How to break open closed-up communities and deal with harmful traditional practices

Welcome to The Integrity Talks. I am overjoyed to have you here. I will make sure to share valuable insights with you on integrity in the broadest sense. With my personal background, I will share a lot of knowledge on closed-up communities and different business ecosystems specifically.

Gosh, I have so much to share with you. Where do I start? Well, maybe with sharing a bit of the conversations I had with different organizations, governmental bodies and ministries in the past months. I participated in different researches and reports. I asked for partnership from different municipalities and other parties. Furthermore, I had a lot of 1:1 conversations on harmful traditional practices within a variety of closed-up communities in the Netherlands and abroad.

Let’s not kid ourselves: the problems that we have within closed-up communities are global and are far more severe than “just” horrific individual suffering, lack of self-determination and freedom of choice, speech, thought and action in the broadest sense. One individual case that can be prevented is already enough. Let alone, the current status quo in the world. Thus, the risks of those issues are far greater than we think. Movements and reactions can cause collective damage, for instance terrorism. Whistleblowers find it harder than ever to use their voice. Yet, at the same time, we live in times of the digital highway, global engagement and transparency. Creating change to protect, maintain and enhance integrity and humanity is my life’s work.

Harmful traditional practices

For those who are (luckily enough) not familiar with harmful traditional practices, let’s start with an explanation. Harmful traditional practices are forms of domestic violence such as coercion, mutilation or oppression that are built on the back of orthodox or conservative traditions and views on sexuality and male-female roles.

Harmful traditional practices include honor-related violence, forced marriages and abandonment, marital captivity, female genital mutilation and forced isolation (the so-called hidden children or women). Harmful traditional practices can occur among all walks of life, different ethnicities, backgrounds or classes. Such practices take place in union with a certain collective ideology within a closed-up community. Basically, there is nothing wrong with traditions in themselves. However, they will be harmful if they interfere with self-determination, freedom of choice and a safe home. Harmful traditional practices restrict people’s rights and freedom and are therefore also a violation of human rights.

In order to break open closed-up communities and prevent inhumane practices on an individual as well as a collective level, I provided some solutions. The details of those are far more complex than portrayed in this list. There is so much more behind those ideas, especially when it comes to the different approaches for implementation. Government support is needed. New regulations will be needed. In short, this list is just a starting-point for the next steps.

Side note: to break open closed-up communities does not mean that communal elements have to be forbidden, for instance communal gatherings. It means that the laws, legislations and general norms and values of a country are being complied with, which is the biggest problem within closed-up communities, as the leaders and people just won’t. They will only comply with the rules created by the leaders centuries ago and with current leaders who will decide for the individuals of that closed-up community. Those leaders oftentimes have no civil education and will not accept expertise of civil disciplines, such as psychology or pedagogy.

Solutions to break open closed-up communities

  • Break taboos. I am a true advocate of that. I fundamentally believe that there are no taboos. If they do exist, it offers an invitation to take a really good look, especially at the lack of integrity, with all the (inhumane) consequences those taboos entail…
  • Keep the conversations going – as honest as possible. Create a nontoxic environment and safe context to have those conversations. That is not easy at all, because if people do not participate opportunistically, it can also mean loss. Oftentimes, different interests are at heart. People within the closed-up communities, especially leaders, are not interested in continuing the conversations. They only have an eye for their own concerns and path of life and belonging, exactly as they are used to for centuries after centuries. This is why I had to cry and laugh simultaneously when Dutch governmental representatives talked about ‘a change of mentality’ with me. People within closed-up communities are almost always not interested in a change of mentality at all, until they notice that more and more people within the group are interested in it and are demanding it in order to keep being part of that group, thus to keep that identity. Or until there is more at stake for them personally.
  • Make a clear distinction between the community, the closed-up collective and the individual who wants freedom. In order to have the right – thus integer and humane – conversation, it is important to know how to make a distinction between all parts of the challenging ecosystem and to know what is what.
  • Don’t generalize. There are a lot of orthodox people for instance who do make individual freedom possible. Those people are your allies in order to drive home change.
  • Be clear and unapologetic about human rights. Take a stand against hate speech and against excluding people. For instance, tolerating ideologies in which gays are being sentenced to death is absolutely scandalous.
  • Break open the closed-up ‘webs’ as I call it, in order for individuals who want to leave, to do so freely. Oftentimes, they will be worked against, or manipulated in order to stay / return to the community. Mostly, in order for the generally applicable laws, regulations, norms and values ​​to be checked.
  • Similar to integration courses that countries have to transmit the local norms and values, countries should have mandatory courses for closed-up communities. Thus, not only for integrators, but for all leaders, children and parents. Continue testing consistently in order to know whether a community will comply with the civil common grounds or not.
  • Encourage children from closed-up communities to meet children from other communities from an early age. Oftentimes, this is not allowed. Children will be isolated from the rest of civil society.
  • Children belong to all of us. This means a shift in mindset. If we see that children are being abused in closed-up communities – this happens in our streets and neighborhoods, mind you – we all have a duty as citizens to be aware of this and to do something about it. People can do more than they think. For example, read about children’s rights. There are 54 of them. Remember: you can always, always, always (!) do something.
  • Focus on change from within the closed-up community and from without. Yes, we shouldn’t forget to value the positive developments that take place. Celebrate progress. For change from within, we need people with courage; people who dare to step out of line, to speak up and who can withstand pressure from others. Also, lean on the people who put things on the agenda from outside the closed-up community, which is something that I do. Collaborate; there are many people in similar positions who can reinforce each other.
  • Lean on role models for progress. For example, I was the first in our group of girls who dared to go to another school. After I left, more people followed.
  • Work with people who know those closed-up communities from the inside out and who understand the cultural and religious codes, in order to be able to know what’s going on and to maintain integrity. Whatever happens, maintain humanistic principles.
  • Last, let me also share something specifically related to the Jewish communities and the current diversity and inclusivity policies and public debate. Oftentimes, the Jewish community is seen as ‘white’, but that is absolutely not the case, given the identity, recent history and contemporary anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism is significant in all sorts of shapes and forms. It restricts people in many ways in society. It cannot be overlooked or denied. Furthermore, It needs to be recognized as such. Having the right contexts in place is a must in order to find the right solutions for all problems that have to do with closed-up communities and harmful traditional practices.