The issue of gender segregation in Open Centres / by Jedidiah

The issue of whether or not males and females should be segregated within migrant Open Centres is one that I hope to address in my project with the Marsa Open Centre.  The MOC is maintained as a completely male facility and there are both proponents and critics of this.  I was told by more than one person involved with the Centre that allowing women and men to mix would be asking for trouble, that it would lead to violence and exploitation. Others, such as Cameron, believe that it is gender-based segregation itself that "disrupts traditional family and gender relationships" (Cameron 2009) and leads to similar problems. There is not a great deal of literature on the subject and what does exist is mainly focused on the experience of migrants in refugee camps, not Open Centres.  I think the difference is that in Open Centres migrants are given much more autonomy and can come and go as they please.  This freedom, coupled with the unnatural situation of being in a single-sex environment within the centre and separated from the women in their families, has lead to problems with increased prostitution around the Centre and violence against women.  Tempers are short at the best of times in a crowded, depressing place like the MOC and I witnessed minor scuffles between migrants on almost every day I was there.  I agree with Cameron that isolation from females and families could exacerbate feelings of frustration and lead to such violent outbursts.

Cultural, religious, and traditional differences between the many nationalities that are represented in the MOC further complicate the issue.   If I was to go the route of attempting to design spaces for both men and women to share then I would have to take into account these differences, to provide flexibility and adaptability for a variety of beliefs.  Turner discusses the issue that men in situations of dependence such as those in the MOC are particularly troubled by the loss of their ability to provide for their families.  They are constantly aware that their traditional gender roles are being challenged in this new situation.  In a Centre where equality between all is a priority, the introduction of females could cause serious psychological challenges within a number of cultures.  One must be aware that gender relations are a complex and dynamic force when looking at the design of an Open Centre.

References:

Cameron, Thomas.  "Living on the Margins of Society: Research with Refugees at Marsa Open Centre, Malta."  Ryerson University, 2009.

Turner, Simon. “Angry Young Men in Camps: Gender, age and class relations among Burundian refugees in Tanzania.” New Issues in Refugee Research, Working Paper No. 9.