Netherlands: Walk of Tolerance

Netherlands: Walk of Tolerance

Joany Dhalmans converted to Islam and for the last two years has been wearing a headscarf.  In the beginning she was unsure about her conversion and the choice to cover her head.  And the negative comments didn't make it easier.  Dhalmans says she has a choice to either take it home with her, or put things into perspective. She can tune it out and knows she's not the problem.

But Dhalmans has her limits.  During a visit to the Four Day Marches in Nijmegen she was cursed and jeered at several times due to her headscarf.  She says it shouldn't be so.  "And one clown who for example thought he was very funny, screamed very loudly in my ear if I could hear it all.."

Dahlmans has such incidents in daily life too.  Pestered by the idea that she can't present herself without getting negative reactions, she thought up The Walk of Tolerance.  "To create awareness and demand tolerance for our faith and our headscarf.  We want to participate as a group in the Four Day Marches Nijmegen in 2010".  Anybody who feels drawn to the initiative is welcome, Muslims and non-Muslims.

From suspicious glances to being rejected.  Dahlmans knows as an 'experience-expert' precisely what Muslim women have to deal with.  Until now it was almost always 'highly educated men' who were guilty of this behavior, she says.  Managers and people from the financial world.  "I live next to a pub for people from the financial sector'.  She doesn't seem to suffer from women, "but they do look."

It's the men who go a step further, thinking they'll get respect with it, says Dahlmans.  "They often operate within a group.  On their own they don't dare.  I think that it's something psychological.  Maybe since they hold a high position, they think they can belittle without punishment."

Dahlmans wants to show veiled Muslim women with her initiative that they deserve just as much respect and opportunities in society.  "My experience is a minuscule part of what takes place in society.  I hope that the 'Walk of Tolerance' kindles the social debate."

Now she's recruiting women for the planned march.  Fifteen enthusiastic women already signed up.  She says that with Ramadan beginning soon she's taking things easy, but after Raamdan they'll organize training sessions.

How is she financing everything?  They want matching outfits to show their solidarity.  "An employer of a friend is ready to sponsor our clothing."  She is working hard setting up places to stay.  They already have diverse sleeping places available, but they're not there yet.

The Muslim community is for that matter not all enthusiastic about "The Walk of Tolerance".  Dahlmans gets some negative reactions from them.  "Men think that we Muslim women shouldn't display ourselves in this way.  I don't agree.  God knows what my intentions are.  I also stand in the bus and in the supermarket with men."

Despite the negative responses, most are positive, and that gives her strength.  She says she only needs a small spark for her fire.  "I really don't expect that the social trend will change round at once."

Source: Wereld Jounalisten (Dutch)

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