General aspects: Locally based offers of counselling and support
Community basically means the whole of local civil and civic society combined with all public social and educational opportunities and the local media. The community thus forms a valuable, expansive framework which can support, embrace and integrate various activities of individual, small and large group intervention. The more complex the social need, the more the work will depend on the community and a good mutual relationship and cooperation between citizens active in civil society, local institutions of social and therapeutic assistance, the local media and local government. This applies particularly to the needs of education and youth work because, as we know (since American communitarians reminded us), “It takes a village to raise a child.”
The community is particularly important for the key cross-sections for a peaceful coexistence in our time. Gender and dealing with different types of gender roles and identities is one of these social concern cross-sections, which is of central importance for a democratic and human rights-based coexistence (which is usually completely overlooked even in advanced community work designs). Group-focused enmity, right-wing extremist hate groups, political and religious fundamentalism and similar dynamics form another cross-sectional concern which causes eminent threats to the common good. These two issues are usually directly linked to one another.
Furthermore, the effects of issues such as right-wing extremism or gender sometimes reach far into the supposedly non-extremist centre of the respective municipality. They awaken susceptibilities for an emphasis on populism and resentment laden attitudes – and it is not unusual for them to unveil the dark side of the community. That a real man should be more of a “right” and masculine man and can only also be gay out of necessity, that a mother who does not want a “bad mother” must largely stay at home with the children and should certainly not be too flamboyant, that young people in riot gear and combat boots are “just sowing their wild oats” or “just drink too much,” or that the sudden strict piety of young people from Muslim backgrounds is actually welcomed – such views are just as mainstream in each municipality as they also create a suitable environment, and local niches, for militant extremist and/or fundamentalist organisations.
Perpetrators of right-wing extremist and/or sexist/homophobic offenses often state on record that, in their immediate urban or rural environment, there was “really no one who had a problem with it”, meaning what he/she did to a “foreigner” or person with a gender-identity that differs from the norm.
When it is therefore so often difficult to achieve lasting effects with social-educational interventions, it is usually also due to the fact that the community-pedagogical perspective has been ignored and the village or urban district as a whole not has not been taken into account. This is not without reason, because community work on sensitive cross-sectional issues, such as gender or right-wing extremism, is often very complex and controversial and sometimes also explosive. It will also require the use of methods of constructive conflict consultation in some areas.
In individual fields of works – with community reference
Colleagues who are involved in social issues of violence, extremism and/or gender have often started special (self) help groups and counselling services, which then became a regular fixture within the community. They are often designed by associations and voluntary organisations which extend furthest into the social field and those which can spontaneously instill more trust than institutions in the public sector. Open group offers for men or women looking for a way to share experiences of conflict, aggression and violence in the family and community that are always gender-specific are of particular importance.
This is also about their own involvement in violent behaviour, archaic family ideas and the traditional ways of dealing with their own daughters and sons. How the often conflicting ideas/standards that exist in family and local (or ethnic) backgrounds about what is an acceptable feature or habit of masculinity and femininity are addressed is closely related to this – and could very much affect the beneficial coexistence in the community. Another topic in this dialogue setting is often the concern for children and young people whose highly gender-specific worlds are sometimes difficult to understand and where it can often be difficult to make a sustainable impact.
In other communal areas, such as schools and youth facilities, colleagues work in the same fields of experience, although with a low-threshold approach. These colleagues play an important role for creating awareness and competence for inter-religious and inter-ethnic dialogue and the appreciation of diversity and practice of a sound democracy. Different actors can cooperate here, for example, social space oriented neighbourhood offices, telephone counselling and contact points for parents and teachers whose children and pupils seem to have fallen into militant extremist contexts.
Mobile counselling teams have emerged to deal with right-wing extremism in the local area, particularly in the new federal states. Since the focus of the 2001-2006 federal program “Youth for Tolerance and Democracy – against Right-Wing Extremism, Xenophobia and Anti-Semitism” and its sub-programmes “CIVITAS” , “Xenos” and “Entimon”, the importance of including the stakeholders level of civil society as an essential component for dealing with right-wing extremism was taken into account for the first time: created specifically for the new federal states, the CIVITAS programme aims to strengthen civil society forces locally and includes two priorities: (1) to create a counselling network with mobile counselling teams and victim counselling centres, which will continue to exist once the programme has ended; (2) make means for local initiatives and projects for the promotion of civil society and democratic structures available in the community with so-called local action plans.
