Empowering Migrant Women in the Netherlands: A Case Study of Hymenoplasty Consultations

Thursday, July 13, 2017
JWS - Room J7 (J361) (University of Glasgow)
Sherria Ayuandini , Universiteit van Amsterdam
The demand for hymenoplasty, a medical procedure often better known as the revirgination surgery, has been increasing for the past 15 years in Europe. In the Netherlands, this operation is often requested by Dutch women of migrant ancestry hoping to ‘perform’ virginity during their wedding night. Physicians consulting these women, who tend to come from Dutch ‘native’ descent, consider the demand for the operation to stem from a position of deficiency. Dutch doctors deem their hymenoplasty patients to be lacking of knowledge about virginity and sexuality as well as wanting bargaining power in their immediate social circle. Motivated to provide help, hymenoplasty consultations are understood by Dutch physicians within the framework of empowerment. Doctors aspire to transform women of migrant ancestry into a more enabled version of themselves who are responsible and capable to deal with challenges and problems in their life, including that which relates to virginity expectation.

Drawing from unprecedented ethnographical access from 2012-2015 to 70 hymenoplasty consultations in the Netherlands, this paper answers the following questions: (1) What assumptions about surgery seeking women inform Dutch physicians’ understanding of the needed empowerment provided during hymenoplasty consultations? (2) What goals are hoped to be accomplished by the doctors through providing empowerment to their patients? (3) What roles do Dutch doctors see their patients play in influencing the rate of demand for the operation? And ultimately (4) How are women as a subject shaped and reshaped through hymenoplasty consultation and the effort to empower by Dutch physicians?