Many ethnic minority women in Denmark lead somewhat isolated lives: often they have limited Danish language skills, limited social networks and limited knowledge of Danish society. Often, they spend their days home alone with their children. The goal of the Pastry Hill Integration House is to empower these women: giving them the strength and the competences to create the life they want. These competences relate to everything from private life, social life and childcare, to employment, education and citizenship of the Danish society. Pastry Hill aims at fostering social mobility through empowering these women and girls as well as improving social cohesion by trying to include them further into Danish society and build up their social networks. The strategy is to encompass all aspects of the women’s lives and to function as a springboard for them, moreover and help them acquire the knowledge and competences necessary to navigate in society with regard to work and education, public authorities and childcare.
Pastry Hill Integration House is organised as an association funded primarily by Copenhagen Municipality in combination with grants from various funds. The association is situated in a former bakery (hence the name) and was founded in 1999 in reaction to the isolation of many ethnic minority women (and to some degree their small children as well). Currently, Pastry Hill employs seven paid employees managing and organising activities and courses. Language lessons, homework help, childcare and job counselling are for a large part handled by volunteers. The target audience is girls and young women (up to the age of approx. forty): “We want to avoid the mother-in-law effect of older women bossing the younger”, the manager of Pastry Hill says. The arrangement is thus people-based. The integration house offers a wide range of activities: Danish lessons, a playgroup for small children, job counselling, communal dinners, swimming lessons, a single-mothers’ club, presentations about e.g. health, private life, women’s rights and raising of children, election meetings, field trips to the national parliament, educational institutions, libraries, day-care centres for children and shelters for women. The activities also include an after-school club for girls (aged 12-18) helping the girls with homework, job application and choice of education, teaching them about their rights and Danish democracy as well as instigating social activities for them.
Perception and use of the concept of diversity
Pastry Hill aims to promote diversity as a strength. It is a deliberate objective to have as many nationalities in the house as possible (i.e. providing interpreters at the presentations). However, tackling the negative aspects following differences in e.g. culture and socio-economic situation is also a focus area. Working with ethno-cultural diversity and diversity in gender is embedded in the very objective of Pastry Hill, but many other forms of diversity are included in their work as well: Pastry Hill aims to embrace diversity in lifestyles and life cycles. Child care is provided for young children so that the women can bring their babies to language lessons. Single mothers have their own Supermom Club. The attempt to encompass all aspects of the women’s lives shows that Pastry Hill recognises the hyper-diversity of their target audience.
Main factors influencing success or failure
A very important external success factor for the integration house is the recognition by the public authorities that Pastry Hill is able to reach some of the highly isolated women that governmental actors cannot. This ensures their continued existence. Additionally, the integration house’s cooperation with municipal actors s like social workers and health visitors as well as other associations especially in the local area, is an important success factor. One of the key internal success factors of Pastry Hill is the combination of child care and language courses: Initiating the integration of refugee and immigrant women in Denmark as early as possible is made difficult by the isolation that having young children often entails for these women. According to the manager, the option that the women can bring their babies and children to Pastry Hill is a necessity in order to ensure their attendance. Along these lines, keeping Pastry Hill a women-only house makes it possible to include women and girls who would not be allowed by their families to come if there were men present in the house. A third important success factor is the location of Pastry Hill: Easy access (by foot or public transportation) is necessary for the women to be able to show up, especially as most of them are unfamiliar with finding their way around Copenhagen. Finally, the experience of the manager is that not being a municipal actor works to the advantage of Pastry Hill as many of the women distrust public authorities.
Regarding external failure factors, the biggest difficulty for Pastry Hill is to ensure the sufficient resources for the house. The basic funding is ensured by the Copenhagen Municipality for a four-year term, but according to the manager, fundraising is a demanding and challenging part of the running of Pastry Hill, and it has become more and more difficult over the years. The most important internal failure factor of Pastry Hill is a not sufficiently strong commitment of the women and girls using the house. As all participation is voluntary, activities rely on the women prioritising to attend and understanding the relevance and importance of showing up. Lack of engagement and participation by the women is thus a barrier to the work at Pastry Hill.
As a reaction to the isolated lives led by many ethnic minority women in Denmark, despite tightened requirements regarding e.g. language courses and job seeking, Pastry Hill Integration House was founded fifteen years ago. Since then, it has been an objective for the house to be a springboard for the women to the rest of society and to give them the strength and the competences to create the life they want. Pastry Hill encompasses all aspects of the women’s lives, both socially, regarding family life and motherhood, employment, education and as members of society. This eye for the hyper-diversity of the women’s lives shows the innovative potential of Pastry Hill. Furthermore, the combination of child-care and education is an innovative approach that makes it possible to reach more isolated and marginalised women than is ordinarily the case.