The New Year’s attacks on women in central Cologne have left a lasting mark. Cologners tend to see their city as a haven of tolerance, and of safety. And this open-minded spirit has largely characterised the continuing debate about what the attacks mean for society, with most people challenging racism and sexism alike. At one meeting I attended, for example, a number of women who had been harassed by intolerant male Muslim neighbours over their or their daughters’ clothing and behaviour came to the conclusion that what they wanted is a ‘Reclaim the streets demonstration for the new millenium’.
There has also been a huge rise of interest in women’s self-defence courses. This poster is typical of many that covered the whole Innenstadt where I live in the aftermath of the attacks. Like many similar posters, this one is advertising a programme offered by a Turkish voluntary association. All-Aacht is a particular type of martial arts (don’t ask me any more about it, because that’s all I know), and the poster promotes it both as a form of self defence and as a way of staying fit and healthy, run “by women for women”. I photographed it outside a lesbian dance bar, just along the street from my apartment.
I imagine that some people would see this entire development as based on false assumptions. Surely women should be able to go where they want in Cologne, or anywhere else, without being threatened by men. You might also question the imagery. So are courses like this part of the problem, by encouraging women to adapt to a world in which some men think they have the right to attack women? Or does this sort of activity contribute, in however limited a way, to women’s empowerment?