A Swedish school district has sparked outrage for striking a deal with local Muslim groups ensuring Muslim students can skip out on overnight class trips and Muslim girls don't have to be naked when showering at school.
"My first reaction after reading was total shock: how can schools
so casually force children into more segregation and social exclusion?"
women's and equal rights activist Bahareh Andersson wrote on the Swedish
opinion website Newsmill.
Her comments came in response to reading a document outlining an agreement between education officials in Jönköping municipality and local Muslim groups ensuring special treatment for Muslim children enrolled in area schools.
"It's not only about exceptions for food, but it's also about an
exception from human rights. Children learning from an early age that
gender segregation is something natural and that love without marriage
is a sin and immoral," wrote Andersson.
"Why do people want immigrant children to be indoctrinated with values from the Middle Ages?"
Following the publication of Andersson's article, a non-profit
organization dedicated to informing immigrant women about their rights
in Sweden, Never Forget Pela and Fadime (Glöm aldrig Pela och Fadime --
GAPF), reported education officials from Jönköping to the Swedish
National Agency for Education (Skolverket).
According to the group, the school district's agreement amounts an
unauthorized exercise of control over the affected students as well as a
limitation on their life choices.
The five page document outlining the agreement was first drawn up in 1994 and has been revised periodically over the years.
The most recent revisions – carried out in June 2011 – involved how
schools should deal with Ramadan and other details surrounding how
religious holidays would be treated in local schools.
According to current head of Jönköping's education administration
Stephan Rapp, the document's seven main points have remained essentially
the same since they were first drawn up.
Among other things, the document includes guidance ensuring that schools
will allow Muslim girls to shower in their underwear following physical
education classes and that students would be allowed to skip out on
study visits of class trips that involve overnight stays.
According to the agreement, students fasting for Ramadan are also exempt
from attending physical education classes and representatives from
local Muslim congregations are also granted access to the school's
kitchen to observe how the school's food is prepared.
Rapp admitted to the TT news agency that the conditions outlined in the
document could be sees as providing special treatment for Muslim
"Yes, and we take that very seriously," he said, adding that city
education officials plan on reviewing the document at a meeting next
"That could lead to anything from changes to that it is scrapped."
Rapp emphasized that the agreement would be reviewed "closely" to ensure it complies with Swedish law.
Nor was he aware of other similar agreements in other municipalities.
Meanwhile, GAPF, along with other groups, have reported the matter to
national education authorities in Sweden, arguing that the agreement
legitimizes violence, oppression and control over Muslim children.
"Schools have often given these children a little breathing room. We
meet children who say that at school the can relax and take a breath.
There isn't a dad, cousin, or brother running around in the halls and
controlling them," Sara Mohammad, chair of GAPF, told TT.
"School should be a neutral environment where they avoid being
controlled. Children aren't born with religious values, rather it is
parents' traditional convictions that are forced on the children.
Schools and municipalities shouldn't contribute to that."
Mohammad added that she also plans to report Jönköping municipality to the police for professional misconduct.
GAPF is also looking into whether there are similar agreements in other municipalities.