The Bydelsmødrene initiative is intended to enable immigrant mothers belonging to ethnic minorities to acquire knowledge about Danish society, improve their proficiency in the language, gain easier access to social services and become empowered. The aim, in short, is to give them “help to help themselves”.
Original name: Bydelsmødrene.
Geographical scope: Odense (Denmark).
Promoting organisation: Bydelsmødrene.
Target groups: Immigrant women belonging to ethnic minorities.
Launch year: 2008.
In 2008, many mothers belongin to ethnic minorities and resident in the neighbourhood of Vollmose (Odense, Denmark) lived in isolation, with insufficient information about how Danish society works, and this engendered a certain amount of mistrust among them. The Ministry of Immigration decided to launch a pilot scheme based on the Stadtteilmütter project, which had been underway in the Berlin neighbourhood of Neukölln since 2004.
The main goal of the programme is to enter into contact with mothers with an ethnic minority background to provide them with support and information. More specifically, the aim is for them to acquire knowledge of Danish society, improve their proficiency in the language, and gain easier access to social services. In addition, it is intended that they become empowered and make wise decisions for their children and their families.
In order to contact socially excluded immigrant mothers with an ethnic minority background a number of them are trained to act as “neighbourhood mothers”, a sort of model mother. It is their job to convey to women in their same circumstances information about their rights and obligations in Denmark, children’s education, and nutrition and health. The neighbourhood mothers can be said to act as a bridge between socially excluded mothers and the rest of society and public institutions.
The neighbourhood mothers’ work is built on five principles: recognition, respect, trust, equality and diversity. As far as method is concerned, the project uses conversation, bridge building and networking. The neighbourhood mothers become known by word of mouth, or by going up to other women in the street, in playgrounds or in laundrettes.
Five assessments of the project have been carried out. A qualitative assessment (2015) shows that the participants are better acquainted with Danish society, feel more included in the neighbourhood, feel that their relationship with public bodies is improving, and find it easier to enter the labour market. A cost-effectiveness study (2016) calculates that, for every Danish krone invested in the project, society regains three times that amount in one year, and ten times more in ten years.
Denmark now has more than 600 active neighbourhood mothers and around 40 groups. A state organisation promotes local “franchises”, which use their own methods and training materials. There are also neighbourhood mothers in Austria, Germany, the Netherlands (where the initiative first started), Sweden, Switzerland, Norway and Finland.