Interview with Justine, 41, and Jan, 46, married since 2003. Justine is from Togo/West Africa, Jan from Thuringia/East Germany. They live with their two children Eleonora (12) and Yannick (9) in Berlin where they have been part of the CANA Fraternity for three years. They meet Natalie and Markus for a four-way interview.

Question: You are a bi-cultural couple, each of you brings from your family, from your culture, very different elements. What image of women did you come into your relationship with? And has this changed over time?

Justine: From my country, I brought the idea that the man takes care of the family, that he earns money. But despite that, it was out of the question for me. I always wanted to be financially independent. I wanted to get an education and a job before I got married. My father, who was married to several women, also wanted women to be independent. He did not want his sons to be polygamists either. But then everything changed. Just after my A-levels, I went to Germany for the first time to visit my brother. There I met Jan and we fell in love. We wanted to get married. It was not easy for me to tell my father. Fortunately, my brother took care of it and my father accepted that this was my way.

When the children arrived, I was quickly confronted with reality. My faith had always been very deep, but there were many things I could no longer do as I wanted. I had to learn that I depended on Jan first.

Jan: When we met, I was already 27 and Justine was my first relationship. I didn’t have any stress at that time either, but I was sure that it would work out well. Both my parents are teachers and they always showed me how a relationship of equals could work. My father has great respect for women, he has already learned this from his father. My mother is a confident woman and it was clear to me that I also wanted an equal relationship. 

Question: How do you see the division of labour in the family?

Justine: I didn’t always like the way things are done in many African countries: the man lives his life for himself and the woman lives her life. I always wanted to share the work in the house and the education of the children. But it was not that simple. I trained as a midwife and started working, and it became important to delegate tasks to Jan. When the children arrived, it became even more important. So we agreed that he would bring and collect the children from the nursery two days a week, for example.

Jan: In my East German culture, equality was always important. But in the German Democratic Republic it was said that women were equal, but the reality was different. Women had to work, but they were still solely responsible for the household and the children.

When we got married, I was initially on a cloud. I trained as an IT specialist and when I came home, my wife was there. At first I didn’t even notice that there was no equivalence and that Justine wanted something else. It was important for her to do some training. She then developed a huge effort to go through with it despite the many obstacles. But when the children came along, most of the housework and education remained with her. Even though I didn’t want to. I was kind of blind, I worked a lot and I was recognised for it.

Question: Did CANA change anything for you?

Justine: Yes, we realised that we had to take care of ourselves, that we needed time for ourselves as a couple. That we had to organise that too. For example, we made sure that the children went to bed earlier at night on weekends so that we could have time together. CANA really opened our eyes to the fact that in addition to our duties as parents, we should not forget that we are a couple!

Jan: CANA helped us to reflect on ourselves as a couple. And if a day hasn’t gone very well, not to go to bed in silence, but to talk. And to say a little prayer beforehand.

In the meantime, we have also changed a lot. I now only work 50% and can invest much more time in the household and the children. But sometimes I still have problems with my perception.

Justine always says that I just don’t see what needs to be done (laughs). Actually, I’ve always been more of a cerebral person. Justine helped me to have more confidence in myself. My father once said: Justine made you a man.