New support centre for gender and migration opens in Antwerp on International Women's Day

A new support centre for gender and migration opened in Antwerp on Friday, coinciding with International Women's Day. GemmA aims to discuss and promote gender equality and freedom of choice for people with a migration background.

"Here, women with a migration background find support from each other," said Karim Bachar, Antwerp councillor responsible for equal opportunities at the opening. "They will also find a listening ear, practical advice and help if necessary. We are extremely proud of this first support centre that works specifically at the intersection of gender and migration."

At GemmA, citizens, care providers and organisations can receive advice and training about barriers they experience regarding gender and migration. The centre is open to anyone with questions about freedom, self-determination, gender inequality, free choice of partner and female circumcision.

Caroline Gennez, federal minister for Major Cities, was also at the opening. "There is strong social control, prescribed life paths, forced marriages and in some cases even female circumcision," she said. "With this support centre, we want to embrace the concerns of these girls and women. We cannot leave them to fight for equal rights alone."


Several testimonies from men and women describe what they have overcome with help from the partners at GemmA. "My husband forbade me to do many things: going to school, going to work, getting to know Belgian society, making friends... Moreover, he controlled me and did not want me to talk about my problems with others," said an anonymous 45-year-old woman from Sudan.

At the age of seven, a female circumcision was performed on her, and she detailed how that has affected her health and life. With help from GAMS, a non-profit working to abolish the practice, she found support and information about an operation to repair the physical interventions of female circumcision.

Yasmine, 50, from Morocco was able to find help through another partner of GemmA, Safe Space vzw, to deal with difficulties in her marriage. "My first husband locked me up when he went to work," she says. "He was possessive and jealous. For example, I was no longer allowed to talk to my brothers without him present."

After leaving her first marriage, she encountered similar issues in her second, leading her to seek psychological help from a psychologist at Safe Space. "My husband's behaviour will not change. But with the help of SafeSpace, I can now deal with my family situation better. I now set my boundaries better and have breathing space," she says.

GemmA consists of Safe Space, GAMS and the Humanitarian Welfare Association, which work together to offer lectures, debates, testimonies and film evenings.


#FlandersNewsService | © PHOTO STEFANI REYNOLDS / AFP

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