Austria’s integration minister has slammed the country’s national employment service for offering segregated courses to Middle Eastern immigrants. He said that the move undermined Austria’s fundamental values and sent the wrong message to newly-arrived immigrants.
The courses, run by The Austrian Public Employment Service (AMS), Austria’s equivalent of the Jobcentre, are designed to assess what skills asylum seekers arriving in the country have. They are conducted in a range of languages, mostly Russian, French, Arabic and Farsi.
But while the Russian and French language courses are mixed gender, the Arabic and Farsi courses have been split to provide male only and female only lessons, the Local has reported.
Integration Minister Sebastian Kurz said that, while the courses themselves were “meaningful and positive”, segregating the sexes for Middle Eastern immigrants was a “big mistake”.
“If we let this happen, it becomes harder later on to explain why this isn’t part of the culture here,” he said, adding that equality of the sexes is at the heart of Austrian culture and should not be undermined, especially when trying to integrate newcomers.
He believes the courses are a symptom of “misconceived tolerance,” warning that immigrants who do not adopt Austrian values face having their benefits cut.
However, AMS head Petra Draxl has defended the segregation, which she says is part of an “innovative project”. Speaking to ORF radio, she insisted that it made sense from the women’s point of view as women from the Middle East generally have very different work experience to men from the region. Splitting the sexes, she said allowed the course designers to set specific priorities for women.
“The group dynamics don’t work well together, when you’re mixing mechanics and electricians with teachers and nurses,” she said, adding that the male groups would still have female instructors.
And she denied that the decision had been prompted by men refusing to take the same courses as women, saying that to her knowledge that had never happened.
Commenting on the issue, Social Minister Rudolf Hundstorfer said that he thought segregated courses were acceptable at the beginning of the integration process, but that it “must be made very clear that life here is different.”
Austria registered around 20,000 recognised refugees as job seekers in October, roughly two thirds in Vienna.