Coping and chronic psychosocial consequences of female genital mutilation in The Netherlands

Ethn Health. 2012;17(6):677-95. doi: 10.1080/13557858.2013.771148.


Objective: The study presented in this article explored psychosocial and relational problems of African immigrant women in The Netherlands who underwent female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), the causes they attribute to these problems--in particular, their opinions about the relationship between these problems and their circumcision--and the way they cope with these health complaints.

Design: This mixed-methods study used standardised questionnaires as well as in-depth interviews among a purposive sample of 66 women who had migrated from Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia or Sierra Leone to The Netherlands. Data were collected by ethnically similar female interviewers; interviews were coded and analysed by two independent researchers.

Results: One in six respondents suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and one-third reported symptoms related to depression or anxiety. The negative feelings caused by FGM/C became more prominent during childbirth or when suffering from physical problems. Migration to the Netherlands led to a shift in how women perceive FGM, making them more aware of the negative consequences of FGM. Many women felt ashamed to be examined by a physician and avoided visiting doctors who did not conceal their astonishment about the FGM.

Conclusion: FGM/C had a lifelong impact on the majority of the women participating in the study, causing chronic mental and psychosocial problems. Migration made women who underwent FGM/C more aware of their condition. Three types of women could be distinguished according to their coping style: the adaptives, the disempowered and the traumatised. Health care providers should become more aware of their problems and more sensitive in addressing them.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Africa / ethnology
  • Aged
  • Anxiety / ethnology
  • Anxiety / etiology*
  • Circumcision, Female / adverse effects
  • Circumcision, Female / classification
  • Circumcision, Female / ethnology
  • Circumcision, Female / psychology*
  • Depression / ethnology
  • Depression / etiology*
  • Emigrants and Immigrants / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Middle Aged
  • Netherlands
  • Sexual Dysfunctions, Psychological / ethnology
  • Sexual Dysfunctions, Psychological / etiology*
  • Shame*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / ethnology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / etiology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult