Migrants arriving in Finland are being offered classes on Finnish values and how to behave towards women. Concerned about a rise in the number of sexual assaults in the country, the government wants to make sure that people from very conservative cultures know what to expect in their new home.
Johanna is one of those energetic, animated teachers whose cheerful energy lures even the most reluctant pupil into engaging with the lesson. She uses both her hands to stress her meaning and she always softens any difficult points with a smile.
“So in Finland,” she says softly, “you can’t buy a wife. A woman will only be your wife if she wants to be – because here women are men’s equals.”
Her pupils, all recently arrived asylum seekers at this reception centre hidden away in the snowy depths of the Finnish forest, watch her carefully – and I watch them. Some of the young Iraqi men, who already speak good English and passable Finnish, nod sagely. Others, particularly the older men, stare at one another with raised eyebrows as Johanna’s words are translated into Arabic for them. One man, hunkered down inside his black ski jacket seems to be taking notes while there’s a faint smile on the lips of the only head-scarfed young woman in the room.