The Bahar Project – new beginnings and a sea of opportunities for young people affected by honour related conflicts
Bahar, Persian/Turkish for spring or a new start, and Arabic for sea, is the name of Loisto Setlementti’s 3-year project that forms a part of the NGO’s unit for preventing and solving honour related conflicts and violence. While preventive work is done among families and wider communities to mitigate or manage honour related conflicts, there are many young people who temporarily or permanently decide to or are forced to leave their families. Reasons for this vary for example from not finding a way to peacefully co-exist, not being able to openly be who they are, to be in love or start a relationship with whom they want, or not feeling safe, sometimes threatened by forced marriage or violence.
Starting anew, detaching from one’s family and wider community, especially for young people from collectivist cultures where a group’s needs and goals play a central role in the individual’s life, can feel like a shock. Many of the young people struggle to live alone for the first time in their lives, take care of their mental health, and to build new social networks. Many need long-term support to manage everyday life independently, make decisions, to strengthen their self-esteem, to deal with trauma, to work on safety issues and healthy boundaries, and to reflect on one’s own family relations. Crisis work does not provide this kind of support and many young people are left alone, often feeling the pressure to return to their family where they faced a risk of mental or physical violence. Everybody needs other people, social relations, but if one may not have those relations safely among family members, communities or in the society, they may end up being victims of harassment, assault, or sexual violence. To fill this gap, the Bahar project started in 2018 and is now onto its final year, supporting young people (15-29 years old) in the Helsinki Capital Region.
Like the deep calm of the seabed while a storm is raging on the surface, the Bahar team aims to help the young people in their search for a place of inner and external safety amidst the multiple challenges, tragedies as well as opportunities of life. We believe that the key to the success of Bahar-work has been its flexibility, non-formality, and long-term support, allowing trust to grow between the client and the worker, meeting peers who are in same situation, sharing experiences with others. Some of the specific results of the project have been better housing, studying and job situations, support in the asylum process or gaining a residence permit, better mental health, less alcohol abuse and risk behaviour, higher self-esteem and sense of independence, gaining more trust to speak about traumatic events, more trust to authorities and having the courage to report crimes.
This spring, the Bahar team is honoured to have our work recognised by the Nordic Council of Ministers and selected as one of the best practices on the Integration Norden platform among other Nordic programs and projects. Honour-related issues are not yet well identified or understood at a societal level in Finland and while there are many dedicated actors with solid expertise in the topic, more research, knowledge-sharing, and dialogue is needed to prevent honour related conflicts and to provide a wider network of support for those affected by it. Here, we celebrate the existing cooperation among organisations, authorities and initiatives of Nordic countries and invite new forms of exchange. Together, we hope to keep challenging presumptions and stereotypes that limit our ability to recognise and fully understand the complexity of honour related issues, starting from simple victim-perpetrator dichotomies to gendered ideas that honour related violence only affects young women and that its perpetrators would always be men. While this is so in a significant number of cases, also boys or men can be victims of honour related violence. Moreover, an important target group in the Bahar project is LGBTIQ individuals who face highly vulnerable situations because of honour-related issues being tightly connected to heteronormativity. LGBTIQ individuals face also more often threat from anonymous people from same ethnic/religious background as well as Finnish people in the public area thus they are more vulnerable.