'We immigrants mustn't silence problems of gender inequality'

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'We immigrants mustn't silence problems of gender inequality'

Foreign-born men in Sweden need to do more to tackle gender inequality, and that means talking about masculinity and hierarchies rather than keeping quiet or trying to recreate the society we come from, argues Vladimir F Ahmed, who has set up a charity that aims to do just that.


More newly-arrived and foreign men need to be included in our Sweden. And that work starts with getting more men who come from patriarcal societies engaged in the work of gender equality. That’s how integration starts.

We need to discuss masculinity, norms, hierarchies, gender roles, and equality. Because equality goes hand in hand with integration.

Where in the world we come from makes a difference. We have different backgrounds, have grown up with different norms and in different societal structures. Attitudes which make us into different kinds of men -- and which mean we need to work in different ways to reach equality. We need to believe that problems can be solved -- instead of silencing them.

The earlier we can grab attention for equality among new arrivals and foreign men, the greater the chance of influencing and challenging ingrained attitudes, behaviours, and ideas. We need to talk about these things in SFI classes, at primary schools, and in our free time. If we start to talk about this and turn it into a natural part of school education, a natural part of changing room chat before sport, a natural part of free time and at SFI, then we will have come a long way.

To make this possible, we started the organization and initiative Vi är Sverige (We are Sweden). We want to create another kind of masculinity -- and another kind of Swedishness which more people can be part of. One where you can be a man and a Swede in many different ways, and that’s OK. You don’t have to choose to be either an immigrant or Swedish and nor do you have to choose to be either a macho man or a ‘sissy’ guy.

The starting point for what should unite us all is democracy, equality, and freedom. Not ethnicity, skin colour, religion, or sex.

Macho culture and unreasonable expectations that men have to be "manly", "protectors", and "providers" are an obstacle to integration.

Two things which are especially important for foreign men who come from authoritarian countries with a strong patriarchal culture: Men want to protect. Men want to provide.

In Sweden, where democracy, equality, and freedom prevail between man and woman, it can feel like these things are being taken away from you as a man.

Democracy: Popular rule, all power comes from the people -- power is delegated upwards. These men are often used to the exact opposite.

Equality: Gender doesn’t matter. We should have the same rights, duties, and opportunities. These men might have views on that, formed by a different societal structure.

Freedom: You should be able to love who you want, dress and think how you want. These men come from societies where it’s often taboo to be gay, for example.

So what happens then with your ‘masculinity’`? What happens with your ‘respect’ and the position you had in your home country?

Well, when you don’t identify with yourself in your new land, of course groups and societies with the society are created, where people look for like-minded people. It means you want to protect your culture (which isn’t strange at all, we are pack animals and that’s what we do) and to protect your position of power as a man.

Does this mean that the Swedish way of life is supreme and all other cultures are wrong? No, of course not. And there are also patriarchal structures for blond, blue-eyed Swedes -- and in all parts of the ‘modern’ world. But it becomes a problem when as a man you want to live in the same patriarchal society you have left, in the equal and democratic country you’re now in.

In the worst case, this culminates with phenomena like ‘moral police’ in Swedish suburbs, where men control how women can dress or behave. This creates segregation and alienation. That leads to a feeling of us-against-them, created by us immigrants.

We have to talk about this. Not silence it. The approach towards women has to be rethought .

It’s not about one or the other being bad, but rather about societal structures and values -- the views that you bring with you to Sweden. If integration is going to succeed, we need to create a ‘we’, not several parallel societies. Not one Sweden in Rinkeby and another Sweden in Djursholm.

It’s important to emphasize that native Swedes must do all they can to facilitate integration, minimize exclusion, discourage Swedes from moving away from areas with lots of foreigners, and set requirements for authorities, companies, and politicians to allow cultural expression and protect the multicultural society.

My own mother illustrates the problem we’re facing. She wasn’t able to go to school or work in her home country because of norms, societal structures, and the patriarchal societies they lived in.

She came here as a 30-year-old with five children -- three of her own, and two step-children since our father had several wives. My mum arrived in Sweden without being able to read or write, without any English language ability. She spoke only Kurdish and her husband (my dad) wanted to live in Sweden the same way he had done in his home country.

So how could my mum integrate?

Now, Sweden wants my mum to contribute to society, to work and pay her dues. But that doesn’t work. She isn’t able to. And this creates cultural clashes; a mother who doesn’t understand anything about her new country. She’s confused, it will take a long time before she understands how it works.

We children didn’t have role models; we didn’t see our parents wake up early, go to work and eventually buy a house, car, and dog. This creates segregation, this creates a feeling of alienation for my mum. It creates an us-against-them feeling. We ourselves have created it.

It makes no difference if you’re born here in Sweden or have lived here your whole life. If you’re brought up in a society where your parents, school and others don’t represent democracy, equality, and freedom like in the rest of Sweden, parallel societies are formed.

That’s why we want to open the door for a new kind of masculinity which more foreign men can be part of. We want to talk about these areas, which foreign men often haven’t talked about in their home countries before, or in Sweden for that matter.

We have to dare to talk about it, because integration is more than just coming to another country and getting a job and accommodation. Swedishness for us is in the actions, not skin colour. We want to create a Sweden where we all live with the same values -- but in different ways. Because we are different. We don’t believe in assimilation, but in integration.

This opinion piece written by Vi är Sverige founder Vladimir F Ahmed was originally published in Swedish by Aftonbladet on June 12th, and translated for The Local by Catherine Edwards. Read the original version here.



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