A Norwegian educational program for migrants and refugees that focuses on the treatment of women is attracting attention in the wake of mass New Year Eve assaults on women in Cologne, Germany.
Reports that women in Germany, Sweden and elsewhere have been sexually harassed by men from the Middle East, northern Africa and Asia have sparked outrage across Europe. Governments are forced to look for solutions, including deportation of offenders and educating immigrants about western laws and values.
The Hero Kompetanse center in the northern Norwegian city of Stavanger offers courses in Norwegian language and culture to refugees and asylum seekers. Many students in this class came from countries where women have little or no freedom.
"In my home country, women just sit at home, make food and clean the house and stuff like that. They only do work at home," said Hienok Brane, an asylum seeker from Eritrea. "I have to decide for the women. That was what I thought when I first came to Norway. But now I agree that we [men and women] stand together in this system."
An important part of the training focuses on the prevention of rape, according to Linda Hagen, who is with the Hero Kompetanse Migrant Center.
"The course is about rape preventing and it teaches migrants the Norwegian social codes," she said.
Europe's Tough Measures
The two-year pilot program has caught the attention of other European countries following reports of sexual assaults by foreign men on women in Europe. German officials have announced tough measures for such crimes.
"Foreigners who commit crimes in Germany will be deported more rapidly in the future, based on the proposals the interior minister [Thomas Maiziere] and I have made," said German Justice Minister Heiko Maas. "They will also lose their refugee status more quickly."
Rights groups and Muslims have called such steps hasty and unjustified.
"We have seen it again and again how women were abused, mistreated and discriminated. But this subject never got the attention that was required before," said Aiman Mazyek, president of the German Council of Muslims. "It would be fatal to do it now in connection with refugees. We need to talk about it. We need the discussion. But please let's not do it at the expense of refugees. This is a general problem. And part of the solution is tougher punishments for sex crimes. We do support that."
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven promised a thorough probe into allegations that the police covered up accusations of sexual assault by migrant youths at a music festival in Stockholm. He also pointed out that harassment of women is not a new phenomenon.
"It's not as if sexual harassment has just appeared now. Unfortunately, it's been around forever and many women have experienced it during many, many years — eternally," he said.
Assaults on women by foreign men in Cologne have provoked mass anti-immigrant protests in Germany, but they also sparked a debate on the widespread abuse of women everywhere and a lack of laws to protect them.