Norwegian PENs award for progressive contributions to freedom of speech, the Ossietzky Award, was given on Monday 19th December to Fakhra Salimi. This year’s award winner has lived in Norway since she was 20 years old – more than half her life. She has been a strong voice that has fought hard not to be identified as a victim, and has revealed to Norwegian society a diversity of experiences from the world of minority women, a world that until now the majority of people only superficially were aware of.

 Fakhra Salimi came to Norway in 1979 from the Metropolis of Lahore, which has more than four million residents, to a country with the same number of citizens in total. She was often asked questions about her background, and some of the questions concerned what she as a Muslim woman thought about coming to a sexually liberal country such as Norway. She experiences that ignorance about the world was common, including in academia. Since that time she has challenge Norwegian politicians and Norwegian women’s movements on a number of sensitive issues.

In 1989 The MiRA Centre was established and Fakhra became the Director of the centre. Over the past two decades, the centre has worked both to support individuals and to challenge structures, and they have gradually reached many of their objectives. Through The MiRA Magazine, through the book “Odin´s women put color in the North” and through continuous media-critiques, this years recipient of the Ossientzky Award not only created a channel for herself in the Norwegian public, but also for many other voices that have long been ignored.

One would be hard-pressed to find more opposing sides today than in the debates around a multicultural society. To stand between the polar opposites is both difficult and risky. In a media-culture with a taste for the dramatic, conflict and polarization of ideas, one runs the risk of being neglected if she has a finger in each pot: In other words a running critique of racism and discriminatory practices from the larger community’s side combined with a critical view of repressive activities practiced in the minority community. This has been a key challenge for this year’s award winner.

Read alos PEN-Award Presentation Speech by Elisabeth Eide >>