Marij Uijt den Bogaard, The Brussels Journal, August 21, 2007
“Women are simply not accepted by the Muslim community,” says Mohammed. “So women had also better not do this work.” Mohammed is my colleague social worker [integration civil servant] in Antwerp’s immigrant quarters. He looks at me gravely. “That is just the way it is, and that is why I prefer not to work with a woman, that simply doesn’t work.” He is complaining about another colleague, a Flemish woman who is his superior.
Mohammed does not think that this mentality about women and work is wrong. In fact, whoever questions this attitude is wrong because it is his culture and belief, which is why he accepts it, he “understands” it and we, Flemings, do not. Consequently we must accept it, until we “understand” as well.
He sighs. Yesterday it came to a clash with his female Flemish superior. Together with a team of mostly immigrant co-workers, she organizes meaningful recreational activities for the mostly Moroccan youths in the neighborhood. The Flemish superior is also close to despair. Working together with Mohammed is not plain sailing.
She has no support from her Moroccan colleagues. On the contrary, slowly but surely she is being frozen out. Whenever she appears in the square several older man gather round her and start speaking the Berber language with her male colleagues. “They want to marry you,” her male colleagues of Moroccan origin laugh, “because we said that you’re not married.” In the evening the men wait for her and bother her, why won’t she? Several girls of Moroccan origin grab her phone. Her Moroccan colleagues look the other way, also when older kids who always start arguments with her kick her shins until they are blue and threaten her.
She did not want to discuss the complete lack of fellowship, the negative attitude of the Moroccan colleagues. Her problem was Mohammed. He didn’t want to work together with her. He walked away during a conversation with her and went to pray in the meeting room, calling on Allah to stand by him in the discussion with a woman! Perplexity on the part of his female colleague.
Naturally she submitted her conflict with Mohammed, and his praying in the meeting room, to the management. Yes, it’s annoying, but now what? The problem was bought before the staff manager. Who, strangely enough, made a completely absurd accusation. Not Mohammed, but rather the female co-worker, had overstepped her bounds. She had threatened Mohammed and provoked aggression.
How? By questioning his actions. Yes, that’s what Mohammed had said. To the staff manager of course. The female colleague stands as if hit by lighting. She doesn’t weigh half as much as Mohammed, she would be mad to wake up aggression by somebody who could wipe her off the map, Mohammed is also a kickboxer, she is not that crazy! She is left with her feeling of powerlessness. Not Mohammed. In this conflict she is getting picked on.
Her complaint about Mohammed’s behavior was not taken seriously anywhere. It should be, since Mohammed discriminates against women in the workplace, he is being accused by female colleagues of sexual intimidation, and above all he doesn’t offer help to a colleague who is being assaulted by the target group. All for the simple reason that women shouldn’t be doing this work, because they are unacceptable for Mohammed and the target group, we must understand that, end of story.
Nobody confronts Mohammed about this utterly wrong attitude towards women. Worse still: the Antwerp authorities assume that by employing Mohammed they have “easier access” to the target group. In fact, the effect is usually the opposite. Mohammed supports the target group, shares a wrong attitude and doesn’t think of doing anything differently.
Because nobody has the courage to approach Mohammed about behavior that would be unacceptable in any other civil servant, we make no progress. Polarization and segregation increase and within a welfare system that employs thousands of social workers we are unable to achieve a change of attitude, which respects everybody regardless of origin, sex or belief.
If the politicians procrastinate any longer, there will soon be huge protest marches in Brussels by everybody who has had enough. Because these disparities disrupt society: not skin color, but the behavior of target groups is why people are being excluded at work, from discos and swimming pools. It is time for everyone who has had enough to get together, in everybody’s interest.