Immigrants seeking asylum in Norway are required to attend compulsory classes on female rights — a response to a series of rapes, 75 percent of which were committed by immigrants, in the city of Stavanger between 2009 and 2011. The Guardian’s Jenny Kleeman travelled to the town of Moi, 65 miles southeast of Stavanger, where she attended one such class, and talked with the adult students attending it.
In the classroom, the teacher, Gro Helland, showed an image of woman wearing the hijab alongside a woman wearing a miniskirt. “Do you think there are some differences between these girls?” she asked. One of the students smiled wryly in response.
“So you’re saying we shouldn’t stare at women in short dresses?” he asked. “But equally, some Norwegians look at women who wear very traditional hijab and assume they’re ignorant and backward. We have to learn — but they also need to learn about us too.”
Speaking with Helland after the class, Kleeman asked about the culture clash experienced by Muslim immigrants to the country. “We have had men in the beginning just staring at us,” said Helland, gesturing at her western attire. Asked about the risk of making these immigrants feel stigmatized, Helland says that many do. “But they need it,” she added, laughing.
According to Suad, a single mother of four originally from Qatar attending the class, the lessons leave little lasting impression, except perhaps to prepare them if their children, growing up in Norway, adopt western values. “Personally, I think it’s impossible for me to change and have all this freedom,” she said. “But for my kids,” she noted, ” … It’s up to them if they want to take those steps.” As for changing the beliefs of full-grown men, however, Suad was less optimistic. “No Eastern man can be changed by a Norwegian class he goes to every Thursday,” she said.
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