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'More men must stand up against abuse in Sweden'

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'More men must stand up against abuse in Sweden'
Equality Minister Åsa Regnér. Photo: Bertil Ericson/TT
06:59 CEST+02:00
Sweden's equality minister Åsa Regnér on why the government is introducing a new strategy on male violence against women.

A 14-year-old girl is going to go to a festival with friends for the first time. Expectations are high. The word ‘festival’ is intrinsically positive, but has during the summer become associated with harassment and abuse against girls and women.

It is a good and necessary discussion to have. One of the goals of equality politics is that violence against women should stop. We will never achieve that without wide engagement in society, involving both women and men, and including young people.

I often meet women’s movements and men who work for equality. In order to ensure that girls’ experiences are also included in our work I am in contact with The Girl Child Platform. On the International Day of the Girl Child, October 11th, we are inviting young girls in for a hearing. The purpose is to gain their idea of how a safe environment should be. The Government wants to carry the results of that with it before making future decisions.

The problem with violence against girls and women is not limited to festivals. It is a fact that there are men and boys who consider themselves to have the right to restrict women and girls’ rights. In essence this is a crime and should be treated as such.

This is behaviour with the purpose of intimidation on a societal level. The message is that women and girls should keep a low profile, know their place or stay at home. It limits one sex’s free movement. That is why it is so important to respond, fight back, and call it what it is. Women and girls have the same right to public space. That is absolute, and its truth depends on nothing.

We must therefore have a broad societal debate and maintain our commitment even after the festival season is over. We need to reach out to pre-schools, schools, suburbs, inner-cities, social services, work places, and on the internet.

We know through research that men who value people according to gender stereotypes, and especially those who socialize with other men who are misogynistic, have an increased risk of perpetrating violence against women. The government has therefore worked on a long-term, broad initiative to prevent violence against women throughout the whole of society. Primarily, it’s about reaching boys and men in Sweden, regardless of background.

Advances in gender equality have never come about by themselves. Historically, they are always the fruit of a strategic, often hard, sometimes dangerous, fight which women, organisations, feminist politicians, and some men, have fought.

If we are to stop violence, more men and boys must openly take a stand against violence and misogyny. That men and boys engage themselves and feel themselves to be a part of general gender equality work is vital. There are and have always been men who stand on the side of women in gender equality work. History and the present day alike show that, but they are too few in number.

Why is that the case? The fact that inequality prevails is hardly news. Inequalities that affect women in the form of lower wages, pensions, and exposure to violence are no small matters. And men take stands against and confront other political issues concerning deep inequalities. We need a discussion about how we achieve genuine solidarity from men for women’s equal rights. I shall invite as much in the coming year.

In the autumn the government will present a paper on equalities policy and a strategy against male violence towards women. In it we are intensifying prevention efforts, presenting measures against ‘honour’ violence, against buying sex, and people trafficking.

In Sweden there are luckily many good examples which show that society is changing, not least when it comes to the rights of children and women. We have a great amount of knowledge about equality and methods to promote it. We do not have to start from the very beginning, but we must work hard. That is what I am going to do!

This article was written by Åsa Regnér, Sweden's Minister for Children, the Elderly, and Gender Equality and was first published by Aftonbladet. Translated by The Local's intern, Jack Schofield.

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