Because it is a human right

It is a human right to have access to all of the necessary information for caring for your sexual health and that of your partner. In many countries, men and women do not have access to correct information about sexual health for a variety of reasons including limited access to education and/or a specific ideology. When these people arrive in Belgium, language often creates a new barrier to being able to obtain good information.

Because sexuality and relationships are at the heart of human beings

Talk to any professional who works with sexuality and relationships and he/she will confirm this: people who take part in a workshop or clients who seek a consultation about these themes are enthusiastic and relieved that they can finally ask questions and talk about everything they always wanted to know but never had a chance to ask. People who come from countries where little concrete information is provided at school or in the media often particularly appreciate these discussions. As a professional, it is important that you create a safe setting for this.

Because there is a genuine health issue

Do newcomers to Belgium face a greater risk when it comes to sexual health? Not necessarily. After all, newcomers are also extremely diverse, just like the general population. Some face a higher risk, while others face a lower than average risk. In other words, for them, just as for everyone, it is important to be properly informed about subjects such as safe sex, STIs, contraception and perinatal care.

However, there are a number of health problems that occur much more frequently among newcomers compared to the average population. In Sensoa’s view, this is an important argument to also give attention and care to the promotion of sexual health among newcomers. There are a variety of causes for this increased vulnerability. Poverty, precarious living conditions, vulnerability due to immigration status, limited knowledge about sexual health, limited access to care and cultural factors certainly play a role.

These are the 3 most significant sexual health risks which occur more frequently among certain groups of newcomers:

1. HIV

HIV among newcomers in Belgium

  • 52.5% of people newly diagnosed with HIV in Belgium have non-Belgium nationality. 25.5% of these come from another European country. 58.3% come from Sub-Saharan Africa. Twice as many woman as men are infected in this group. (Belgian Scientific Institute of Public Health, 2014)
  • A recent study by the Institute for Tropical Medicine showed that 6.1% of women and 3% of men of Sub-Saharan African origin in the city of Antwerp carry the HIV virus. (Loos & N​östlinger, 2015) In the past, people assumed that most foreigners became infected in their country of origin and then migrated to Belgium with their infection. However, recent research has shown that a possible 28% of the people who were not born in Belgium became infected here (Rice, 2014).

Knowledge about HIV in countries of origin

Knowledge about HIV is extremely low in many African countries.

The chart below shows the percentage of women who correctly knew about HIV in several African countries (recognizing 2 ways to protect yourself and identifying 3 statements as myths) (www.statcompiler.com)

Source: The DHS program (Demographic and Health Surveys)

2. Abortion

  • There are very few figures available about the origins of women who have an abortion in Belgium. According to research from 2004, 40% may be of foreign origin, 80% of whom are newcomers. (Vissers, 2004)
  • In the Netherlands, half of all abortions carried out in 2013 were on women of foreign origin. (Rutgers WPF, 2015)

3. Sexual violence

Asylum seekers

A study involving 9 European countries, including Belgium, showed that 75% of the migrants questioned had been a victim or personally knew someone who had been a victim of sexual or gender-related violence during his/her stay in Europe. 39% of the people questioned had been victims. 27.5% of the incidents of violence took place in an asylum centre. (Keygnaert, I., ICRH/Ghent University, 2008)

Migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa

A study on Sub-Saharan Africans in Antwerp showed that 8.8% of women and 6% of men had suffered emotional or physical violence from a partner during the previous year. Among the Sub-Saharans living in a precarious situation (1/3 of the persons surveyed), 11.2% had suffered violence from a partner during the previous year and 3.6% had experience of forced sex during the previous year. (Loos & N​östlinger, 2015)

Female genital mutilation

A study commissioned in 2014 by FPS Health estimated that 13,112 women and girls in Belgium had most probably been circumcised and 4,084 girls ran the risk of being circumcised. The Flemish Region has the highest figures for girls and women who are circumcised or who run the risk of being circumcised (6,761), followed by the Brussels-Capital Region (5,831) and the Walloon Region (3,303). (Dubourg D. et.al, 2014)

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