The civil society in the 21st century often throws light on the condition of women. It isn’t uncommon to find our ‘apostles of love’ undergoing severity of challenges in everyday lives. Whether you speak of the promising East or the developed West, women are often subjected to situations that run contrary to pro-change,or, against development.
The Guardian recently reported that as many as 19% of the women in UK had been stalked and as many as 68% faced some form of sexual harassment since the age of 15.
Repressive societies and oppressive mindsets notwithstanding, that go a long way to hamper a woman’s basic freedom, it would be a misnomer to think that all is fine in the West. When it comes to their safety and security in civil society it isn’t too uncommon to find young girls and ladies staring at a fear that often limits their emotional freedom. There is a want to be ‘free’ from the straddling of emotional fear associated with molestation, that is frequent if not rampant whether you speak of Europe or some other part in the west.
Challenges on roads such as street harassment, to being stalked when alone, misery often finds its footing in form of sexual offences that shadow the happiness of our women; our ‘threads of happiness’.
While India, is no stranger to innumerable cases of offences being done to its women, sadly on a daily basis, you would be ignorant to think that all is good when it comes to the safety of Woman in the West. Germany, a country marked with checkered accomplishments in the field of engineering, automobile, architecture and respected worldwide for the might of its economy has been in the spotlight ever since Ms. Angela Merkel, its highest political leader signaled a green signal to the entree of migrants and refugees into Western Europe’s powerhouse.
But, as the migrant crisis continues to straddle and yet, gain feet amidst a Europe marked by tectonic changes, Germany is making progressive changes toward fighting the menace of “Women Harassment”. Not that the situation is bitter, but several incidences in the past within Deustchland have lead to mushrooming of pivotal activist groups that are working round the corner to fight for Women’s safety and thus, betterment.
ProChange, a dynamic activist group, based at the heart of Germany is working effervescently and ever so passionately toward restoring balance to the chaos, that springs unannounced, in this regard.
We met with Hanna Krueger, from ProChange, an activist, human rights champion, researcher and above all, a fiercely independent woman who informed us of the group and its benevolent initiatives toward fighting against street violence and harassment of women in Germany.
Pleasure to speak with you Hanna. Tell us about ProChange.
It started in 2011 as we were still a city group of Terre des Femmes (big international women rights Organization), but then we quit as we wanted to focus on our own project ProChange. We are a group ofactivist in a network of other organizations and activists. We work against sexism, sexual violence and street harassment.
We promote change by means of new perspectives, changes of mindset and behavior. We dream
of a society that has freedom and security for everyone everywhere. It is ProChange as we want to be pro and not just anti. Our work against sexism is important to us as sexism is the breeding ground for street harassment and sexual violence. (Which should be discussed way more in the context of Cologne and not just sexism within Muslim communities as it is prevalent as well within German society)
What have been the milestone achievements of the group?
I guess it is hard to speak of great achievements as everyday sexism, sexual violence and street harassment is still prevalent. But, luckily there is increased awareness now after the incidences of Cologne at New Year so there might by changes in the penal code regarding the punishment of sexual harassment and rape that feminist and women rights organizations have been advocating for long time. (Istanbul convention is not ratified yet which states for instance that non consensual intercourse should be put under penalty by its signatories).
ProChange works to raise awareness by means of public relations, events, campaigns and petitions. For example we are involved in the flag action that takes place once a year (flag flying in front of town hall to raise awareness for violence against women). We take part in the international anti street harassment week since 2013 (Information, actions and events against street harassment). We also provide informative collateral and, currently are correspondents for the Stop Street Harassment blog where we write about street harassment related issues in Germany.
Germany is a marvel. It’s accomplishments toward Automobile, Technology and Social Sciences are for all to see but, it has been a wall of stability and might as far as European economics is concerned. How does an average German view the German economy at the moment?
I think we are still very well of with our economy in Germany for sure. But, I think it is still important not to just take it for granted but work for its improvement and that all of the society may benefit from it. For instance we still have a pay gap between men and women.
Tell us something about the current refugee situation as felt from the eye of a German? What are the views? Are people really “pro”about the entirety of Ms. Merkel’s acceptance of them? Or does a certain polarity in views exist?
There is definitely a huge polarity within the German society. There are pictures of people welcoming refugees in the train stations and a lot of professionals and volunteers doing great work. But, then we also have movements like the anti-Islamic PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the Occident) and political movements like the AFD (Alternative for Germany) fearing a loss of German culture by the “flood” of refugees coming in and instilling fear of asylum seekers. I suggest, you see some videos for PEGIDA and AFD to witness the other side of the German culture and its welcoming of refugees. Furthermore, it is important to say that events in Cologne(or Koln on New Year’s eve about harassment of women in streets) definitely marked a turning point of the asylum debate in Germany (Instrumentalization to instill fear of refugees, migrants).
Hanna it’s finally time I asked you about your own association / exposure toward the domain of Human Rights. When did you get involved with Human Rights movement(s) and what did you learn from it?
It basically started with my experience in India and realizing that women and girls back home experience sexism and street harassment as well. Women and girls in every culture do. Just listening to your female friends will show you how prevalent the problem is for all of us. And for sure we don’t feel it as compliments or a nice way of approaching a woman even if some men claim it is.
When I got involved with ProChange it was actually the time of the #aufschrei (Outcry). This hashtag was used by women to share their experience of sexism and harassment after a journalist made a sexist comment by a politician towards her, public. This is just to give an example on the prevalence of sexism in German society which is sadly barely discussed in the current debate after the events at Cologne. It is wrong when we just focus on the image of women in Islam instead of seeing that sexism within our own society may also lead to harassment of women.
People love traveling to Munich, Berlin, Frankfurt and other prominent cities. But, what could be the other places you feel one would love to explore in Germany?
There are many nice places. Christmas markets or just walking on the sea beds from the coast to the next Island at the North Sea is fun. I guess every region has something special. But, must I add I think what you want to see in Germany totally depends on the “target group”.
For city travel I could recommend Hamburg as well and beautiful cities in the East like Dresden and Leipzig. I think every region has something different to offer. The North Sea is beautiful with its flat land and the walks you can’t ignore through the sea beds. Further to the south in the state of Rheinlandpfalz there are fields where wine plants grow on the hills going down to the Rhine river. And, of course it is nice to visit Germany for certain events like the Oktoberest, Christmas markets and Carnival.
Tell us about your work and travel in India. In what way did it impact you and shape your thinking. Are there any specific incidents or occurrences you would like to share?
I did an internship in Bihar and at the end of my internship traveled down in the train to Cochin. It was really hard for me to adjust at first but I really came to love India and its food and amazing chai of course. It was an amazing experience seeing India and learning about its vivid culture.
What are the prominent German Human Rights Organizations that are fighting for advocating and disseminating information about human rights.
There are many big international NGOs that are doing active work in Germany. When it comes to women’s rights it will be interesting to look at Terre des Femmes. For Asylum issues I would say Proasyl or MFH (medical refugee aid) and, then we have Issues Without Borders of course. That said, not just as a German but someone who believes in upholding the universality of Human Rights, we hope to make ProChange a huge success going forward.