There are currently mobile counselling teams (MBTs) or the mobile advising against right-wing extremism (MBR) in almost all provinces, where they are carried out by different carriers. They share the approach that analysis, information and counselling for dealing with right-wing extremism is connected to the community and are therefore committed to the general goal of strengthening the local democratic structures. However, until now, the importance of gender roles and gender identity issues inherent in right-wing extremist and hate groups has been noted only very occasionally (e.g. Mobile Consulting Hamburg offers “gender-sensitive counselling for incidents involving a right-wing, racist or anti-Semitic background”).
Suggestions for community-oriented work – community centres / information centres
The international exchange in the RAN network has shown that, particularly in Denmark and the Netherlands, successfully cross-sector local teams and integrated ways of working have been established; the police , social work (fan work, street work, clubs, etc.), protection of the constitution, penal, schools and youth services (drug counselling, sect counselling, social skills training, leisure time oriented services, career counselling) and health services (social psychiatric services) all communicate closely with one other at the local level. The different local services here have developed intelligent forms of information exchange and concerted intervention. These local labour networks appear outwardly as community / information centres which citizens can use as a trustworthy contact centre.
These community centre have achieved particular relevance since the civil war in Syria and Iraq and the resulting transnational phenomenon of foreign fighters (war volunteers or war returnees). Hereby, religious themes of family counseling, psychotrauma therapy and reintegration measures as new fields of work / colleagues are added to the community centres. After returning very disillusioned and/or shocked from a stay in a jihadist war zone of extreme brutality it is a particularly auspicious time for a young person to enter a comprehensive psychosocial intervention process and have the possibility of reintegration. Since 10% of the jihadist war volunteers coming from Germany are girls / women, there will be more gender-specific interventions for radicalised young women developed in the future.
Various community oriented concepts have been developed in Germany for regions vulnerable to right-wing extremism, however, as a rule they have not had the same practical relevance as the community centres in Denmark and the Netherlands. The main recommendation for action for these concepts is to win over various local institutions and stakeholders for a concerted development of the democratic community – and therefore proactively counter right-wing extremism, fundamentalism and group-focussed hate environments. This includes the following important steps:
networking with functional control of various community institutions (schools, nursery schools, youth work, family and youth services, court assistance, urban planning, regulatory agency, police, clubs, sports, religious communities, traders, etc.)
promote awareness of the problem and its various aspects
train first response of skills or specific interaction skills for each respective institution and their area of responsibility
develop an overall concept for communities and regions
include activation and participation of all segments of the population
prevention projects with children and adolescents
case management of right-wing extremist (young) people which encompasses all government offices (e.g. cooperation between youth welfare and the judiciary)
trustworthy exchange with civil society, government institutions and security agencies on an equal footing
For some regions, it is important to also raise awareness of Islamist extremism in community-oriented concepts and to work with institutions / NGOs who have solid experience and credibility in Muslim social spaces.
Specific recommendations for gender-oriented intervention in the community
The issues of equality, gender roles and gender identity, which are of major importance for extremism / fundamentalism and prevention have been barely considered in the community-oriented concepts up to now. Extreme right-wing women and girls are still often overlooked as the seemingly harmless gender when they are provided with specific strategic community functions or develop influence in the parents’ council, social work, in nursery school and in community honorary offices and associations.
Topics targeted specifically from a gender perspective by extreme right-wing organisations (e.g. the conservative culture-minded rejection of gender mainstreaming or the campaign “Death Penalty for Child Molesters”) are not recognised or unmasked as being organised strategies. In Germany, we are still not prepared enough to meet the specific challenges of the so-called “honour-crimes” against girls / women (forced marriage, corporal punishment, rejection, honour killing) in Islamic extremism – or to encounter female forms of Jihand and male polygamy.
Just how important is it to observe gender aspects of the respective extremist milieu is also evident in criminological findings. Certain traditional concepts of the role of women and gender issues are not only systematically used for recruitment and propaganda by extremist organisations, British crime cartographies have also shown that those districts in which there are many gender-based conflict situations (which, for example, can be measured by the rate of forced marriages, honour-related crime and the frequency of women’s and men’s houses), are exactly those district in which there is a high density of violent extremist incidents.
