I have been involved with work with asylum seekers since the autumn 2015. During this time, through hints and common sense I have been rather concerned the whole time about how women cope with circumstances both before arriving here and after arriving here.
It has been difficult to get a hold on the women however. Men are so much more assertive and the women has also chosen to be rather silent about their things. To get rid of the fear takes time. Also, we need to be much better in being clear about what constitutes women’s right in this country for new-comers. It is their right and duty to know.
Women’s rights, the circumstances in for example Iraq, and women’s situation in the reception centres has been covered and talked about way too little.
Today I met up with one Arabic and one Kurdish woman from Iraq to discuss things that I feel that has been left outside much of the media coverage. These two ladies also said, that they had chosen to be silent for a very long time because of fear, but now they do want to speak up about what women are enduring. I was glad that they wanted to share their stories with me. We met today for the first time, and I hope we will by time develop a cooperation in working for women’s rights together.
During our conversation, some very concerning issues came up immediately.
One of these issues were that one of the ladies had been abused and sexually harrassed in the reception centre by men from her country. The reason, because she was here alone without family. The staff at the centre did not interfere when she brought this up with them. They also refused to call the police with the excuse that the police station would have been closed because it was outside office hours. The abuse had been catched on the security cameras, but it did not make the staff any more cooperative in helping the woman filing a report. This happened in a reception centre in northern Finland.
Another aspect that made me somewhat shocked with the staff at the reception centre was that the other woman told me that she has been circumcised and when she finally got the courage to speak about that with the social worker at her reception centre, the social worker did not first want to believe that FGM was done in Iraq. Our officials should however know better than this. It does not take more than a quick search on in the Internet to find information about this.
Both of these women had escaped their families because of abuse and forced marriage. One of the women were 15 years old when her brother wanted her to marry a much older man. In the migration interview one of the ladies was asked if she could not move to Bagdad or Kurdistan. To suggest to a woman to go and live in the Iraqi Kurdistan or Bagdad alone without any family to support and back her up…? Should not the migration office officials know better than that?
Both of these women have been disavowed by their family and risk being killed.
The women tell me that there is no other way than to live with your family or get married. If both options are unbearable, women might commit suicide because there is no other way. If the family is not good for the girl, she has nowhere she can turn.
Another very alarming aspect of this was that these women were still scared from the population from their country. They are afraid to go to the disco, or to talk about their family situation, to admit that they live alone and so on. Even though we are in Finland where democratic freedom and Human Rights should entail everyone. In practice, however, it does not.
If we fail with the integration, we will fail with the work for peace.
It is important that each and everyone understands democratic principles, really understand them. We have read a big bulk of media coverage of how the justice system is failing the asylum seeking men. This is of course important, when the justice system is failing, it also means democracy and institutions that is supposed to protect human rights is failing.
However, we have seen less of coverage of the way the system is failing asylum seeking women, especially the services at the reception centres, and we need to take this into account and look into this. But, also, as we can read in the newspapers about the case of Lara (Turun Sanomat 30.6.2017), it is not to be taken for granted that the migration policies considers the need of protection of a woman who risks the options being killed or forcibly married if she is returned to her country. This does not measure up to the women’s rights that Finland should be a model country for.
Also, we really need to emphasize to each and everyone that equality includes also equality between the sexes. this is one very essential aspect of democracy. If people come here for peace and justice, they also need to learn what it takes to build it. This require work, and responsibility from both the receiving, but also from the received population. One relevant aspect to point out is that to come for peace, justice and democracy also means that it is essential to respect the principles that upholds them. To respect women as equal to men is one of them. This means in small and big things. No-one has no right to bully a woman, calling here a whore or bad woman when she enjoys the same freedoms as men, such as living alone or enjoying sex on her own conditions for example. No-one has the right to threat or scorn others, for example because of belonging to gender and sexuality-minorities or racialized “others”. And of course, no-one has the right to abuse or kill anyone, not in the name of (dis/)honour, or any other reason.
We all need to work for upholding democratic principles together. We have forces both inside and outside the borders of this country that challenges them. We need to stay clear in what constitutes democracy, stability and peace. Women’s equal rights is part of that and we all need to take responsibility of that together, now.