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Education is the best tool against sexual abuses

The New Year’s Eve sexual assaults serve us as a reminder that it is the men that must change their attitude, not the women. And for the purpose, non-formal adult education might be just the right medicine, writes Sabine Skou Gøtterup from Denmark.

14.10.2016

The New Year’s Eve sexual assaults serve us as a reminder that it is the men that must change their attitude, not the women. And for the purpose, non-formal adult education might be just the right medicine, writes Sabine Skou Gøtterup from Denmark.

It passed nobody’s attention that more than 500 women reported big groups men for gross sexual abuses in Cologne on New Year’s Eve 2015-2016.

The subsequent debate revealed a broad consensus that the abuses have no comparison in Europe, and that they are an expression of cultural differences in the wake of the ongoing ‘refugee crisis’. Based on the witnessed debate, apparently these differences imply a view on women far apart from what is common in Northern Europe – a view that is incompatible with the principles of equality embedded in both the German and the Danish society.

HOWEVER, THE FACT IS that sexual harassment is no new problem in Europe. Even though the episodes in Cologne received worldwide attention because of their proportions and because they seemed to be organised, not spontaneous, unfortunately abuse and sexual harassment are also part of the Danish society, and many Danish women recognize it.

In 2014, a report from the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights on violence against women showed that more than half of all Danish women have experienced psychological, sexual and physical violence after the age of 15.

According to Morten Kjærum, director of the Agency, the reasons for these figures can be explained by the fact that men feel threatened by women that challenge their traditional male role. Danish women are generally more exposed in public spaces and thus also more exposed to violence and harassment, Kjærum adds.This explains why Denmark at one and the same time can be one of the most gender equal countries in Europe and the country with the highest rate of violence against women.

The publication of the report passed without much noise. Only after the episodes in Cologne it has received some attention.

Henrik Marstal, a Danish debater on issues of gender, wrote in a Danish newspaper, Kristeligt Dagblad: if we as a community want to improve our ability to prevent mass and individual assaults and other abuses, we have to treat the problems of equality of gender in general. According to Marstal, a global and highly problematical masculinity culture exist that legitimises abuses against women because masculine libido is regarded as a product of the forces of nature, thus beyond self-control.

THE MOST IMPORTANT TOOLS when fighting violence against women are information and respect. We need enlightened citizens not just educated citizens.

That’s where non-formal adult education enters, because this sector focuses on non-formal enlightenment, or in other words: the basic teachings on how we can get together and live together in a diverse world.

The respect for differences and diversity has always been a fundamental part of democracy and the understanding of democracy in Denmark. Here, popular engagement and involvement together with non-formal adult education have been of the utmost importance.

The refugee situation increases the need for clear cut values, says the chairman of Danish Adult Education Association, Per Paludan Hansen. We must be unequivocal about our way of organising our society.

Here, the principle of equality is not up for debate. Newcomers must adapt to the rules and regulations of Danish society, and they must respect that women can go wherever they want, wearing whatever way they want – without the risk of harassment.

Non-formal adult education is about the educating and civilizing of women and men – in a lifelong scope and irrespectively of gender.  Non-formal adult education is also about transferring values. Non-formal adult education can play a part in breaking down this culture and preventing violence against women.

In this case, it is the men that must change their attitude, not the women. But we all have a responsibility.