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Gender equality education for refugees
By Jerry Brownstein
When he first arrived in Norway, Abdu Osman Kelifa, a Muslim asylum seeker from Eritrea in Africa, was shocked to see women in skimpy clothes drinking alcohol and kissing in public. He said that back home only prostitutes act like that. Mr Kelifa was a perfect candidate to take part in a program that seeks to prevent sexual and other violence, by helping male immigrants from cultures where women are treated as less than equals, to adapt to the freedom of European societies.
With more than a million asylum seekers coming to Europe, an increasing number of activists and politicians realize that it is important to offer coaching in European sexual norms and social codes. In Denmark, lawmakers are pushing to have sex education included in mandatory language classes for refugees. The German region of Bavaria, the main entry point to Germany for asylum seekers, is already experimenting with such classes at a shelter for teenage migrants in the town of Passau. Norway has been leading the way on this, and the head of its immigration department explains it this way: “Many refugees come from societies that are not gender equal, and where women are the property of men. We have to help them adapt to their new culture.”
The system in Norway is organized around group discussions, and the course manual sets out a simple rule that all asylum seekers need to learn and follow: “To force someone to have sex is not permitted in Norway, even when you are married to that person.”
Mr Kelifa says that he has now learned how to read previously baffling signals from women who wear short skirts, smile or simply walk alone at night. He explained that in his country, “If someone wants a lady he can just take her and he will not be punished... at least not by the police.” Norway, he said, treats women differently. “They can do any job from prime minister to truck driver and they have the right to relax in bars or on the street without being bothered.”