The Rosengård district of Malmö is often associated with violence and social exclusion. But the area is also bubbling with a mass of positive initiatives that rarely attract the same level of attention. Girls in Association is one example of this wide range of initiatives – an organisation that creates meaningful leisure time activities for young girls. Taekwondo, self-defence, yoga, dance, football, badminton, volleyball, wrestling, parkour and homework tutoring are just some of the activities organised by the association.
– Everything is completely free, and between 10 and 30 girls usually come to our various activities, says Balqis Lamis Khattab, who is a participation coach at Girls in Association.
Why is it so important to get young girls involved?
– There are a lot of girls and young women who are currently not given the opportunity to do something meaningful in their leisure time. Particularly in Rosengård. There are economic and social factors that prevent them from getting involved in clubs and associations. It is extremely important that girls are given the opportunity to make their voices heard and to develop as individuals, and at Girls in Association we open our arms to them. They must be able to come to a place that they can trust and where they feel safe!
21-year-old Balqis Lamis Khattab was born and raised in Malmö. Her parents are from Syria and when Balqis was twelve, she and her mother went on holiday to Balqis’s parents’ homeland to visit family and friends. When they were about to return to Sweden, they were stopped at the airport in Damascus. Balqis’s passport was invalid. It was confiscated by immigration officers and Balqis was forced to stay in Syria against her will. Her mother had no choice but to leave Balqis behind and try to get help in Sweden.
It was a whole year before Balqis was finally able to leave Syria. During her time there she was exposed to things that no child should have to see or experience. She was forced to flee to avoid soldiers and shooting, and on several occasions she tried to escape together with her mother, who returned to Syria four times to try to bring her daughter home.
– It forced me to grow up quickly at a very young age, says Balqis. I missed a whole year of school. It was an extremely tough time. As a result, it made me strive to reach my goals and never give up on anything. Now I feel that I’m a strong young woman because I’ve overcome so many obstacles during my childhood, and I want to use my experience to improve the self-confidence of other young women and to increase their participation in society.
What’s the best thing about your work at Girls in Association?
– I’m passionate about helping other people, and Girls in Association has given me the chance to do so. I usually participate in the different activities myself, to show the girls that if I can do it, so can they. It’s fun following them and seeing how they develop. We also have a really fun work team, we’ve laughed and cried together and become very close to one another.
In addition to her involvement with Girls in Association, Balqis is also one of the women behind the Dansa Pausa (Dance, Pause) statue, which is located at the Rosen Red Carpet in the middle of the Rosengård district. The location had previously been a car park, and when Malmö City Council decided to renovate it, they asked Balqis and the others from Girls in Association to be part of the planning process.
– It had been decided that it should be a place where you could be active, but where you could also take it easy, says Balqis. I like the group Panetoz, and their song Dansa Pausa was being played a lot at that time. The song made me happy and I thought that a colourful statute in the centre of this space, where you could dance or take a pause, would fit in really well.
On 28 September 2013, the Rosen Red Carpet was inaugurated. And what had previously been a dull car park was now a wonderful activity space, with a climbing wall, places to sit, a large stage with loudspeakers – and of course the colourful Dansa Pausa statue.
When we hear about Rosengård, it’s often about something negative. Are things really as bad as the picture we usually get from the media?
– No, absolutely not! I’ve met lots of young people who have come to visit Rosengård for the first time, and I’ve shown them round the area. They tell me how they’ve previously been afraid to visit Rosengård, but once they’ve been here they’ve said that it’s a wonderful place. Of course there are gangs and problems in Rosengård, but you find those things just about everywhere. I don’t live there myself just now, but it’s like my second home. I’ve spent time there since I was little, and I’ve been working there for four years now and have never had any problems. For me Rosengård is a safe place.
A new challenge is now approaching for Balqis. She is to take over the job of developing the work of Girls in Association, and her goal is very clear: to reach out to and support even more girls in the area.
– As an individual I love to help people and guide them onto the right path. Just now I want to work to create more jobs for young people in Malmö. It’s something that I’m passionate about and that I’m battling for!
Curious to know more about Girls in Association? Follow them on Facebook by clicking the link below. You can also e-mail Balqis direct at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Text: André Vifot Haas