Discussing gender structures in the camps

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Each Monday, women with and without Danish citizenship meet in the user-driven culture house, The Trampoline House, to discuss women’s conditions and strategies for survival across the globe. On Monday the 3rd of June 2013, the discussion was about gender structures in Danish asylum camps and the surrounding society as such. The following conversation excerpts are from the discussion, where eight women participated. The excerpts illustrate the core themes of the gender structure discussion, male dominance and the women’s experience of being unsafe and unprotected. Especially in the camps.

By Liv Nimand Duvå • Illustration by Marie Northroup • From #8, 2013

A: There are differences between men and women, but there are differences between everybody and people’s cases are different. Some people get crazy because they have been in the asylum camps for eight or ten years. If I had been there that long, I would get crazy too. It’s sad to see things like this. But this is camp life.

B: But we should figure out some ways to support women especially. People shouldn’t be afraid of leaving their rooms at night because of their gender. Last Monday there was a woman here who said that it was hard for her to leave her room, because all the time men asked to have sex with her for money.

A: Yes, this happens all the time. That is why we should be careful and take care of ourselves. If a woman has relationships with many men in the camp, all the men would jump on her. So, if you have one man you should stay with him and be nice. Otherwise, you will get problems.

B: But in Denmark, at least officially, men have no right to touch women. No matter how they dress and behave.

C: In the old days in Denmark, if something happened to a woman, everybody would also say: “it’s her own fault.”

D: There are still many cases like this in the camps. And because the Red Cross can’t protect the women they give them closed rooms. At least in Sandholm. So, instead of protecting the women, the Red Cross isolates them even more. If you are afraid, you will just be more isolated and on your own. In this way it becomes your own problem, not a common one.

“People shouldn’t be afraid of leaving their rooms at night because of their gender.”

E: Sometimes in the camp, when I have problems with men and call the police, I don’t get support. So, how about you women in Denmark – if you have problems with your boyfriend or husband or other men, will you get support?

F: It’s in our system that we can get support. There are these support centers for women where you can get asylum if you have problems. So, by law there is a possibility of getting support; you can get a lawyer, a restraining order.

E: Okay, but I would like to know what happens if you go to the police. Do they need witnesses or do they instantly believe you?

B: If you call the police and say that a man has beaten you or raped you they will take it seriously. But the problem is what happens after. There are a lot of procedures you have to go through. You have to tell your story over and over again. And they don’t believe you immediately.

E: I ask because when I was in my country I knew a girl who told me that they took good care of women in Europe. But now that I am here, I see how many men are beating women and I have also had problems myself and I didn’t get support. I called the police and told them that I had problems with this man, and they didn’t do anything. Today a woman visited me in my room. Three years ago, when she was together with her husband in the camp, he beat her and strangled her. And when you hear these kinds of stories, you don’t have safety in your life. So, for all the things I heard about gender equality in Europe, I don’t see it here.

A: Everywhere around the globe, women are molested by men, and especially in the camps.

G: It’s also a problem that there are hidden communities in the camps. If the same tribe moves from the same country to the camp it’s like moving the rules and the norms and all the traditions with them. I felt it myself. If I’m from a certain country, I have to be protected by the men from that country, and protected by the name of these national belongings. This is what makes it difficult for the law to do anything, because you will live with these people. You are forced to be there and get used to daily life.

H: It’s a way for the men to keep control in this precarious situation, where you have a lot of superiors in your life. The last thing they can lose is the control over women. It’s naturally created in the camp.

C: There are also more men than women in the camps, which mean that women are double minoritized. So, maybe there should be more segregation. And at least the women who come here should know their rights.

H: But this doesn’t remove the problem about having to prove everything. When women have fled from Afghanistan for instance, they cannot get any help in Denmark unless they are able to prove that they are in danger. And how is it possible to prove suppression?

E: You are right. When I asked the police woman in the center about what they can do for women who have been raped, she said, “if there is enough evidence, we can help.” A lot of women in the camp who have problems with rape and violence, if they don’t have evidence, their case will be closed.

The Trampoline House, Skyttegade 3, Copenhagen N 2200