2 July 2009


Amongst a section of parliament the fear prevails that whenever citizenship courses for immigrants are not separated by gender, a proportion of women will disappear into the undergrowth. I don't share this fear. The organisation of separate language and citizenship or naturalisation classes for women leads in reality to the subordination of immigrant women. It is of primary importance that local authorities in particular do not do this.

Sadet Karabulutby Sadet Karabulut

I have personally visited numerous citizenship courses, but have never come across the phenomenon of separate classes for women. Furthermore, the many immigrant women with whom I have spoken have in no instance told me that they wanted such classes. What I have certainly seen is a great deal of enthusiasm. Women who say "if only we'd started this sooner". And "we haven't enough time to learn the language". Or "I really want to work but I can't find a job." Others following courses, often men, have told me that they have great difficulty combining work and course. First generation immigrants often come up against the problem that they have to take the exam, even though everyone knows that they aren't up to passing it.

These stories filter through to political decision-makers all too infrequently. The discussion is to far too great an extent dominated by politicians who bang on about "people who don't want to bother." The problems which those many who do indeed want to bother run into are ignored.

Last year the SP conducted a study amongst teachers and naturalisation instructors, asking them about their experiences since the introduction of the new Citizenship/Naturalisation Law. On the basis of these discussions and the results of the study, I can draw only one conclusion: we should go back to treating preparation for citizenship and naturalisation as we do any other education. And part of this must be mixed classes for men and women.

Separate citizenship classes should not even become a subject of political discussion, simply because we make no distinction between men and women in any part of our education system and should therefore not do this in education for citizenship. It sometimes seems that absolutely nothing has been learned from thirty years of failed integration policies. In any case, even in a country such as Turkey, education is mixed.

How many separate citizenship classes actually exist in the Netherlands? Fortunately, they can be counted on the fingers of two hands. A survey conducted by the Integration Ministry covering 75% of local authorities found only nine which offer such classes to women. Whether they also offer them to men is not recorded. Twelve local authorities have received objections to mixed classes, but this has not persuaded them to organise separate classes for men and women. The Minister for Integration has somewhat hesitantly proposed further study of whether such classes were needed: were there women who had dropped out because their local authority had refused to offer separate classes? And would women who were learning Dutch in separate classes from men pull out if the women-only classes were no longer on offer? I'd like to know.

Of course there is absolutely nothing wrong with women forming networks, foundations or associations dedicated to women's emancipation. I'd go further than that, even, because such activities are badly needed in the case of the emancipation of immigrant women who strive day in, day out for equal rights. And there is nothing wrong, either, with activities whose nature means that they only attract women. But when it comes to education organised by the state, there should be no question of organising separate classes for men and women because of culturally influenced conservative traditions which subordinate women. By doing so, you perpetuate precisely the subordinate position from which a group of women is trying to extricate itself.

Emancipation is not something you can seek to impose through governmental authority. This applies also to the emancipation of immigrant women. Emancipation, integration and participation are things which people have to do for themselves. The government is there to create the conditions which enable us to live, work and learn together. Separate education for men and women does not fulfil this responsibility. Sound education for citizenship certainly does.

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