mylene (1,2,3); Maulet, Nathalie (1,2); Richard, Fabienne (4,5); Aujoulat, Isabelle (1,2) (2019). 'Transforming vulnerability into power: exploring empowerment among women with female genital mutilation in the context of migration in Belgium.' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA 2019, London, UK.


This study discusses an aspect of empowerment in relation to the central human capabilities for women in the diaspora who have undergone Female genital mutilation (FGM). FGM, a procedure by which the female external genitals are removed for nontherapeutic reasons (WHO, 2008) puts women from practising communities under inequalities and gender-based discrimination. Some women with FGM migrate to western countries to seek protection from gender-based violence for various reasons. These reasons include, religion, politics, forced marriage, persecution because of war etc. These women have a sense of recognition in their country of origin because of FGM, however, in the host country, FGM is frown upon and officially prohibited. Moreover, any recognition that the women might have had in their own country is not here in the western world. Evidence suggests that women who have undergone the practice of FGM find themselves in vulnerable positions due to gender-based discrimination, inequalities and some women suffer disempowerment due to the practice.  The new situation the women find themselves in, coupled with issues surrounding asylum seeking put another kind of disempowerment on the women.  Nevertheless, the participants in this study appeared somehow to have been empowered through certain health promoting activities where they exercise their agency in the western social context they reside in.

This study examines the empowerment gained by the migrant women with FGM in relation to the capabilities’ perspectives.  Nussbaum’s central human capabilities’ list was drawn on as a starting point and the relation between capabilities and empowerment was explored. The analysis focused on thematic approach based on the 10 central human capabilities. The reinforcement of any of the capabilities was thus considered to be an empowerment experienced by the women. Four of the 10 central human capabilities were identified to be reinforced through the activities: Practical reason; Affiliation; Emotions; and Play.  Beside these four capabilities, the asylum issue emerged as a relevant theme important to the women and also in conjunction with as well as intertwined with empowerment.  For these migrant women, if the asylum seeking issue were solved, it would be a determinant in their empowerment process. The women’s definition of empowerment in their own terms demonstrates empowerment as an expansion of assets and capabilities, hence, asylum seeking issues become a determinant for them.

It is acknowledged that further research is needed to explore the applicability of the capability approach with FGM and empowerment in another context of migration. Women in the diaspora who are not asylum seekers or who are not in the process of asylum anymore because they have been granted the refugee status would be a good example.

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