Berlin: 'Heroes' project challenges honor culture

Berlin: 'Heroes' project challenges honor culture

See here for more on the Swedish project: Sweden: Challenging the honor culture

The "Heroes" project in Berlin is designed to help boys from Muslims families to break with traditional patriarchal behaviour patterns and stand up against honour being used as a means of suppression. Regina Friedrich reports

"Imagine my sister goes out one night and something happens to her. The neighbours would find out about it and then, no matter where I go, I can kiss my honour goodbye," says a young guy indignantly at one of the "Heroes" workshops. "You have to decide whether you are going to keep an eye on her or lock her up – she needs a life, too, you know," counters Deniz, one of the Berlin "Heroes". It requires a certain amount of courage to challenge the traditional concept of honour prevailing in the Turkish community.

"Being a "Hero" means you have to take risks and that in itself is quite a risky business where we live," explains Deniz self-confidently. The 20-year-old high-school student is one of five young men working on the "Heroes" project in the Berlin district of Neukölln.

The district is a melting pot, with people coming from over 160 countries. 40 per cent of the residents are immigrant, and in the north of Neukölln as many as 80 per cent of all people under 18 are from an immigrant background. Most of them have Turkish or Arab roots and brought their traditions and values with them from their home countries. These values and traditions very often differ from those of the Germans, especially when it comes to the roles men and women should play. This is where the "Heroes" feel they have a job to do.

"We talk about topics that are not so pleasant, because we want to change things," emphasises Ahmad Mansour. He is a student of psychology and has lived in Germany for five years. He is the group leader and has been supervising Deniz, Gökay, Onur, Okcan and Turabi, along with the actor Yilmaz Atmaca, for six months.

The boys went to lectures and exhibitions and took part in discussions on such topics as codes of honour, self-determination and equality. The aim was to help them break with old ways of thinking and gather convincing arguments to be used when standing up for their sisters and girlfriends – so that they can ultimately serve as role models for their peers.

To do this they worked out a few small role plays to be used in schools or youth clubs that also get the participants involved. For example, the father is furious because the son has not been keeping an eye on the daughter; the brother hits his sister because she came home late … In this way Aki and Abdul find out what it is like to be in Asiye's or Alima's shoes.

Avni and Ufuk also took part in a workshop at their school. "A girl was beaten up because she was wearing a mini-skirt and had been out with her boyfriend late at night," as 17-year-old Avni recalls the role play. Many of the participants were laughing and found it quite normal – probably because they had been through the same thing, 16-year-old Ufuk assumed.

Both of them agreed that boys and girls were treated differently, and Ufuk went on to say that parents trusted their sons more than they trusted their daughters. "After the role plays we had a discussion," he continued. "There were various opinions, a lot of questions were asked and the "Heroes" answered them."

If they are prepared to listen to each other and try to understand, then that is a start at least, said Ufuk, who is quite sure he would never resort to violence. One of the teachers involved, Marianne Johannsen, would like to see more projects like this, in particular ones that would span a longer period of time.

Her students have such a weird concept of honour, she says, that it often affects their learning abilities – even the slightest form of criticism insults their honour. "The 'Heroes' would have a full-time job at our school," she says. Unfortunately there is no way they could do that – they are still at school or college themselves.


Source: Qantara (English)

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