In order to foster friendships and deepen intercultural understanding among teenagers with and without migrant backgrounds, Women without Borders (WwB) held a series of ‘Fathers and Sons between Two Worlds’ workshops for two hundred young men and women in Vienna and Innsbruck between 2017 and 2018. This dialogue project built on WwB’s preceding research study and documentary film of the same name. Through screenings of the film and discussion sessions on gender, migration, identity, and mutual respect, WwB promoted a culture of inclusion through shared experiences that helped to undermine popular prejudices and misconceptions that often lead to the isolation and in turn self-isolation of teenagers with migrant backgrounds.

The apparent rise in Islamophobia across Europe, perpetuated by the media’s heightened focus on violent extremist group, has been widening the rift between Europeans with and without Muslim backgrounds. An influx of migrants from Muslim-majority countries has fuelled misconceptions and unfounded suspicions. This burgeoning culture of fear has had an isolating effect on teenagers with migrant backgrounds, who, as adolescents and young adults, are in a crucial period of physical, mental, and emotional development. The universally-accepted grain of wisdom that individuals demand a greater degree of support and attention throughout the various stages of adolescence makes inclusionary practises all the more essential. With respect to the relationship between teenagers with and without migrant backgrounds, prejudices that are based on an irrational fear of, disdain towards, and a lack of interaction with ‘the other’ only help to embolden artificial barriers. However rare, both ‘groups’ have the potential to translate their feelings of injustice or isolation into extremist action. Whether Rightist or Islamist, a small number of youth have and will continue to turn to anti-democratic ideologies. Inclusionary programmes, an open culture of debate, and a readiness to listen to increasingly marginalised groups has thus become of paramount importance for the progress of European democracy.

In order to deepen intercultural understanding and offer a platform for alternative narratives, Women without Borders (WwB) convened a series of ‘Fathers and Sons between Two Worlds’ workshops in Vienna and Innsbruck between 2017 and 2018. With the support of the Austrian Ministry of Social Affairs, WwB brought together some two hundred teenagers for screenings of the WwB-produced ‘Fathers and Sons between Two Worlds’ feature. Following the journeys of fathers and sons with Muslim and migrant backgrounds, the film documents their experiences in laying down roots in Austria. Each screening was followed by a conversation that saw teenagers with and without migrant backgrounds share their experiences and discuss a range of related topics, including identity, integration, and politics. Professionals and experts in the field facilitated the dialogues and conveyed techniques that helped participants to more effectively examine and discuss their own prejudices and identities, and to foster a constructive, respectful debating style.

In the follow-up evaluation forms, participants expressed their shared desire to build on the successes of the ‘Between Two Worlds’ project by initiating and convening more workshops of this kind, and doing so on a voluntary basis. The self-evaluations pointed to a perceived increase in social cohesion, and to a greater openness to intercultural engagement. Women without Borders drew on its observations and project findings to develop a ‘Between Two Worlds’ handbook, which provided teenagers with a conceptual and practical guide on how to develop their own intercultural discussion groups. In creating a space for teenagers from different backgrounds to build relationships across ‘imagined’ divides, develop alternative narratives, and challenge anti-democratic myths of ‘the other’, WwB contributed to laying the foundation for a more inclusive society that favours pulling teenagers out of rather than pushing them into isolation.

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