Leo Ajkic and “the shameless girls” receive the Freedom of Expression Foundation Tribute

March 15 2017

Oslo, 15 March 2017

Today, Wednesday, 15 March 2017, the Board of the Fritt Ord Foundation awarded the Freedom of Expression Foundation Tribute to Leo Ajkic and “the shameless girls”, represented by three of them, Amina Bile, Nancy Herz and Sofia Srour.

The ceremony was held in the Fritt Ord Foundation’s premises in Oslo; speeches were given by Grete Brochmann and Bård Vegar Solhjell on behalf of Fritt Ord, and by the four recipients of the Tribute: Leo Ajkic, Amina Bile, Nancy Herz and Sofia Srour. A musical interlude was provided by the rapper MYRA from Bergen.

Leo Ajkic was awarded to the Freedom of Expression Foundation Tribute for his innovative contributions through the TV series Escape, which has brought viewers considerable insight into refugees’ situations, and added new dimensions to the immigration and integration debate.

“The Escape series is anything but a toothless, feel-good project. It is brilliant investigative journalism, offering time and space for reflection and for obtaining new knowledge. The programme host manages to give a balanced perspective on extremely difficult questions. He showcases the complexity involved in this area by starting with the individual, a bottom-up perspective that can easily get lost in the big numbers and dilemmas facing decision makers”, remarked Grete Brochmann, Chair of the Fritt Ord Foundation’s Board of Directors in her speech.

The Freedom of Expression Foundation Tribute was bestowed on “the shameless girls”, represented by three of them, Amina Bile, Nancy Herz and Sofia Srour, for their personal, valiant efforts to shed light on the strong social control existing in minority groups.

“The shameless girls” became a buzzword after Nancy Herz used the phrase in a debate column in the daily newspaper Aftenposten in spring 2016. In that context, she wrote: “We are the shameless Arab girls, and our time has come. We see a growing number of girls from minority groups standing up and defying our own.” A number of young Norwegian women from ethnic minority backgrounds have been inspired to open up about their own similar experiences, including Amina Bile and Sofia Srour.

“They have been courageous,” commented Fritt Ord Foundation Board member Bård Vegar Solhjell, in his speech to honour Amina Bile, Nancy Herz and Sofia Srour.

“Their interviews and articles speak to involvement that has come at a price. They started out being hesitant, uncertain, nervous, yes, even afraid, before taking the plunge. They are also very open about that. Their openness about that cost may also have been an important part of their message, since it has reverberated with others. When others draw strength from feelings that also include doubt and fear, it helps to know that they are not the first to struggle with those emotions. This is how courage gives rise to courage.

A clearly moved Leo Ajkic thanked Pandora Film and the entire team that has worked with Escape. He also praised NRK for their support, and promised to continue to work on programmes that address topics that engage and are important for the community.

Amina Bile, Nancy Herz and Sofia Srour reflected on social control in certain closed communities, and on the importance of young girls’ liberty of movement, freedom of choice and right of self-determination. They mentioned how they have been inspired by gutsy female social commentators from minority backgrounds who have trod the path before them, and on how they have been inspired by each other.

“There is no shame in being free”, stated Sofia Srour succinctly.

Read more about the Tribute laureates in the press release dated 21 February 2017.