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OPINION

GENDER

‘More men must stand up against abuse in Sweden’

Sweden's equality minister Åsa Regnér on why the government is introducing a new strategy on male violence against women.

'More men must stand up against abuse in Sweden'
Equality Minister Åsa Regnér. Photo: Bertil Ericson/TT

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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OPINION & ANALYSIS

Gothenburg: is the dream of a new city turning into a nightmare? 

Sweden’s second city is the site of Scandinavia’s largest urban development project. But there is rising concern that the costs outweigh the benefits, says David Crouch

Gothenburg: is the dream of a new city turning into a nightmare? 

Last week, residents in the area of Fågelsången (birdsong), a quiet street at the very heart of Sweden’s second city, woke up to read the following news: “Explosions at Fågelsången: On August 8, week 32, we start blasting around Fågelsången and are expected to be done by week 40. When blasting, for safety reasons, no one is allowed to go out, open their windows or be within the blasting area. We will work weekdays 7am to 5pm.” 

Blasting deep holes in the granite – along with sprawling roadworks – has been the reality for central Gothenburgers for the past four years, as a vast rail tunnel is being dug to link the current terminus with other parts of the city and enable smoother connections with other routes. The aim is to triple rail passenger numbers and eliminate traffic jams on the main road through the city, at a cost of 20 billion crowns (€1.9 billion).

This railway, known as Västlänken (the West Link), is not the only big construction project in the city centre. It is just the largest element in a gigantic scheme to revive the docks area along the river, which was destroyed by a global shipping crisis in the 1970s. The great rusting cranes opposite the opera house and the disused Eriksberg gantry are an important aspect of Gothenburg’s skyline and self-image. The areas on the north bank were also home to many recent immigrants and a byword for poverty. The city’s mayor famously, and shamefully, referred to it as “the Gaza strip”.

So in 2012 the city launched an ambitious plan. Christened Älvstaden, the RiverCity, municipal investment aimed to build an attractive, modern waterfront while creating tens of thousands of homes and jobs. It is by far the Nordic region’s biggest urban regeneration project. A YouTube video commissioned by the city authorities a few years later neatly sums up both the breathtaking scope of this vision and the exciting / brutal (choose your own adjective here) nature of the transformation it would bring: 

The RiverCity revolved around two flagship projects: a new bridge over the river, the Hisingsbron (Hisingen Bridge), combined with major new office developments right in the centre; and Karlatornet, Sweden’s tallest skyscraper, which would literally tower over Gothenburg like a beacon of modernity in a city that traditionally has had strict rules against high-rise buildings. 

Add to all this a proposed high-speed rail link with Stockholm, and you have a recipe for quite spectacular urban upheaval involving billions of tons of steel and concrete. Visit Gothenburg today and much of the city seems to have been turned into a building site. There is a forest of cranes, while smart new office blocks puncture the skyline – a genuine metamorphosis is under way.

But many Gothenburgers are either uneasy or downright unhappy. The RiverCity is a vanity project to gentrify the docklands, they say. Karlatornet’s 73 stories of luxury apartments will be a scar on the landscape and a symbol of Gothenburg’s new love affair with finance and real estate, a slap in the face for the city’s proud industrial values. Västlänken is a vit elefant, a costly project that will deliver questionable benefits, many believe.  

Opposition to Västlänken was such that a new political party, the Democrats, took 17 percent of the vote in 2018 with its headline demand to stop the project immediately. This caused a revolution in local politics, overturning decades of Social Democrat rule. 

And now the gloss on these big-ticket construction projects is starting to fade. Karlatornet was the first to run into trouble. For most of 2020 building work was at a standstill, raising the threat that this flagship of regeneration would be nothing more than an unfinished stump, after American financiers pulled out of the project. The new Hisingen Bridge is open to traffic, but its construction was fraught with setbacks and the final cost to the taxpayer is still unknown. “There has been an awareness from the start that this was a high-risk project,” one of the project’s bosses said ominously this spring.

RiverCity is more than two billion kronor over budget, and facing accusations of mismanagement that evoke Gothenburg’s old nickname of Muteborg, or Bribetown, after a proliferation of municipal companies in the 1970s led to conflicts of interest, with politicians sitting on company boards. Opponents of the scheme argue that in any case it is unlikely to solve any of the city’s fundamental problems, such as the ethnic segregation that has created immigrant ghettos in outlying suburbs.  

In May, Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter published leaked minutes from Västlänken management meetings in which one of the main contractors on the project said it would be delivered billions over budget and four years later than its official 2026 deadline – in other words, four more years of earth-shattering explosions, roadblocks and associated upheaval. With local elections only months away, the Democrats have taken out advertisements on billboards and in local media demanding that top politicians tell the truth about what is going on. For opponents of the scheme, this is exactly what they have warned of all along

Next June, Gothenburg will officially celebrate its 400th anniversary, postponed from 2021 because of the pandemic. Visitors will experience a city on the move, with pristine new motorways and sparkling office blocks. So for Gothenburg’s urban planners, there is light at the end of the development tunnel. In the case of Västlänken, however, they will be hoping that the light is indeed that of an oncoming train. 

David Crouch has lived in Gothenburg for nine years. He is the author of Almost Perfekt: How Sweden Works and What Can We Learn From It, a freelance journalist and lecturer in journalism at Gothenburg University.

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