I. National Action Plans and parliamentary resolutions
Belgium’s policy on gender-based violence was first encapsulated in its 2001 National Action Plan (NAP). The 2010-14 NAP on combating intimate partner violence and other forms of domestic violence makes particular reference to FGM, along with forced marriage and honour crimes. FGM is also referred to in the 2015-19 NAP on combating all forms of gender-based violence, in line with the Istanbul Convention (which focuses on intimate partner violence, FGM, forced marriage, honour crimes and sexual violence). NAPs are monitored, coordinated and evaluated by the Institute for the Equality of Women and Men (IEFH), with the support of outside experts and an interdepartmental group drawn from Belgium’s federal, regional and community authorities.
Belgium’s three French-speaking governments have also adopted an intra-French-speaking Action Plan to combat violence against women and domestic violence (2015-19), which includes FGM.
In addition, Belgium’s regional governments have passed a number of resolutions, including the 2015 resolution by the federation of Wallonia-Brussels and that of 2013 by the Flemish government, highlighting the importance of prevention through the training of professionals and of community-level cooperation with specialist associations (Vlaams Parlement, 2013, and Fédération Wallonie Bruxelles, 2015).
II. Protocols and multidisciplinary guides
Belgium’s current medical curriculum does not cover FGM. However, the Ministry of Health (MOH)has produced guidelines on FGM for medical professionals in French and Dutch, which have been distributed to maternity and paediatric hospital departments since 2011 (Health, Food Chain safety and Environment). The MOH also produces a laminated reference card detailing types of FGM and deinfibulation techniques. The card, which has been endorsed by Belgium’s gynaecological societies, has been distributed to maternity services for use by midwives and gynaecologists during consultations.
Several collaborative protocols on child abuse are applicable to FGM, even if they make no specific reference to the practice. Grassroots organisations have also developed a number of tools to help professionals identify and protect at-risk children, including a risk scale used to assess a particular situation and take appropriate action. This scale is available in French and Dutch, in paper or electronic format. The Dutch version, validated by the Flemish Forum for Child Abuse (VFK) has been adapted to fit the Flemish context. This risk scale has been widely used in professional training.1)VFK is a consultative structure bringing together political actors on justice and welfare, introduced as part of the framework of the Flemish Protocol for Child Abuse (2010) signed by then-minister of justice Stefaan De Clerck and current Flemish minister of welfare Jo Vandeurzen. The protocol was signed again in 2014 by the same ministers and the minister of interior. A VFK sub-committee on FGM has also been established.
III. Working groups, inter-ministerial committee and networks
A number of NGOs receive government support to work on prevention, raising awareness and training among FGM-affected groups. Belgium’s French-speaking community established a collective, participatory process to analyse action taken on FGM, the Concerted Strategies for Fighting Female Genital Mutilation (CS-FGM). The Flemish Forum for Child Abuse has also created a specific working group on FGM. Moreover, field staff are regularly invited to join federal or French-speaking-community working groups on the implementation or evaluation of NAPs.