In Germany’s rural region it could be observed for some time that, especially in structurally weak regions, too few cultural, sporting and social recreational activities offers exist for girls and young women; opportunities for participation and adequate learning pathways are also lacking. Life in the community is often determined at most by a football club and the volunteer fire brigade. The municipal local associations and political committees are dominated by men.
This lack of diversity for women / girls means that it is exactly those girls with a higher level education, mobility and ambition who leave these regions. The young people who remain, with precarious job prospects and lower mobility, are predominantly male. These environments are known to be at high risk to turn towards right-wing extremism. A project which deliberately uses gender aspects of right-wing extremism prevention is active in only one East German district (Lola for Lulu). Based in the Ludwigslust district in Meckenburg-Western Pomerania, the project offers counselling services and training for day care centres as well as counselling and awareness measures in schools with a special focus on gender and right-wing extremism and has received long-term financing from a private foundation.
The following general perspectives of gender-conscious community work can be mentioned:
sensitise and train municipal stakeholders on the strategic role of women in right-wing extremism and militant Islamism
girl-specific and gender-focussed offers to strengthen human rights attitudes in rural areas
father and mother groups for processing experiences of violence and gender-repressive traditions (as mentioned above for inner-city districts indicated)
confront right-wing extremism locally
This may concretely include the following aspects and measures: Promote the establishment of an interagency cooperation network, which establishes a coordinated, field prevention and intervention approach against extremism / violence , sexism and homophobia, following the Danish model (Info Houses) in that the police, social work (fan-work, street work, clubs, etc.), protection of the Constitution, prison, schools, youth services (drug counselling, sect counselling, social skills training, leisure time oriented services, career counselling) and healthcare (social psychiatric services) communicate closely with each other at the local level. Connected to this is the establishment of a municipal center or service centre, with overdue interagency cooperation for citizens which is directly accessible in a trustworthy and protected manner.
In particular, measures to empower civil society and local stakeholders on-site seem advisable to…
- find effective ways to counter sexist and homophobic statements in community public space from being normalised and trivialised, especially if this happens in the context of comments / incidents with a right-wing affinity or which are right-wing extremist
- support and ensure the protection of those who are stigmatised in the community, either because they often speak out against sexism, homophobia and right-wing extremism (“traitors”) or because they themselves express an alternative gender-identity that differs from the norm.
- address the widespread pattern of tacit consent, which often exists for homophobic and sexist incidents – and offer and practice alternative ways of reacting.
- accordingly counter the strategies of shifting responsibility to others and to have opportunities to perceive the current on-site situation with personal responsibility as citizens committed to human rights without substantially placing yourself in danger.
- plan and implement community events to use extremist, homophobic or sexist conflict and violence which has occured in the community and has been widely acknowledged in a systematic way to raise general awareness (e.g. in externally moderated discussion forums, mediation , citizen forums) – and particularly avoid the sexist / homophobic aspects of the incident becoming hidden under the large shadow of violence and right-wing extremism.
- express solidarity with victims and bear witness to their friends and family after such incidents and acts of violence occur which have a (right-wing) extremist and/or sexist / homophobic context.
- heed the criteria of sexism and homophobia in the analysis of the community and its local history of events in terms of extremism and xenophobia.
- also review potential gender-awareness when assessing local potentials and options of human rights-based civil society.
- encourage urban and rural communities who have already formulated consensus guidelines and models, which should consist of general rules and the image the municipality wishes to present, to also explicitly formulate gender-oriented models.
- include local associations (sports, shooting ranges, volunteer fire brigade) in a special way and offer specific information events and training for multipliers.
- particuarly involve local key individuals who can exercise a high amount of influence on the local opinion of citizens.
- work in solid cooperation with the reigional media as well as with national media. With the regional media, this involves avoiding incidents being downplayed or concealed; with the national media it is about ensuring sensational voyeuristic and excessively scandalised reports are omitted. From experience, the latter applies especially for the gender-relevant aspects of incidents. It is more helpful if the awareness of those responsible is supported by showing special attention is paid to the possible sexist and/or homophobic aspects of such incidents and that they require careful handling because they relate to important civil rights and have a high prevention value.
Lola für Lulu
mobile counselling teams, e.g., from Kulturbüro Sachsen e.V. and Miteinander e.V.